Prochoice gatekeeping / thought-police OR new-wave prochoice tenet
May 19, 2019 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Is this a thing now?

I, much like many in North America, have been infuriated and discouraged by the recent high-profile rulings regarding abortion rights in the US.

My reddit and twitter feeds are understandably chock full of posts about the rulings.

I have even posted some thoughts as an outlet for my disgust.

I have been surprised to see a consistent backlash from the pro-choice crowd on pro-choice posts.

There's a good amount of people who are saying things like:

- posts like this set the cause back
- your logic doesn't stand up
- (this post) screams an inability to argue the prochoice position
- Don't give pro-lifers more fuel against a just cause
- this is not a good stance as it's not really relevant

Its happened so much and on so many types of posts, both high-profile and low, that I am starting to wonder if I am behind the times and there is some principle I am missing because I am middle aged? No single pro-choice post is going to encapsulate every nuance of the cause .

Should pro-choicers refrain from sharing their thoughts & concerns about the situation even if they are hyperbolic or reductive or won't pass the logical fallacy sniff test?

Is it really dangerous for the abortion rights cause for someone to post like so:
"My heart is breaking for Alabama. Whats extreme scenario that follows anti-choice argument to its logical conclusion?"

I know it may sound like I am asking the questions in bad faith. They are only 50% rhetorical, I promise. I admit it infuriates me but if times are changing I'd like to know.

Am I missing something or is this just a "reddit gonna reddit" type o' thing?
posted by i_mean_come_on_now to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I can't edit for some reason!

Should pro-choicers refrain... line should read:

Should pro-choicers refrain from sharing their thoughts & concerns about the situation if they are hyperbolic or reductive or won't pass the logical fallacy sniff test?
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 7:08 AM on May 19, 2019

Can you give a few more examples? Because I'll be honest, I've not seen anything like this on Twitter (I don't Reddit).

Any possibility you're running into a IRA campaign to fracture the choice cause from within? Infiltrating left online spaces and sowing dischord is kind of their thing.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:08 AM on May 19, 2019 [20 favorites]

The first stage of the four stages of grief is Denial. That could explain what is happening. (But you know my second theory, for every internet fight now, is Social Media bots powered by Putin trying to make people hate each other.)
posted by puddledork at 7:09 AM on May 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Are you sure about the identity and position of the commenters? My first thought is bot.
posted by amtho at 7:12 AM on May 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Nope, this is consistent and from real people with regular posting histories. Their response get upvotes are hearty agreement from other non-bots. Definitely not bots.
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 7:20 AM on May 19, 2019

"My heart is breaking for Alabama. Whats extreme scenario that follows anti-choice argument to its logical conclusion?"

A lot of people (myself included) aren't fans of that kind of dystopian fantasizing, and I'd agree with the criticisms about it being an ineffective rhetorical tactic. It has come up as a moderation issue here, also, with those kinds of comments generally being deleted.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:36 AM on May 19, 2019 [23 favorites]

I've encountered this sort of thing from real-life people who work with major prochoice groups (or at least read their articles), yes. I get the feeling that those groups have decided on a very precise party-line and want their followers to stick to it. I don't agree with them that there's one single safe/effective way to make the case for abortion rights, but I also don't do this work every single day and so when I'm in their spaces, I behave as directed. I still make my non-approved comments on my own time though, which includes personal social media and protest signs carried in independent marches etc., and that's where occasionally I get piled on by folks who have been taught to do otherwise.

That said,

Should pro-choicers refrain from sharing their thoughts & concerns about the situation if they are hyperbolic or reductive or won't pass the logical fallacy sniff test?

If everyone did this it would raise the general level of discourse (on any given topic) so yes, it'd be nice. At least consider those comments to be emotional indulgences, and think about limiting the audiences you're directing them at to people who will similarly understand them to be expressions of grief and fear.
posted by teremala at 7:41 AM on May 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

My impression is that this is happening because, basically, the non-right wing side is losing badly in a lot of ways and is desperately trying to work out how to reverse this. From my social media it's not just around abortion, but almost anything linked to social justice which is experiencing a rolling back of previously established rights.

