Ms. Amy Yao, Lehigh University Senior, Economics Major, WGSS Minor

Planned Parenthood Student Research

Pro-Life and Planned Parenthood: It’s Bigger Than “Us” vs. “Them”


On Guns and Reproductive Rights: Using Violence to Protect Life?

The recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado received national attention around the hot topics of both reproductive rights and gun control. Robert Lewis Dear, 57, killed a police officer and two civilians after “mentioning "baby parts" after the shooting and expressing anti-abortion and anti-government views.” The paradox here, of course, is Lewis’ use of deadly force as a means by which to bring attention to a “moral cause” (i.e., save lives – babies – by killing people) by strategically using “religious” values as rationale for his murderous actions. And yet, it is those same values that many often look to, and rhetorically rely upon, as to prevent murder and casting judgment to the level of such fatal outcomes. Dear isn’t just against abortion, and his “lone wolf” actions ultimately destructuralizes the ongoing and unending violence against women. Dear is a domestic terrorist and his (and others) strategic targeting of women’s bodies, lives, agency, and social concerns speaks to an incessant thirst for power over others – especially marginalized groups disproportionately affected by historic, and continued, structural and social inequality.

In enacting forms and desire for such control as evidenced in this case, violence here cannot be disconnected from, among other things, the co-constitution of hyper masculinity, race, and religion, and tragically resulting in continued rape, domestic violence, child abuse, etc. The discussion about gun control and reproductive rights, in many ways, reflect the endless battle for power, concealed in, revealed by, and waged at the site of identity and difference. Although reproductive rights remains a contentious and ongoing debate in the United States, this shooting highlights a recurring and guiding logic of an enduring and maligned social belief in a pernicious entitlement to control discourse, life options, and outcomes affecting others, while hegemonically maintaining control over (other) hotly-contested issues, such as gun control. Stated more simply, those seeking to control that national debate (in word and action) likewise reveals and conceals the social interests of particular demographics seeking to uphold both power and privilege.

Targeting More Than a Debate: Planned Parenthood Beyond “Abortion” Motifs 

The continued targeting Planned Parenthood clinics is material, ideological and symbolic – none of which can be, nor should be, disentangled (i.e., it cannot be reduced to simply “a” problem, or “an” interest in the singular). The heated debate regarding the defunding of Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health services in the United States and internationally, has everything to do with women’s reproductive rights, children’s welfare, agency, and so much more. In this sense, Planned Parenthood (and the raging debate surrounding it) – as an organization, entity and symbolic trope – is bigger than a for-or-against “Abortion” discussion and stance. Such a limited focus and narrowing of services and undertaking denies acknowledgement of all that Planned Parenthood affords the public, such as healthcare and social services. Planned Parenthood isn’t, shouldn't be narrowed to, nor conceived as “solely” a place for abortion. Having 33.5% of their services focusing on contraception and 38% on STDs/STIs testing and treatment, Planned Parenthood benefits countless women nationwide and globally. These details tend to be obscured and abstracted under the more controversial and polemical debate that reduces Reproductive Rights to an Abortion only discourse. During congressional hearing over federal funding for Planned Parenthood, however, many Republicans acted as if they did not have a clear understanding of what Planned Parenthood does/offers and the details of its federal funding –which is, to say the least, sadly uninformed, obliviously ignorant and embarrassingly uninformed. For example, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah said “Cancer in this country kills about 1,500 a day,” as if women somehow participate in such deaths by using up limited research funding on birth control methods. And, Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin offers a the solution of: just be a man, stating, “as a guy, I could go to any many clinics locally that have all the machines that one would need… if Planned Parenthood disappear tomorrow, there would still be clinics and hospitals providing all the medical care.” Sure, if one is just like him, a privileged white man who has no idea what the life and daily struggles of others looks like and entails. Meanwhile, the GOP wants to shut down the government (again!?), this time over Women’s Health.

With the above in mind, those who happen to be pro-choice and want to advocate on behalf of the wide spectrum of reproductive rights and equitable access to related health services, are forced into an “us vs. them,” which reduces their robust advocacy and perspectives to a singular topic of debate: abortion. Despite much progress, we know well that women in this country still aren’t treated equally in the workplace, social world, home, politics, among many others. And, for the naysayers who believe such progress has been fully achieved and rendered: then why is the topic of Reproductive Rights a continued topic and concern of unceasingly contentious public debate?

"We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision
and move on with their lives.We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s
good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary."

What bothers me the most is that when it comes to women’s right, all of the sudden the authorities have no problem cutting funding and ignoring the needs and desires of women who make up 50.4% of this country’s population: surprised? Yet, issues such as gun control hardly, if ever, get dubbed as a gendered (male), raced (white) and religioned (fundamentalists) topic. This is not an innocent concealing of privileged identities in our nation in a time where mass shootings have become all too routine and normalized. A saying I recently came across online seems quite fitting for the political, social and cultural complexities of such topics:

Birth Control and Planned Parenthood - BAN IT!
Abortion - BAN IT!
Gay Marriage - BAN IT!
Guns Control - Look, banning things never work.

People will find ways to get them An honest addressing and assessing of tragedies such as the recent shooting in Colorado necessitate attention to social difference – race, gender, class, religion, sexuality, etc. and stratification.