They are literally inciting terrorism.
Over the last few months, Republican and conservative leaders have started adopting a bizarre new talking point: that the Democratic Party wants to legalize infanticide.
If that sounds crazy, it's because it is. No one is advocating for this, and no one outside of a maximum-security penitentiary ever would advocate for this. There's no truth whatsoever to these claims, and anyone who repeats them is either deeply cynical and tribal or deeply gullible and stupid.
Yet more and more prominent Republicans and conservative media figures are making these wild accusations more and more frequently.
And if they keep doing it, it may only be a matter of time before they get somebody killed.
The right-wing fever swamps have spent years demonizing doctors with the ugly myth that infants are routinely born alive and then murdered after botched abortions. But the "infanticide" meme went mainstream once Fox News started stoking hysteria over some modest abortion-rights bills in New York and Virginia.
Both measures proposed making it just a little bit easier for doctors to approve a third-trimester abortion, in the very rare event that a woman needs one because her health is at risk or the fetus will not survive. Some Virginia lawmakers accurately described the reality of these heartbreaking situations: that restrictive laws on later abortion can tie doctors' hands in a medical emergency, and that if an infant with no chance of survival is delivered alive, parents have the right to choose palliative care instead of painful, extreme medical interventions for their dying child.
But, a few out-of-context quotes and deliberate misrepresentations later, conservatives managed to twist these nuanced explanations into the absurd lie that Democrats endorse letting doctors murder infants after delivery.
At the prominent right-wing conference CPAC on Friday, Vice President Mike Pence accused Democrats of "standing for late-term abortion and infanticide and a culture of death." Another high-profile CPAC speaker, former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, thought the word "infanticide" didn't go far enough for what he claims Democrats support: "It’s not infanticide. It is murder if you take the baby home and kill the baby at home. It’s murder. The same thing is true at the hospital."
Trump has repeatedly pushed similar talking points — including in his State of the Union address, at CPAC on Saturday, and in tweets like this one from Monday: "The Democrat position on abortion is now so extreme that they don’t mind executing babies AFTER birth." (Before that, Trump's tall tale of choice was that Democrats favor abortions right up through labor — an idea that doctors say is medical gibberish.)
On the one hand, these deranged fever-dreams are an excuse for Republicans to stigmatize legal abortion and limit reproductive rights even more than they already have. Trump sent his "executing babies" tweet after Senate Democrats blocked a GOP bill that threatened doctors with jail if they didn't try to resuscitate an infant "born alive" after an attempted abortion — a solution to a non-existent problem, since current law already protects the very rare infants who could be born alive after abortion procedures.
But the harms go even further than that.
Because every time Republicans with big platforms tell lies like this, they also make it more likely that extremists will take those lies seriously — and decide that the only way to stop such alleged atrocities is with violence against abortion providers, patients, Democrats, and any bystanders who happen to be in the way.
Every time Republicans tell these lies, they are quite literally inciting terrorism — whether they intend to do so or not.
We've already seen this phenomenon more than once in the Trump era. So far, two people, one white supremacist and one die-hard Trump supporter, have taken it upon themselves to plot or attempt the mass murder of people Trump tells inflammatory lies about — including, notably, members of the media whom Trump routinely attacks as "enemies of the people."
Experts have started calling this type of violence "stochastic terrorism." It's what happens when public figures use rhetoric that predictably incites violence, without knowing exactly who might heed the call and carry out that violence. As one description put it, it's like committing "remote-control murder by lone wolf."
Tragically, this idea is especially relevant when it comes to abortion. When leaders of the anti-choice movement won't stop calling abortion providers "murderers" or claiming that abortion is another Holocaust, eventually someone is going to act as if that's really true and decide they need to take matters into their own hands.
That's what happened when a gunman ranting about "baby parts" murdered three people and injured nine at a Colorado Planned Parenthood in 2015. His ramblings came directly from a series of propaganda videos that spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood — and after those videos were released, violence and threats against abortion providers spiked nationwide.
None of these dangerous lies are new. The videos didn't come out of nowhere, and neither did the GOP's latest obsession with fictional post-birth abortions.
After all, "infanticide" is basically the anti-choice movement's party line on what abortion really is — that if a woman decides when and whether to let her own body be used as life support for a being that can't survive without it, it's no different than letting her stab a screaming child to death.
The problem for the anti-choice movement is that most Americans profoundly disagree with them on this. Huge majorities want abortion to stay safe and legal, including many of those who personally identify as "pro-life."
While some Americans have personal moral qualms about abortion, they also understand that reproduction is complicated — that no birth control method is perfect, that not every pregnancy will result in a healthy live birth, that every pregnancy is physically grueling and at least a little bit medically risky, and that women need to have the final say on whether they are willing and able to endure all of that.
And because most Americans don't share the extremist view that abortion is inherently infanticide, the anti-choice movement has been trying for years to move the goalposts.
They can't convince people that abortion is really murder — so they've started arguing that murder is really abortion.
And now this dangerously irresponsible argument — the kind that could easily get people killed — is becoming the mainstream party line of the GOP.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.