People are (understandably) scared. They need to find ways of effectively fighting back against this. When someone (or a group of people) percieve that they have found the 'right' way to fight back, and percieve that other ways may damage the cause, they are going to react strongly because of that fear.

As for your question about whether pro-choicers should refrain from some things: I don't know. However, given that in general humans tend not to change their minds when presented with facts showing the opposite to their views, the issues around logical fallacies and the like are probably neither here nor there in the debate.
posted by Vortisaur at 7:43 AM on May 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I call those kinds of responses concern trolling.
posted by nikaspark at 7:43 AM on May 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

It’s hard to know without a more specific example of the comments people are reacting to, because maybe there’s something about them you don’t realize and aren’t able to describe to us that’s setting others off.

There is tension between expressing genuine worry and fear and trying to be strategic in responding to events with the larger focus of reaching a certain goal. I think this is especially true after most of us grew up watching the anti-choice movement methodically succeed in its goals. Looking back on them it’s easy to see that movement as disciplined and savvy but the right was just as chaotic and messy, with *significantly worse results* (abortion clinic bombings and the murder of Dr. Tiller). So they look much more organized in retrospect than they actually were. In fact, you could argue that the actual movement-level people were largely beside the point (no matter how disciplined their rhetoric) given that we’re where we are now because of pure power—those Supreme Court seats, which this new legislation is aiming at.

I would just try to hold onto the feeling that right now many women are terrified of what this means and are reacting out of fear that any little thing could set us further back.
posted by sallybrown at 7:54 AM on May 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was involved as a teen in the 80s in the work around abortion rights via the Morgentaler clinic in Toronto. I don't remember these dystopian visions as arguments (even though, I will note, The Handmaid's Tale came out in the middle of it), because there was plenty of awareness at the time that women had died and in fact were still dying due to lack of access to abortion. It sounds like you are about my age.

I think it might be good to distinguish your fears from an argument. If you want to convince people to support pro-choice activism, that's a different thing than airing your personal fears and sorrow. It sounds like you want to use your space to share your fears, and people are saying that's not a convincing argument....two different goals.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:03 AM on May 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

It's hard to say what is going on here without seeing the posts or responses in question. Some of it may be concern trolling or just straight up trolling, but some of it may have to do with the posts. I have heard other activists talk about being frustrated by people expressing shock or disbelief about what is happening right now because they have been ringing the alarm bells about this for years and they are exhausted and overwhelmed. Many of us also work/volunteer at clinics where protesters have been increasingly aggressive and sometimes violent. Regarding abortion and medical procedures, there is a lot of misinformation out there and sometimes people with good intentions repeat harmful things because they do not know better.

I have also seen people pushing back on the following, most of which are social justice type issues, and maybe this is some of what you are seeing?:
-Gender binary language ("women are under attack")
-offensive comments about the South/Midwest/rural communities
-lack of awareness of race and class ("People should just move")
-People saying "I'm pro-choice but nobody likes abortion"
-People talking about what they see as the "right" kind of abortion
-People saying "How could this have happened?" when six week bans have been proposed regularly for years
-Language like "Heartbeat bill", "Late-term abortion"
posted by arachnidette at 8:15 AM on May 19, 2019 [13 favorites]

I think maybe a lot of people are legitimately scared, and feeling like rhetoric that needlessly alienates (rather than convincing) middle of the road voters, is a bad idea.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:16 AM on May 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

types of reactions I've heard that I think are unhelpful include:
-[republican lawmaker] should've been aborted
-let's bomb their churches like they bomb abortion clinics
-uneducated/white trash rednecks are dumb
-[something something] hitler

if this is the level of discourse we're getting to, I think this is an appropriate amount of pushback, and perhaps public forums on the internet are not the best place to express these sentiments.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:18 AM on May 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

I have heard some pushback to specific things. Some of it, I think, is classic internet pile-on-ing, and some of it is a feeling that we are losing the rhetorical battle and have to be more careful about how we speak about things. So here are some things I've seen:

1. Alyssa Milano made a stupid tweet in which she suggested that women should go on a sex strike to protest anti-choice legislation. This is stupid, for all sorts of reasons, all of which have been pointed out. But maybe we should just all agree that it was a dumb tweet and move on.

