FRC’s Anti-Choice Conference: How the Right Co-Opts Feminism and Racial Justice

Family Research Council (FRC)

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Last week marked the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the 40th anniversary of March for Life.  On January 21, antichoice activists gathered at the Family Research Council headquarters in D.C. for ProLifeCon, which focused on developing tactics for disseminating antichoice messages through social media and the internet. The conference marked another episode in the Right’s ongoing campaign attacking women’s bodily autonomy and access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare. As PRA detailed in its Summer 2013 issue of The Public Eye, these efforts have relied heavily on rhetorical maneuvering seeking to reframe abortion as a women’s health issue and antichoice stances as authentic feminism.

Political Research Associates was watching and listening to the conference. Among the extensive list of speakers, three, in particular, help shed light on the ways in which antichoice activists co-opt the language of feminism, women’s rights, and racial justice to undermine access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Here is what they had to say: 

Bethany Goodman

 

Bethany Goodman

Bethany Goodman

First to take the stage was Bethany Goodman, Assistant Director of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, which coordinated the demonstration held on the National Mall later that day. Goodman’s remarks focused on the importance of using social media campaigns to increase support among millennials and to expand the Right’s base of support. Goodman, previously Assistant Director of March for Life’s digital strategy, discussed the organization’s social media theme, “Why We March,” and encouraged viewers to access March for Life content on Twitter, Facebook, and an iPhone application. All of this content was designed to draw attention to “the women who are harmed by abortion.” Later, Goodman claimed, “We want a culture of life … where we embrace women in a loving way.” Goodman’s remarks are reflective of a shift in antichoice rhetoric, away from moralizing arguments about abortion toward a strategy of framing antichoice arguments as having a woman’s best interest at heart—as even being “feminist.” Speaking eagerly about the “youthful pro-life generation.” Goodman concluded her speech by stating, “The theme of this march is adoption,” arguing that adoption should replace abortion.

Ryan Bomberger

Ryan Bomberger

Ryan Bomberger

The adoption theme was echoed by Ryan Bomberger, a cofounder and chief creative officer at the Radiance Foundation.  This antichoice, multimedia organization gained notoriety for its “Too Many Aborted” web and billboard campaign, which used inflammatory slogans such as “The thirteenth amendment freed us, abortion enslaves us.”  Under the pretense of advancing racial justice, Bomberger claimed that the billboards illuminated “the disproportionate impact of abortion in the Black community,” and that the billboards were simultaneously a “campaign promoting adoption.”  He continued by stating that adoption was “one of the only two life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” and that we currently live in a “culture of death.”  In an attempt to discredit a major provider of comprehensive reproductive healthcare, Bomberger described Planned Parenthood as “abortion-minded, abortion-centered” and claimed that it “continues to demonize adoption” through convincing pregnant women to seek abortions rather than choose adoption.  Yet Bomberger went further, accusing Planned Parenthood of supporting a “eugenics sort of mindset.”  Finally, like many of his fellow speakers, Bomberger also sought to recast antichoice as pro-woman.  Near the end of his speech, Bomberger reminded the audience, “You cannot ever forget the woman in this equation.”

Click here to see our full profile on Bomberger.

Jane Fuller

Jane Fuller

Jane Fuller

Jane Fuller, the executive director of Assist Pregnancy Center of Virginia, began her speech by discussing her choice to first drop the word “crisis” from the name of her organization and later to change the name of the organization to “Metro Women’s Care.” (Crisis pregnancy centers have been widely documented as presenting conservative, antichoice ideologies as “health care,” “supportive counseling.”) Fuller went on to contrast her clients’ descriptions of abortion clinics as “cold,” “dirty,” and as employing “indifferent staff” with her center, which she claims is “geared towards the age group we are trying to reach,” namely young people.

Fuller then praised a new Virginia law,  which requires women to receive an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before having an abortion, and discussed how this law has led to an increase in the number of women at her pregnancy center.  Virginia’s ultrasound law is part of a larger, coordinated strategy to pass incremental restrictions on abortion—primarily at the state level—in order to chip away at women’s reproductive freedom and ultimately to overturn Roe.  Like Bomberger, Fuller also accused Planned Parenthood of exploiting women, stating, “Anyone who can take infanticide and promote it as quality healthcare knows how to manipulate.”  She called on activists to shift their focus from the unborn baby to the pregnant mother and to “focus on her and her needs.” Fuller’s rhetorical maneuvering mirrored that of Goodman and Bomberger.

All three speakers seek to co-opt the language of women’s rights in order to reframe antichoice policies as authentic feminism and, in the case of Ryan Bomberger, racial justice. Even though the antichoice movement’s strategies may be retooling for the 21st century, with social media integration and prayer smartphone applications, many of their messages are thinly veiled forms of arguments that have circulated for 41 years since the Roe v. Wade decision—arguments now veiled beneath the disguise of women’s rights and racial justice.

