Republican after cowboy hat-wearing Republican I've spoken with at this convention has expressed frustration over this race's focus "unimportant distractions" like Todd Akin's ignorant ass, the abortion debate, and birth control. The American people don't want to talk about that, this isn't what the election is about, that's just the liberals twisting the story, they say, over and over again, voters want to talk about jobs and the economy and Ann Romney's nice speech about how love is good. But no one bothered to tell this to the women at the Celebration of Pro Life Women Leaders reception, attended by a more than a dozen prominent lawmakers (including the likes of Kelly Ayotte and Michele Bachmann). In fact, if you ask anyone here, nothing is more important than abortion, and no belief more ardent than the faith that if elected, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would do exactly what they say they won't do — eliminate abortion access. Well, that and the fact that pro-choice women are a bunch of man-hating abortion enthusiasts
The event, sponsored by Susan B. Anthony's List and Concerned Women for America's Legislative Action Committee, was held in a dark wood-paneled event space that overlooked a steady, antlike stream of convention attendees trudging into and out of the secure area surrounding the convention center. Decorating theme: red high heeled shoes (a hat tip to the logo of another conservative women's voting organization represented here), used as centerpieces and placed among the plates of baba ghanoush, where they were occasionally besotted by errant spatters of dip, or worse. I saw one waiter hastily usher a red slingback full of tzatziki to the kitchen, where I assumed it would be put out of its misery. The place was palpable with awkward tension between the small but respectable number of attendees and the members of the media roving around with their recorders and dark undereye circles like exhausted right wing tourists, eager to ask them gotcha questions. I was asked by a man with a camera if I'd be willing to talk to him about what it means to be a pro-life woman. It was like Spy vs. Spy.
The speaking lineup was a veritable Murderers Row of bright-eyed, charismatic women who think ending a pregnancy is the same thing as murder. Rebecca Kleefisch, Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin. Pam Bondi, Attorney General of Florida. Kelly Ayotte, freshman Senator from New Hampshire. Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List. And Michele Bachmann, of Crazytown.
I expected hostility, but what I got from women there was more of the same confusing polite sweetness to which I've been subjected by female attendees of the RNC. They're nice, at least while I'm asking them questions. One woman chatted with me about how she used to live on the Upper East Side, how she loves my neighborhood in Brooklyn. Another woman nearly teared up when she told me that she considered herself pro-life because she suffered six miscarriages and felt in her heart that each of those was a baby. Diane Black, US Representative from Tennessee's 6th Congressional District and vocal supporter of boycotting pink Susan G. Komen for the Cure Bibles because of the organization's funding of Planned Parenthood as well as Congressman Trent Franks' goofy, unnecessary ban on sex-selective abortions, was friendly and sweet as she told me that she believed life began at conception because she was a nurse and a Christian. Seconds later, Michele Bachmann swept into the room and the two women embraced like old friends.
One of the last women I spoke with was a friendly Tampa native named Kimberly. I asked her if she'd ever had a friend or relative who had an abortion, and how she handled it. "Yes," she said. "It's difficult. I expressed my opinion, and told her what I would have done in that situation, and then supported that decision that she made as a friend."
"So, you supported her choice?" I asked.
But the gloves were off once it was time for the speakers to address the gathered crowd, and the rhetoric changed from friendly to the sort of combative pettiness I've grown accustomed to during the convention. Every edifice of civility disintegrated. The room transformed from an end-of-year sorority mixer to a female-led fundamentalist cheerleading rally. The United Church of Fetusmerica worship service, led by dramatically gesticulating, photogenic women who think that free birth control is the same thing as abortion. Fire, brimstone, and bright red high heels spattered with yogurt dip.
"We are the women's movement. This is the REAL women's movement," proclaimed Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America. "These women are a direct line of descent from the women's rights advocates and leaders. Susan B. Anthony called abortion "child murder," um, her compatriot Elizabeth Cady Stanton said that when women are treated as property, it's degrading to women. When we treat our children as property to be disposed of, it's degrading."
And that was just the opening.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte followed, proclaiming that being pro-choice is wrong because saying that life doesn't begin at conception is "arbitrary."
The majority of this country identifies as pro life because we know it is the right thing. Because the position of the other side is just, really arbitrary. And non-consistent to the basic values of life, liberty, and happiness that this country was founded on. I mean, it's arbitrary to think that when a baby is born, that baby has every single right as the rest of us. But a month before?
