The Receding Frontiers of Life: The Christian Right and the ‘Minefield’ of the Hobby Lobby Ruling

Last week, upon exiting the subway at Queen’s Park station, I was accosted by a handful of self-righteous individuals waving posters displaying graphic images of bloody fetuses, and handing out pamphlets containing anti-abortion information. This week, my newsfeed was filled with pieces on the American Supreme Court’s decision regarding Hobby Lobby, an American business which has argued that including contraception (deemed by Hobby Lobby to be abortifacient) in women employees’ health care coverage is a violation of the corporation’s religious freedom. Needless to say, the issue of women’s access to reproductive health care is STILL a contentious one, on both sides of the border.

Dublin abortion protest

Protesters demand action after Savita Halappanavar died as a result of being denied an abortion in Ireland in 2012. Photo source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/19/london-expert-irish-abortion-inquiry

A trend running through many of the pieces commenting on this Supreme Court decision is that the case presented by Hobby Lobby shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the science behind contraception. Why anyone would be surprised by this, I’m not sure. Evangelical Americans in the Christian Right have already thoroughly demonstrated their refusal to accept basic scientific principals. In fact, they rejoice in this kind of obdurate refusal to recognize scientific consensus through their denial of climate change, building a “creationist” museum with the explicit goal of ‘debunking’ evolution, and now by insisting that some contraceptives actually cause abortion.  (Note that the prevention of implantation of a fertilized egg is not abortion, as has been claimed. The fact that Evangelicals are now drawing the boundary line of the beginning of “life” this far back, to a not even implanted fertilized egg is frighteningly extremist).

Besides this delight in flaunting an outright denial of scientific principals, the Hobby Lobby case may also reveal information about the Christian Right’s fundamental goals which are less easily spotted. For decades, anti-abortion activists of the Christian Right have defended their activism by stating that at the heart of their actions is a valuing of life, and the interests of women. But this justification begins to look patchy when applied to the full spectrum of activist causes endorsed by these groups. In my recent encounter described above, one of the activists involved responded to my insistence on respecting women’s rights by asking me about the rights of the (supposedly female) fetus’s rights, whose photo she brandished so disrespectfully.

This activist’s statement is interesting in that it reveals some underlying assumptions involved in the rhetoric being deployed here. Underpinning the question she leveled at me is the idea that a female fetus’s rights trump those of a fully adult woman’s rights to control of her body, reproduction, and health care choices. This focus on the female fetus rather than the adult woman serves to illustrate the Christian Right’s refusal to accept sexual, adult females as deserving of human rights, and thus as fully human. (The title of an excellent blog covering issues of gender and sexuality in Evangelicalism clearly points to this as well: Are Women Human?).

Amanda Marcotte also calls attention to this style of rhetoric, pointing out that

“…it’s becoming increasingly fashionable on the right to portray women as inherently asexual beings who are being tricked by all this contraception into thinking they have to have sex, which allows them to argue that depriving women of reproductive rights is doing women a favor, by giving them an excuse to get out of that icky sex.”

This view of women portrays them as asexual, in need of protection of their innocence, and ignorant of the consequences of their actions, not to mention in need of having others (the State, the Church, Evangelical “sidewalk counsellors”) inform them (and even force them into) the ‘correct’ course of action in regards to decisions about their health care. The direct result of this view of women is to infantilize them.

Whether this is an explicit strategy, merely a coincidental outcome, or a revealing slip which pulls back the veil on the misogyny at the root of this worldview remains to be seen. It must be noted, however, that to inscribe a view of women as infantilized conveniently sets the stage for the further erosion of women’s rights on the basis that such inherently infantile women are incapable of making decisions pertaining to their own bodies and health care.

Sex educator Laci Green's response to the Hobby Lobby ruling.  Photo source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152362978804213&set=a.284745684212.144562.221909329212&type=1&theater

Sex educator Laci Green’s response to the Hobby Lobby ruling.
Photo source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152362978804213&set=a.284745684212.144562.221909329212&type=1&theater

Such a bald attack on women’s rights may just be a step too far. Several weeks ago, after the news of Elliot Roger’s misogyny fuelled shooting spree broke, women took to the internet to fight back against the refrain of the media which dismissed any analyses of the incident as misogynist by invoking the phrase ‘not all men.’ Twitter exploded with feminist responses in the form of the hashtag #yesallwomen, recounting thousands of women’s experiences of being harassed by men who believed they had a right to do so on the basis of their gender. In the wake of such a strong wave of feminist activism, perhaps the lingering memory of the extreme misogyny of Elliot Rogers will serve to illuminate the more subtle, but equally deadly misogyny of the recent Supreme Court ruling.*

The evidence is certainly mounting against the Christian Right, as it becomes abundantly clear that the activists of this movement are willing to use legal challenges, street harassment, public shaming, and even murder (see the case of Dr. Tiller) to prevent women from enjoying the equal rights we so deserve. What we are witnessing is the active, willful, unabashed suppression of women’s rights and a total disregard for women’s health. Now, if ever there was one, is certainly the time for a resurgence of feminist activism. Luckily, we just might be seeing signs of such an awakening.

 

 

*Those of us in Canada would also do well to take note, as the activists I encountered in Toronto demonstrate. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is an Evangelical belonging to the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, which maintains an anti-choice/anti-abortion stance (See http://www.cmalliance.org/about/beliefs/perspectives/abortion). Stephen Woodworth, Member of Parliament for Kitchener Centre riding, is openly anti-choice (see Motion 312: http://www.stephenwoodworth.ca/motion-312 ). These are merely two examples of many.

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