2. There have been calls to boycott states that pass anti-choice legislation. There's been a lot of pushback to that, for various reasons. Some of the pushback is strategic: people fighting for reproductive justice in those states don't think that boycotts are a good strategy right now. Some of it has to do with rhetoric: many calls for boycotts position everyone in the states as bad, backwards people who deserve to be punished. And that ignores the context in which the laws were passed (which in Georgia has to do with a boatload of voter suppression, which means that the government there does not represent the actual will of the people), and it stigmatizes the very people who would be victimized by bad laws. There has been a lot of heated rhetoric about this debate, and we should probably all try to follow Stacey Abrams and express our views with more sympathy and grace.

3. Some pro-choice people feel like they will look callous and insensitive unless the acknowledge that abortion is a very morally serious decision, so they say things like "of course abortion is a terrible trauma and tragedy, but it still should be up to the woman." And many pro-choice people hate that rhetoric and feel that it is harming our cause. Study after study has shown that most people don't experience their abortions as terribly traumatic. That's an anti-choice talking point, but it's not true, and we shouldn't pretend that it is. We need to stop ceding rhetorical ground to anti-choice people. And again, sometimes people on the internet aren't very polite about how they make their points, but there's something to be said for the basic idea that this kind of rhetoric isn't helpful.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:18 AM on May 19, 2019 [21 favorites]

"what's next" in the face of the worst anti-choice legislation in most of our living memory does come across as willfully minimizing. like, if we don't stop them from killing us now, who's to say they won't make us stand in very long lines in the near future! like harm to women can only be important as a harbinger of other bad things; we are always the choking canaries in the coal mines and never the human beings to whom real things are happening now, that matter, now. to many people this goes beyond distasteful into offensive.

anyway people on "the same side" do disagree and I do not think there is any case to be made for getting pro-choice people to talk less and accept bad rhetoric more. I include the redefinition of argument as "policing" in that bad rhetoric classification.

if you don't want to have upsetting arguments with people who are, in spite of this real disagreement, more or less on your side politically, use a platform where it's easy to block and ignore people. if you don't want to defend your language to people who are going to vote the same way as you in the end anyway, you don't have to.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:55 AM on May 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

I believe it could be infiltration.

However, I also believe the term "circular firing squad" has a lot of relevance to the left. I'm not entirely sure why, though. Maybe something about the fact that people on the left are very doctrinally committed?

But I agree with you that it's hard to understand the nit-picking. Especially from people chastising about not engaging in worst-case scenario discussions. Because as far as I can tell, we're already well deep into the worst-case scenario.
posted by schwinggg! at 9:15 AM on May 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to what's happening on reddit, but in the MeFi thread about the Georgia abortion law, I posted a clip from the Washington Post that expressed this concern:
“We’ve been inundated with calls from patients who think abortions are already illegal,” said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast. “They don’t understand that we’ll challenge this in court and it will likely be blocked.” What worries her more, though, are the patients who aren’t calling. They need to know that “compassionate, nonjudgmental care is still legal.”
I later tried to explain: "I think it can be seen as a win for the anti-abortion movement when misreporting and misinformation convinces anyone that abortion is currently banned, so I am trying to speak out against the damage that may be caused by coordinated scare tactics from the anti-abortion movement." And I noted: "The anti-abortion movement is trying to scare us (TIME), but my hope is that we can work together against the fear and help ensure safe and legal access to reproductive choice for all women."

And I continued to try to explain: "When people misunderstand what I am trying to say, that's on me, and I am sorry. I am not trying to make this any worse than it already is, or to make people feel any worse than they already do. I think of my former clients, and how they already have it so hard, and how they need us to be better for them and for all of us."

