See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.
Mad Max: Fury Road wasn’t just the sleeper hit of the summer; it was an instant classic in the annals of feminist dystopia, up there with The Handmaid’s Tale and The Stepford Wives. In the film, the titular Max and a woman named Imperator Furiosa are escaping a fascist city-state with a group of women who have been kidnapped and held as “wives” by a warlord named Immortan Joe. The audience is meant to understand that of all the horrors this warlord dishes out to his people, locking women up as sex slaves and forcing childbirth on them is the ugliest degradation. Furiosa has seen many atrocities in her time, but it is the dehumanizing practice of forced childbirth that finally causes her to rebel.
Perhaps Mike Huckabee should have seen that movie, as he was lured by reporters last week into expressing openness to the idea of forcing women to reproduce. As reported by the Topeka Capital-Journal, Huckabee claimed, falsely, that the president can simply ignore the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade and declare, by fiat, that abortion is illegal. He claimed that if he were elected president, all he would need to do is “invoke the Fifth and 14th Amendments for the protection of every human being.” And then things got really ugly:
“I will not pretend there is nothing we can do to stop this,” Huckabee said at the event, where a Topeka Capital-Journal correspondent was present.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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At his next stop, in Rockwell City, Huckabee answered follow-up questions from the correspondent, saying: “All American citizens should be protected.”
Asked by another reporter how he would stop abortion, and whether this would mean using the FBI or federal forces to accomplish this, Huckabee replied: “We’ll see, if I get to be president.”
He said he would use all resources available to protect U.S. citizens.
There’s a lot going on there, starting with Huckabee’s false assertion that a president can simply blow off Supreme Court decisions he doesn’t like. It is also telling that he seems to believe that embryos are citizens but that women—despite having birth certificates and the right to vote and the ability to breathe on our own—are not. The Fifth Amendment forbids depriving people of freedom without due process and the 14th Amendment ensures equality. But Huckabee is suggesting here that the government should be able to justify the use of force to stop abortions. Make no mistake: Military force means force via gunpoint, which would, in practice, mean physically holding women to keep them from getting abortions. And not just without due process, but without those women even committing crimes, as having sex with no intent to procreate is not actually a crime, as much as Huckabee might wish otherwise. That seems like a much more straightforward violation of the Fifth Amendment than abortion ever could be. Singling out women as a class of people who don’t enjoy the basic protections of the Constitution is a clear-cut violation of the 14th Amendment, as well.
But saying up is down and black is white is a standard conservative rhetorical move, one that’s particularly popular in anti-choice circles, where it’s common to argue that women need to be deprived of decent medical care to “protect” us. So the fact that Huckabee’s interpretation of the Constitution is a direct inverse of what a good-faith reading of it would produce isn’t, sadly, all that newsworthy. What did get a lot of attention is this image of whipping out federal troops, or “all resources available to protect U.S. citizens,” to prevent women from aborting.
That is an indelible and upsetting idea: Literally forcing women to give birth, at gunpoint. This image caused even many hardcore right-wingers to flinch. Rick Moran of the conservative PJ Media argued that “using federal troops or agents in American cities to enforce his diktat is going way too far” for most Republicans and that “Huckabee’s chances of being elected president have dropped to zero.” It’s the same story at the conservative Wizbang blog, which claims many conservatives “shake their heads whenever Huckabee speaks.” It was hard to find any conservatives defending Huckabee at all, in fact.
But let’s be clear: This reeling-back by conservatives from the image of using federal troops to interfere with women’s reproductive decisions is strictly about optics. While most conservatives blanch at the overt violence inherent in the image of using a gun to coerce childbirth, this past month has been a reminder that the right is willing to use every other sleazy and immoral method at their disposal to achieve the same end, which is as many women as humanly possible reproducing against their will.
Take the entire push to defund Planned Parenthood, both the go-nowhere Senate bill on it and the calls from conservative lawmakers to shut down the government in an effort to blackmail Democrats into caving into defunding demands. The entire effort is built on a lie—hoax videos spreading a bizarre myth that Planned Parenthood “sells” fetal tissue—and every effort to defend it also involves lying. (For instance, the claim that “community health centers” can somehow handle having 2.7 million new patients seeking reproductive health care dumped on them is a transparent bit of B.S. that has been debunked by mainstream media organizations.) In other words, anti-choicers are lying their heads off for the sole purpose of making women who don’t want to have children do so anyway.
While it’s disturbing to hear Huckabee say openly that he’d defy the law and even entertain the possibility of violence to force childbirth on women, there’s also a bracing honesty there. Most conservative politicians want to deny women their reproductive rights, but they are too cowardly to admit outright that compulsion is what this is about. But while robbing women of legal abortion and contraceptive services doesn’t have the visceral impact of locking them up and menacing them into giving birth, it still means denying them the ability to make their own decisions about their lives.
Plus, there’s the material horrors of having to give birth against your will, starting with the fact that you have to endure major bodily changes that come with pregnancy, and of course, the extremely painful process that is the childbirth itself. It’s one thing for someone to choose all these body changes and suffering for herself, but another entirely to shove it on her. We, as a nation, would understandably freak out if politicians tried to force people to get ear piercings against their will, but when it comes to asking so much more of women—asking them to completely alter their lives and bodies to conform to the anti-sex religious dogma of others—suddenly the idea of taking away basic bodily autonomy is on the table. Talk about a dystopia.
Of course, if you put it as bluntly as this, what is being demanded of women here comes sharply into nauseating focus. So most conservatives dance around the issue, ideally trying not to talk about women at all. As Katie McDonough at Fusion points out, Republican candidates have taken to speaking about abortion “without talking about the people who have abortions,” hoping that if they can simply avoid talking about women, audiences might forget that this is forced childbirth that we are discussing here.
Thankfully, Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi refused to play along by asking Huckabee the question about federal troops, a question that reminded us of what, exactly, it looks like to make someone give birth, by invoking the image of using violence to do it. Most conservatives would prefer to dance around this issue, but at the end of the day, as Taibbi’s question to Huckabee made clear, there isn’t that much difference between passively forcing childbirth by removing access to all alternatives and actively forcing it at gunpoint. No wonder Huckabee had to go along with it. Having already accepted the idea that coercion is OK, he had very little choice but to agree that this may even mean physical force.
More reporters should ask the same kind of questions that Taibbi asked. Conservatives want to stop talking about the women whose bodily autonomy is on the line. They should not be allowed to erase women from this conversation.