The Years of Magical Thinking
The anti-abortion movement invented a new language and a false reality. Now we're all living in it.
Much has been written about the American right’s descent into reality-denial and conspiracy-land, and there is much blame to go around: Fox News and other conservative networks that tell people what they want to hear instead of what’s true; cowardly and self-interested Republicans who bow to the crazies; megalomaniacs who simply make stuff up because doing so helps to cement their power and their ability to influence policy in whatever radical direction they choose; Donald Trump and his stubborn insistence that you couldn’t trust your own lying eyes. A significant segment of the American public, it seems, wants to be lied to; they want to live in a reality of their own making, even if it doesn’t make sense.
But as I’ve watched media coverage of abortion rights in America after the demise of Roe v. Wade, and as I’ve watched conservative politicians and interest groups pen anti-abortion legislation, it’s became clear that the American anti-abortion movement has been at the forefront of redefining reality — and that they’ve succeeded in radically reshaping our understanding of human life, pregnancy, and parenthood to be far outside of the bounds of scientific consensus, of common sense, and of anything human beings have believed for most of human history.
They have made claims that are obviously, demonstrably false. They have legislated flat-out lies. And as so often happens in those bizarro authoritarian states where people are told to trust the leadership no matter what their own eyes and experience tell them, huge swaths of the American public — including chunks of the pro-choice public — have fallen into this made-up way of talking and thinking.
During the Trump presidency, so many of us kept waiting for that moment when the public realized that the Emperor had no clothes. It still hasn’t come — perhaps, in part, because the religious right and the anti-abortion movement have so effectively and thoroughly conditioned the American right, and the broader American public, to believe whatever fanciful claims conservative leaders make.
Take the claim that “life begins at conception,” which is routinely broadened out by the anti-abortion movement to mean that a fertilized egg should be given legal personhood status. Even if pro-choicers don’t believe that a fertilized egg is a person, reporters, politicians, and others routinely say that many abortion opponents do genuinely believe that a fertilized egg is the moral equivalent of you or I, and should be treated as such under the law.
But here’s the thing: They don’t really believe that a fertilized egg is the moral equivalent of a three-year-old, and it’s appallingly obvious that virtually no one believes that. People may say that’s their belief, but all of the evidence suggests otherwise.