I'm a former legal aid attorney, so I may have a different perspective on how information on social media is read by people who may not have the privilege of understanding that abortion is currently legal, despite the well-publicized passage of these laws. I expect that people in the anti-abortion are celebrating every time they trick anyone into thinking that abortion is currently illegal, so I keep trying to participate in online discussion here, and I regret how difficult it has been to differentiate the point I've been trying to make.

I have been heartbroken to feel like I have come under so much fire for trying to explain the current status of the law, and the upcoming ACLU challenges, while also qualifying that yes, this is a very serious situation and it is no time for complacency. And then I posted this, which is from the Guardian:
The ACLU and Planned Parenthood “will file a lawsuit to stop this unconstitutional ban and protect every woman’s right to make her own choice about her healthcare, her body and her future. This bill will not take effect anytime in the near future, and abortion will remain a safe, legal medical procedure at all clinics in Alabama,” the ACLU of Alabama said on Tuesday.

“To the Alabama politicians that voted for this bill, our message is this: you will forever live in infamy for this vote,” said Staci Fox, president of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, which supports reproductive health and family planning. “And Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates will make sure every woman knows who to hold accountable.”

The group created a separate phone line in response to an influx of calls from women confused about how the vote would affect their access to healthcare. “Imagine how many more women are too scared to call – who feel alone and abandoned by their state – to even reach out to make an appointment, who assume abortion is already illegal,” Fox said. “Those are the women I am losing sleep over every night.”
I don't see this as concern trolling, I see it as remembering that there is a diverse group of women who are impacted by the scare tactics of anti-abortion movement, and there is a potential for women to be hurt right now, and precision in our language about the current status of the law can help protect all of us. If I sound like I'm gatekeeping, it's because I'm reading warnings from Planned Parenthood and trying to protect women. But this doesn't mean that there is no cause for concern.

That's why I've also been posting about protests, and the SIA Legal Team, and the Jane Collective.

Ultimately, I think Rebecca Traister makes an important point in her article Our Fury Over Abortion Was Dismissed for Decades As Hysterical (h/t zachlipton):
Above all, do not let defeat or despair take you, and do not let anyone tell you that your anger is misplaced or silly or in vain, or that it is anything other than urgent and motivating.
Thank you for posting this Ask - I think the more that we can talk about things like this, the better and stronger we can be in our ongoing and upcoming fight for reproductive freedom.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:22 AM on May 19, 2019 [28 favorites]

types of reactions I've heard that I think are unhelpful include:
-uneducated/white trash rednecks are dumb

Yeah, don’t do this. As a Mississippian, I can tell you it does negative amounts of good, and hell, I feel that way half the time.

I cannot handle posts about this or any other major issue that sink into despair. It’s not because I am a Pollyanna. It’s because I have all the despair I can carry right now. Ask yourself: is your post helpful? Does it offer a fresh insight or possible solution? Or do you just want to be right, or be funny, or be counted? Those aren’t bad things to want, of course; God knows I want them, but still.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:45 AM on May 19, 2019 [13 favorites]

People are very angry and upset, and, for some people, it's easier to lash out at perceived "safe" targets--regular-status humans who are basically on your side and therefore are limited in the degree of vitriol in their response--than to channel their energy into working against much more remote and hostile opponents. There is a lot of this in online left discourse; creators of alternative media who make attempts at being inclusive will draw way way more anger on a regular basis than the major media powers who don't even try, or who are actively harmful. When you hear about a YA author cancelling a novel because it's "insensitive," sometimes it's plainly justified, sometimes it's not (I will never get over a prominent critique of a recently-withdrawn YA novel that it was disgusting and racist because it treated a minority group as people with dangerous powers that needed to be controlled when that is the actual plot of The Fifth Kingdom), but it's almost never anyone prominent, and often enough it's a new author, a POC or someone LGBTQ. Someone people feel comfortable going after, rather than a popular, successful author in the mainstream that's doing worse. There's a lot of people out there who could use a little disciplined self-scrutiny when it comes to their activism. Some of them are just very young. Some of them are older and have been living in nice capitalist oblivion and now they act like they're very young ("my first woke" is a Mefi phenomenon, too). Some of them are just power-hungry and want someone they can control.

