As Roe v. Wade and abortion rights veer closer and closer to extinction in the US, anti-abortion politicians are becoming increasingly manic and spewing even more nonsense than usual.
Last week, shortly after Supreme Court Justices debated whether forced pregnancy and birth are actually OK because adoption is technically an option, Rep. Madison Cawthorn — perhaps known to some as Congress’ fascist Ken doll — delivered a bizarre a speech on the House floor in which he compared abortion to destroying a Polaroid picture and called pregnant people “earthen vessels sanctified by almighty God.” He means vessels for babies, of course — whether we want to be vessels for them or not.
“You have a Polaroid camera and you snap a beautiful picture, and a great photo prints out the front,” Cawthorn began his soliloquy. He continued:
“You hold it and shake it, waiting for the picture to appear, but suddenly someone walks by and snatches your photo, ripping it to shreds. You cry, ‘Why did you destroy my picture?’” the congressman wailed. “The callous passerby then asserts that because the Polaroid ‘wasn’t fully developed yet,’ it was ‘not a picture.’”
Per Cawthorn’s own analogy, an unborn fetus or embryo is about as alive as a developing Polaroid picture, and frankly, I have to agree.
These are bold words coming from anyone, but they’re particularly bold from a man serially accused of sexual misconduct. Just earlier this year, more than 160 of Cawthorn’s peers from Patrick Henry College, a small, private Christian college he attended briefly before dropping out, signed an open letter accusing Cawthorn of “gross misconduct towards our female peers” and an “established reputation of predatory behavior.”
The letter offered chilling specifics, including that Cawthorn’s “modus operandi was to invite unsuspecting women on ‘joy rides’ in his white Dodge Challenger,” and he “would take young women to secluded areas, lock the doors, and proceed to make unwanted sexual advances.” Per one anecdote, a classmate recounted that Cawthorn told her she was “just a little, blond, slutty American girl” when she told him his questions about sex made her uncomfortable. Others recall Cawthorn asking and answering his own questions about “which race of girls gives the best blowjobs?” and boasting about pulling female classmates onto his lap because “girls like that stuff.”
Cawthorn has denied the widely corroborated allegations against him, but subsequently vowed, “If I had a son, I want him to be able to grow up in a world where he would not be called a sexual predator for trying to kiss someone,” which sounds eerily close to a confession.
Cawthorn’s show of reverence for women on the House floor last week isn’t at all inconsistent with his record of alleged abuse and predation of women; benevolent sexism that purports to place women on pedestals, and sexual misconduct toward women, are both ultimately rooted in their dehumanization.
The right has long relied on these archaic performances of chivalry to advance its anti-abortion agenda, asserting that women are “too strong” to need abortions or, conversely, that they need to be protected from their own Constitutional rights. But these are just flowery words meant to add a glossy veneer of empowerment to laws that reduce pregnant people to state-controlled ovens. Cawthorn’s own alleged abusiveness toward women is inseparable from his rabidly dehumanizing anti-abortion politics, which rely on reproductive coercion and forced pregnancy — acts that, if perpetrated on an interpersonal level rather than coming from lawmakers, would be treated as abuse.
Cawthorn’s speech comes as the Supreme Court prepares to issue rulings on two major abortion cases, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, and a case on Texas’ six-week abortion ban.