God, I totes know what she means. I've had tons of friends who were 8 months pregnant and suddenly decided, "You know what? Abortion." and skipped on over to their doctor, who gladly performed a complicated, dangerous, and illegal procedure.
Up next was Michele Bachmann, who opened with a bang,
We know why we are here. Because we are lovers of life and, as was so eloquently stated by our United States Senator from New Hampshire — it really is true. We are made in the image and likeness of a Holy God. It's an immutable truth. And one thing that we know about truth is that it is written in the cores of our heart. And that rings true to people. And that's why despite all of the advertising and the years and years of propaganda, whether it's in high school classrooms or college classrooms or through Hollywood films, or through anything else, any form of media, all of the years of propaganda CAN NOT DENY the UNDENIABLE TRUTH.
I added the all caps, because those are the words she shouted.
Bachmann had some strong words for President Obama, too, calling him "the most anti woman, anti life president ever in the HISTORY of the United States" (again, when I quote the Congresswoman from Minnesota, all caps means LITERAL YELLING) and Obamacare "the most anti-woman piece of legislation, that's the most PRO ABORTION piece of legislation that's ever been passed that for the first time in our country IS TAXPAYER SUBSIDIZED ABORTION and IS the denial of religious liberty, because you see, we no longer elect a President, we elect a health care dictator."
All of the speakers agreed with Bachmann. Yes, of course the Affordable Care Act was exactly the same thing as forcing taxpayers to pay for abortions, even though the Hyde Amendment bars taxpayer funding for abortion and there is no coverage of abortion in the Affordable Care Act. And it's clearly the first time anyone has ever had their tax dollars support the killing of other people, even though I know a lot of people who weren't big fans of paying to help kill all those people in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm exhausted just thinking about how wrong the Obamacare = abortion assertion is. I was exhausted watching that assertion being made over and over again and a room full of people, grown adults who are ostensibly capable of accepting facts as part of the universe, nodding and clapping in agreement. I'm exhausted writing about it.
The overtly fundie overtones didn't stop with repeated hat tips to the Lord or allusions to Bible verses, although there were plenty. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was introduced as a woman with an "inspiring Christian worldview." Once she took to the podium, she scoffed at the memory of being smeared by opponents during her primary campaign. "Someone took out an ad saying that I wasn't even Christian and my ministers wanted to come out swinging," she recalled. Bachmann referred to her first foster daughter as someone she and her husband "fell in love with," "just like our creator has fallen in love with us." Which, I guess, would make Bachmann the God in this analogy. Hm.
There was also a pervasive and revisited insistance during the proceedings that even though the women who were speaking were high-ranking government officials who have worked their asses off, they're still proper ladies because they're doing stuff like rushing home after work to take care of the kids, a factoid Dannenfelser made sure to share about Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Later in the program, she obliquely pointed out that women there still relied on their husbands for leadership. "I know the women who are the head of the organizations here, we love our husbands for their counsel and love all the time." Oh, good. I was worried I was about to listen to speeches from women who think for themselves. Carry on!
They have Thoughts about pro-choice women, too; during an off-the-cuff moment, Dannenfelser remarked, "Unlike the other side, people in this room actually like men. Isn't that awesome?!" and the room tittered with knowing appreciation. (Which doesn't even make sense — if pro-choice women hate men so much, then how in the hell do we keep getting pregnant and needing abortions? I mean, that's how pregnancy happens! Fucking. Which tends to be an act accompanied by feelings of admiration, or at least the ability to tolerate being skin-to-skin with a sweaty naked dude for 10 minutes.)
The Pro Life Women Leaders who spoke came from different states and hold different jobs, but they all agreed on three important things: Bearded Christian God is their bff. Abortion is still the most important issue in the country, even though the men won't tell you that. And Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney will treat zygotes how they should be treated — as full human beings entitled to the rights of people who don't spend their days naked and floating inside another person's body. "The economic issues are probably important for our country, but those issues of life are really, incredibly important," said Sen. Ayotte during her remarks.
Abortion is a "distraction?" The debate over Personhood and legitimate rape and sluts taking their whore pills is an invention of the Left? Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney won't outlaw abortion? No one bothered that to tell the women.