**Owen Jennings contributed to this article

Testing the Water: Mormon Church Tests to See If “Safe” to Re-Enter Gay Marriage Fight

Dallin H Oaks

Testing the Water: Mormon Church Tests to See If “Safe” to Re-Enter Gay Marriage Fight

If you’ve never seen or attended one of the semi-annual General Conferences of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), it’s truly a sight to behold. 20,000 faithful members attend a two-day conference in Salt Lake City to listen to their leaders, while millions more around the world tune in to watch on live TV, hanging on every word from men they believe have spoken directly to God.

While many Americans still view the Mormon religion as an oddity or curiosity, the Church’s numbers are growing quickly as it continues to send every young man on a two-year proselytizing mission around the world at age 18.

Unlike many religions today, where each congregation or parish holds some level of autonomy over their teachings, the Mormon religion’s power structure is top heavy­—meaning no individual or local clergy has the authority to preach anything not authorized by the Church as a whole.

Historically, the Mormon religion has taken a proactive stance against civil rights issues, from their refusal to allow people of color full membership until the late 70s, to their political fight against gay marriage.

In Political Research Associates’ publication “Resisting the Rainbow: Right-Wing Responses to LGBT Gains” (p. 72), I wrote about the Mormon Church’s heavy involvement in the fight to ban gay marriage in Hawaii in the 90s, a sort of text of their capabilities and a battle in which they masked much of their involvement at the time. Emboldened by their overwhelming success in that fight, the Mormon leadership then turned their attention to California, infamously leading the charge to pass Proposition 8 in 2008. Unlike the Hawaiian battle in the 90s, the Mormons took a much more public position this time, fueling the “Yes on 8” campaign with millions of dollars in donations and thousands of door-knocking volunteers, and flooding the airwaves and cyberspace with ads and websites promoting false propaganda (such as the all-too-common lie that if gay marriage were legal, religions would be forced to perform gay marriages in their holy buildings).

The backlash against the Mormons was severe. Protests launched nationwide with thousands of angry LGBTQ people, concerned citizens, and even some members of the Church itself marching around Mormon temples. Even in Salt Lake City at the Mormon Church headquarters, 5,000 protesters surrounded the Mormon complex with chants of protest.

For a religion that is already viewed as a bit odd by the majority of the world, the Mormons cannot tolerate continued bad press, as it heavily damages their ability to proselytize and bring in new members. The backlash for their involvement in Prop 8 was so severe, and so sustained, that the Church finally capitulated and made some overtures to the LGBTQ community, including an endorsement of a non-discrimination law in Salt Lake City in 2009, and (after a 4,500 person protest surrounded their Salt Lake City temple in 2010) an official retraction of 2nd-in-command Boyd K. Packer’s speech claiming that gay people can somehow become heterosexual if they try hard enough.

However, since 2010, the fight seems to have been on hiatus as both activists and Church leaders waited to see what the other would do.

Now, it seems, the Mormon Church is testing the waters to see if it is safe to once again begin their antigay political campaigns. This last weekend at their latest General Conference, two of the Mormon’s “Prophets” told their 15 million members that they have a duty to oppose gay marriage.

Dallin H. Oaks bemoaned America’s dropping birthrates, later marriages and rising incidence of cohabitation as evidence of “political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God’s decrees about sexual morality and the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and child-bearing.” These pressures “have already permitted same-gender marriages in various states and nations … Other pressures would confuse gender or homogenize those differences between men and women that are essential to accomplish God’s great plan of happiness” … An LDS eternal perspective does not allow Mormons “to condone such behaviors or to find justification in the laws that permit them,” said the apostle, a former Utah Supreme Court justice. “And, unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has declared to be unchangeable.”

And yet another of the Mormon’s highest ranking leaders, Russell M. Nelson, later added:

“Marriage between a man and a woman is fundamental to the Lord’s doctrine and crucial to God’s eternal plan,” Nelson said. “Marriage between a man and a woman is God’s pattern for a fullness of life on Earth and in heaven. God’s marriage pattern cannot be abused, misunderstood or misconstrued.”

These overt anti-LGBTQ sentiments have not been seen for several years from the Mormon leadership, and indicate a strong desire to reenter the culture war and political fight to block civil rights for LGBTQ Americans.

If history is the best teacher, the only thing that will stop the Mormons’ political power, money and manpower from flowing back into the fight against equality would be an immediate and strong reaction from activists and citizens who care about civil rights.  The Latter Day Saints have made their opening move, and it remains to be seen what will happen next.