So, I don't know what you're posting and I think there are some types of comments people have identified above that are hurtful to vulnerable people involved, but you should also take everything with a grain of salt. If your tweets are slightly off-message of what Someone Has Decided Is the Message, you're not going to make the situation any worse. If you're white, you should probably give extra weight to what (confirmed, verified) prominent POC are saying when you're deciding what you want to tweet, though. They're being hit hardest by this.
posted by praemunire at 10:24 AM on May 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

(Sorry, I meant The Fifth Season above. For some reason I always merge the titles of that and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by the same author!)
posted by praemunire at 10:47 AM on May 19, 2019

I think Little Dawn's answer is great. To me it sounds like the same kind of ignorance I find in a lot of democrats and people on the shallow end of the left, who are convinced that breaches of etiquette are at least as important as breaches of justice and who think that civility matters in a discussion where one side thinks the other isn't really human.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:06 AM on May 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I haven't seen much criticism of Pro-Choice posts, except for a few along this line:
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg:

"I’m furious & scared about the new anti-abortion laws too.

But those calling them “Christian Sharia law”—it’s Islamophobic & also inaccurate. Millions of American Muslims follow Sharia every day wo imposing it on non-Muslims.

Call it Christian theocracy, which it is."
Is this the sort of objection you've been seeing?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 11:09 AM on May 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

As someone who has done a lot of work and advocacy within large pro-choice organizations, I can confirm that there is a very definite Message and they do not want to encourage or endorse statements that fall outside the Message. I raised some concerns at a meeting and was informed that this was non-negotiable, and what they had found most effective, and my standby of "on demand, without apology" wasn't what they were looking for, nope, even though of course it was how they all felt.

It hasn't prompted me to take my ball and go home -- I still give time and money and energy to these groups. But their slick focus-tested messaging isn't my style, so I don't do their outreaches anymore and I don't speak as a member of those groups online or anything. That's not what they want attached to their movement, and that's their right.

I will also say that the strongest pushback I have gotten is from very young activists. And I have to concede that they're growing up in a different world than I did, and just as I cringe at Boomers who tell me how to look for a job in 1975, they are cringing at my old-millennial ass telling them how to fight clinic bombers in 1995.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:27 AM on May 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

(All this to say that I wouldn't be surprised if the people pushing back on you are real humans, at least sometimes, and just very much involved in the professional and public side of the movement.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:31 AM on May 19, 2019

The answer to the question in your title is "No, nobody is the thought police or gatekeeper, and there's nothing new-wave about it. People are just telling you what they think, and there is a very good chance that they are right. What's the problem?"
posted by sheldman at 1:54 PM on May 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Are you seeing debates about how to engage with anti-choice protesters in public places, where public may include the internet? Here in my neck of the woods, a pro-choice state representative got in a confrontation with some anti-choice protesters, which in turn sparked a bigger anti-choice protest and a broader conversation about Planned Parenthood’s non-engagement policy. (Link is for local PP in MN and ND, but my understanding is that the policy is national). Consensus among my friends is that yes, cis men should be speaking out on behalf of pro-choice causes, but they should center the experiences of people who can become pregnant, follow the lead of clinic staff re how to engage or not engage, and generally not make giant spectacles of allyship. That latter part is most important for cis dudes, but even among people who can get pregnant the consensus seems to be that one should first and foremost remember that clinics are medical spaces full of nervous people. It wouldn’t surprise me if folks are applying similar rules of minimal engagement to online interactions.

Don’t know if this speaks specifically to the pushback you’re witnessing, but it’s a conversation I have seen and I think it’s important.
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:24 PM on May 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

Honestly, the tenor of the internet has all turned to this as far as I can tell. I've switched my facebook groups to gardening and cooking groups, and I still see conversations devolve into this. I don't think it's necessarily bots, though it may be friends of bots, as it were. I just think the internet sucks now. Current company excepted.
posted by Toddles at 10:36 PM on May 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

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