Pro-Choice Logic: Taliban Comparisons

Accidental Activist Adventures has analyzed ideas and analogies from the antiabortion movement, but today we’re going to look at one that’s recently come from the pro-choice movement.

At the beginning of September, the most extreme antiabortion bill in this country went into effect in the state of Texas.

S. B. 8, also referred to as the “Texas Heartbeat Act”, bars abortion once cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound, which can be as early as six weeks gestation when many women are unaware they are pregnant (some have been calling the law a six week ban or even a total ban for this reason).

It’s not the first law to attempt to ban abortion at the first detectable signs of cardiac activity (which is not considered a heartbeat since there’s no heart to pump blood at that point). What makes this law unique from any other so-called “heartbeat law” is that to ensure the law is enforced it allows any private citizen to file civil suits and collect damages against anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion post-“heartbeat”. Researchers at the University of Texas reportedly wrote that S.B.8’s language “is so broad that anyone who offers information or referrals for abortion care, drives the patient to a facility, helps them pay for an abortion—or intends to do so—could face a civil suit.” The Texas Right to Life had even created a pro-life whistleblower website so that Texans could report possible violations, which backfired horribly.  

In response to this law, many pro-choice supporters have drawn comparisons between the antiabortion movement and Muslim extremists—mainly the Taliban—with a variety of nicknames like “Texas Taliban”, “Christian Taliban”, “Abbott Taliban”, “Televangelical Taliban”, “Talipublicans”, and “Y’all-Qaeda”. Texas itself has been accused of being “invaded” by the Taliban and has been called things like “Redneckistan” and “Howdy Arabia”. There have been political cartoons depicting like Muslim women in burkas asking to “pray for Texas women” and a Texan cowboy fist bumping a man in a turban. The likes of Stephen King, Alyssa Milano, Joy Behar, Michael Rapaport, Harry Shearer, and other celebrities have expressed anger over the law while either calling antiabortion Texan lawmakers and their supporters “Texan Taliban” or that the Taliban would love the new antiabortion law. Many have compared the Texas Heartbeat Act to Sharia Law. Similar comparisons were made when Alabama enacted its own heartbeat bill.

It certainly wouldn’t be surprising to find that the Taliban banned abortion considering the well-documented history of the military organization stripping rights from women. Therefore it is surprising there doesn’t seem to be any concrete evidence of the Taliban ever enforcing abortion bans. Abortion has apparently been mostly illegal in Afghanistan since 1976–18 years before the Taliban was founded. There are explanations that what is happening in states like Texas isn’t Sharia Law because Sharia actually supports pregnancy termination until the fetus gains a soul at 120 days gestation (making Sharia law more liberal than the Texas law). One article explained that religious councils in Taliban controlled areas were more likely to justify abortion based on poverty.

Furthermore, the Taliban is made up of men whereas the American antiabortion movement, while arguably having a large number of men, has quite a few women in high ranking activist or government positions. In fact, it was a woman, Shelby Slawson, who introduced the Texas heartbeat bill to the state’s House while she was surrounded by six women who co-sponsored or supported the bill.

Even if the Taliban had stripped abortion access and were exactly like the American antiabortion movement, the comparison would still be unjust. Sajida Jalazai, a Muslim assistant professor living in Texas, wrote an excellent piece on how using Islam to critique abortion bans only excuses the actual issue through perpetuating Muslim stereotypes. “Not only do they re-hash the age-old Islamophobic stereotypes about the inherent and uniquely repressive nature of Islam (particularly in relation to the treatment of women), but they also overlook the roots of modern anti-abortion movements in America in connection with white Christian nationalism,” she writes. She goes onto write that such comparisons give the false impression that such incredibly restrictive measures on reproductive rights is normal over in backwards foreign nations populated by crazy brown zealots while it’s an anomaly here in a country where citizens are supposed to have freedom.

From the viewpoint of those that have paid little to no attention to what’s been happening with reproductive rights, it may seem like the antiabortion movement has suddenly resorted to extreme measures of a terrorist group to get what they want when in actuality it’s just business as usual for antiabortion supporters. We’ve been experiencing interference with our reproductive rights for decades—not by Muslim extremists, but by Christians who believe a zygote, embryo, or fetus is exactly the same as the person carrying it in their uterus. They only appear to have suddenly resorted to drastic measures because they got a huge win with a piece of legislation that has made a bigger dent on legalized abortion than any other law that merely chipped away at those rights or was immediately overturn by the higher courts.

The antiabortion movement is not an American or Christian version of the Taliban, but simply evangelical Christian culture rooted in misogynistic religious interpretation. They haven’t suddenly adopted the methods of a foreign military or terrorist organization—they’re doing the same shit they always have been doing. The antiabortion movement isn’t a stranger to radical methods to fight abortion with stalking and harassing patients, resorting to acts of violence against clinics and the people that work there, setting up fake clinics next to real ones to mislead patients, cutting funding to family planning to get back at abortion providers that also have reproductive healthcare and contraceptive services, and coming up with legislature that purposely undercuts abortion rights in the hopes that the Supreme Court will deem it constitutional and overturn Roe v Wade as a result. Hell, this isn’t even the first Texas law to have a drastic impact on abortion access as an earlier law, H.B. 2, forced over half of Texas’ 40-plus abortion providers to close before it was overturned three years later.

Yet, for some reason, the American antiabortion movement currently isn’t being seen as its own entity with its own religious beliefs and ways of conducting things. It could be argued that comparisons are needed to help those outside the fight for reproductive rights grasp how extreme the antiabortion movement can be, but why is the go-to comparison often the Taliban and rarely white extremists like the Nazis (who actually did enact antiabortion policies)?Despite there being a Christian American terrorist group—the Army of God—the movement is compared to non-white foreign terrorist groups that have nothing to do with attacking and stripping abortion rights in their own countries, let alone America. You’re more likely to find antiabortion zealots compared to Muslim terrorists before they’re compared to the self-righteous Pharisees of the scripture they believe makes abortion a sin. An antiabortion law that rewards people that snitch on others for helping someone obtain an abortion will be compared to Sharia Law long before they’re compared to Judas betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.   

It’s frustrating to see the antiabortion movement compared to non-Christian extremists rather than being called out for being Christian fanatics, especially since comparisons to the Taliban ultimately do not have any effect on the antiabortion movement. “I would rather be called a Taliban than a democrat any day of the week,” one Facebook user wrote on an ACLU post. Another user wrote, “if the taliban want to protect innocent babies maybe they’re not so bad after all.” Others, like antiabortion immigration attorney Christine Flowers, scoff at the idea that limiting abortions to six weeks in one state of the country is even remotely comparable to the Taliban’s human rights violations.

If we want to call out the antiabortion movement and the actions it is taking against reproductive rights, it shouldn’t be done through Islamphobic scapegoating. To put it in the words of legal analyst Imani Gandy: “Stop with the ‘Sharia Law in Texas’ bullshit. This is right wing Christian evangelicalism. Homegrown. Stop invoking a racist boogeyman.”