The XX Factor

The Anti-Choice Movement’s Achilles’ Heel: An Utter Lack of Evidence

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), one of the politicians who wrote a letter to state attorneys general asking for information on how each state regulates abortion

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

The anti-abortion movement may seem like an unstoppable beast as of late, but it’s also a movement that is in very real danger of succumbing to its own overwhelming hubris. The current strategy of anti-choice activists and politicians is to pose as if they’re trying to defend hapless women against an abortion “industry” that is exploiting them and putting their health in danger. We’re the “real” defenders of women’s health, they say, while pouring a lot of resources into trying to establish that abortion providers hurt women.

So how’s that going? So far in 2013, all of the new abortion regulations brought in front of a court have failed to pass muster. Most of these regulations were billed as good for women’s health. States such as North Dakota, Mississippi, and Alabama passed restrictions to require abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges and have all seen their laws blocked by judges who found the requirement unnecessary, since abortion almost never requires hospitalization.

Still, anti-choicers have been preening so much about the supposed danger that legal abortion poses to women’s health that some have started to make the fatal error of buying their own made-up story. Republicans in the House Judiciary Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently tried to “prove” that women are routinely being harmed by legal abortion services by asking officials in all 50 states to give them a report on abortion regulation in their state. The result of this inquiry, reported by Sharona Coutts at RH Reality Check, ended up being an embarrassment to anti-choicers. It turns out that although there were a handful of clinics nationwide that had some problems—which is true of pretty much any kind of medical care on offer in this country—by and large abortion care is well-regulated and safe. When I interviewed Coutts about her findings, she jokingly called the fishing expedition an “own goal.”

Of course, it’s important for pro-choicers not to get cocky. While having the facts on your side is helpful, it’s not everything, and aggressive politicians can get pretty far passing legislation based on nothing but right-wing fantasies. In Ohio, for instance, the unnecessary hospital admitting privileges law hasn’t been court-tested yet, and so far it’s been used to close one clinic in Toledo and threaten another. In Virginia, unnecessary regulations passed by the board of health under pressure from Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli are leading to clinic closures. Still, the inability of anti-choicers to provide evidence for their dark intimations about how abortion is harmful to women is a real weak spot in their campaign to protect us.