When A Lawmaker Threatens To Set Himself On Fire, You Know It’s Getting Out Of Hand

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Anti-abortion supporters direct a prayer toward the White House

This month, an Oklahoma lawmaker threatened to set himself on fire to “protest the evil” of legal abortion. Rep. Kevin Calvey (R) said that if he were not a Christian, he would douse himself in gasoline and send a strong signal to his state Supreme Court, which has angered him by blocking several anti-abortion laws from taking effect.

Calvey’s desire to self-immolate for the anti-abortion cause got widespread coverage, perhaps because his comments are extreme even amid the traditionally heated political rhetoric regarding reproductive rights.

However, Calvey hardly provides the only recent example of dramatic anti-abortion rhetoric. Lawmakers opposed to the procedure have managed to find a lot of creative ways to express their position. And, as evidenced by this year’s legislative debates over “fetal dismemberment” — which is not an actual medical term, but rather a provocative way to refer to a common second-trimester abortion procedure — some of the most emotional language about abortion has even been enshrined into law.

In addition to the practice of self-immolation, which is perhaps best known in the context of protesters opposing the Vietnam War, here are just a few of the evocative comparisons that abortion opponents have recently deployed:

Women’s bodies are like real estate, cars, and carpeting.

The lawmakers who argue in favor of imposing abortion waiting periods typically say that women need more time to think through such a big decision. When making this point, it’s not unusual for the conversation to veer into a condescending comparison between women’s bodies and inanimate objects.

Last week, for instance, when trying to convince her colleagues to pass the longest abortion waiting period in the country, North Carolina Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer (R) argued that women seeking abortions need a “cooling off period” just like in real estate transactions. Schaffer’s comments echo a similar statement from Missouri Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger (R), who said last year that decisions about abortion should be considered for the same amount of time as decisions about buying a new car or installing new carpeting.

The three-day waiting period passed in Missouri and looks like it may be headed for similar success in North Carolina’s legislature. But the comments related to houses and cars have gotten some pushback. Last year, reproductive rights activists in Missouri packed the room of the legislative hearing over the bill with signs reading “I’m not a car” and “Can you tell the difference between this woman and a car?”

People who work at abortion clinics are like sex offenders.

This month, an Alabama lawmaker filed a bill intended to target the only abortion clinic located in Huntsville by equating clinic staff with criminals. Rep. Ed Henry (R) wants to prevent abortion clinics from being located within 2,000 feet of a public school, which is the same buffer zone that the state maintains between convicted sexual predators and schools. The legislation is based on failed ordinance that the Christian Coalition of Alabama drafted last year.

“You have the spectacle of an abortion clinic across from a school,” James Henderson, the former leader of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, told after Henry’s bill was introduced. “We were advised counsel that a good approach was to use the same standard of keeping sex offenders from public schools, which is 2,000 feet. That is what the bill is based on.”

The policy change would make the current clinic’s location illegal, since it’s across the street from an elementary school. The individual who owns the clinic in Huntsville — who has already been been forced to relocate his business to comply with a harsh Alabama law that requires abortion clinics to have wider hallways — has called the proposed ordinance “crazy.”

Getting an abortion is like being attacked by a raptor.

In March, New Hampshire Rep. Warren Groen (R) made national headlines for turning a debate over the state’s official bird into a conversation about abortion. After a group of fourth graders proposed a bill to make the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor — a real-world lesson in civics and local government — Groen ensured that the debate took a dark and unexpected turn.

“It grasps them with its talons and then uses its razor-sharp beak to rip its victims to shreds, to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood,” Groen said in reference to the red-tailed hawk.

The lawmaker was widely criticized for derailing the fourth graders’ bill, which did not successfully pass. Some of his colleagues suggested that he owed the kids an apology for comparing hawks to abortion, which led some of the elementary schoolers to go home and ask their parents how Planned Parenthood is connected to birds.

Planned Parenthood is worse than ISIS.

Planned Parenthood, one of the primary targets of the anti-abortion movement, has sparked comparisons that are even more violent than raptor attacks. Last month, South Dakota Rep. Isaac Latterell (R) sparked considerable controversy for penning a blog post in which he declared that “Planned Parenthood worse than ISIS and lying about it.”

“Planned Parenthood abortionists in Sioux Falls are beheading unborn children during dismemberment abortions,” Latterell, who has introduced several bills to prevent the “decapitating” and “dismembering” of fetuses, wrote in that post. “Most people are unaware that this is happening, because Planned Parenthood of Sioux Falls denies that they behead or otherwise dismember unborn children.”

It’s not the first time that ISIS has been used as an inappropriate point of comparison in political debates. Latterell’s rhetoric fits in with the larger debates raging over so-called “dismemberment” procedures — even though the Planned Parenthood clinic in his state doesn’t even offer abortion procedures in the second trimester, when this type of abortion would be performed.

Abortion doctors are like veterinarians.

Last month, arguing in favor of an extreme anti-abortion bill that would require doctors to administer anesthesia during abortion procedures despite the fact that there’s no medical justification for that process, Montana Rep. Bill Harris (R) equated abortion providers with veterinarians, and ending a pregnancy with euthanizing a pet.

Harris said that if he took an animal to the vet to be euthanized, “that veterinarian would go to every effort to do that in as painless and as humane a way as he could manage, so for obvious reasons, I’m a yes to this bill.”

House Minority Whip Rep. Jenny Eck (D) retorted that women making decisions about their reproductive health is “very different from a situation where someone puts their dog down at the veterinarian’s office.” Indeed, there’s no evidence that fetuses can feel pain before the point of viability, and requiring anesthesia during abortion procedures threatens to make it an even more expensive and complicated process for the women who choose to end a pregnancy.