As the Delta variant surges across the country, this year’s back-to-school season has been a cacophony of angry anti-vaxxers screaming at school board members about mask mandates and other Covid safety measures. From anti-mask protestors harassing and attacking cancer patients outside clinics, to anti-mask rallies staged outside state capitol buildings, businesses, schools, and a myriad of institutions have been inundated by those who seem to want the pandemic to keep raging on.
And while anti-mask protestors come in all shapes and sizes, their tactic is both uniform and familiar to anyone who has advocated for the right to access abortion care. The anti-vaxx, anti-mask community has been co-opting pro-choice language to, in many cases, great success. Phrases like “my body, my choice” and “medical freedom” are regurgitated ad nauseum because these people know it works. After all, they’re the same people fighting to end legal access to abortion care.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott banned mask mandates from being enforced in counties, cities, school districts, or by public health authorities and government officials — a decision that was recently upheld, for now, by the state’s Supreme Court. In his executive order, Abbott wrote, “Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate Covid-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose.”
At the same time, Abbott and other Texan legislators have stripped the “right to choose” from pregnant Texans, passing and just today enacting a near-total abortion ban in the state. Texans who are pregnant can no longer “decide their best health practices” — abortion is illegal past six weeks’ gestation, before most people even know they’re pregnant, and medical bounty-hunting is now legal. Now, the state will reward anyone who sues someone suspected of helping a person access abortion care for $10,000.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also banned mask mandates in the state, saying that “personal responsibility” is the answer and calling such mandates “un-American to its core.” Yet personal responsibility seemed to be far from McMaster and his fellow state politicians’ minds when they passed a bill that would also ban most abortions. The bill would also charge abortion providers with felony and, if found guilty, sentence them to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Personal responsibility, indeed.
Shameless, rank hypocrisy aside, anti-mask legislators like Abbott and the zealots they appeal to co-opt pro-choice language because they know it works. A vast majority of Americans support legal abortion access, and even those who would like to see abortion access stifled don’t support “extreme” anti-abortion laws, like the ones in Texas and South Carolina. And studies have shown that face-to-face personal storytelling for advocacy purposes is extremely effective: people naturally think in stories, so personal narratives therefore elicit greater empathy than facts and statistics, can motivate people to seek action, and create less resistance to new ideas or beliefs.
That’s why abortion storytelling has been so effective at chipping away at existing abortion stigma, and why those who try to silence pro-choice language are now co-opting it. The same people who want to mandate government-forced birth have seen how effective highlighting the importance of protecting one’s freedom to make their own medical decisions can be — despite a litany of anti-abortion bills being introduced and passed at the state level, the American public is overwhelming pro-choice. So they’re taking a page from the very book their draconian laws want to burn and pontificate on the right to make your own medical choices — as long as you’re not pregnant.
Now, as many as eight states have prohibited mask mandates in schools and other establishments, and an estimated 30 percent of Americans do not support mask mandates in schools and other public places. Anti-abortion advocates who still denounce the freedom to make a common, legal, medical and personal decision are now espousing that same freedom in defiance of public safety measures and to the detriment of their fellow citizens, including children. And it’s working, because they’ve seen how powerful choice can be and how vital it is that it’s protected. Unfortunately, the only “right to choose” they care about is theirs.
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