Johnson was a former Planned Parenthood employee until 2009 when, she says, she witnessed an abortion of a 13-week-old fetus. She described the incident in dramatic terms: “The last thing I saw was a spine twirling around in the mother’s womb before succumbing to the force of the suction.”
The clinic has previously said there were no abortions of 13-week-old fetuses on the day she claims. (All procedures that day were at less than 10 weeks, according to records obtained by a Texas Monthly investigative report. In an essay for The Federalist, Johnson later said she believed the records might have been incomplete or falsified.) Nevermind that. On Tuesday, she was given a prime speaking slot to offer one of the more audacious attacks on reproductive rights ever to appear at a political convention.
No, abortion doesn’t have a smell. Like Abby, I think of abortion in very real terms. As a reporter covering women’s health care, I’ve witnessed at least 20. My friends have had them. Your friends have probably had them too, even if they never told you. Considering that 1 in 4 women will have an abortion in her lifetime, according to the Guttmacher Institute, there are an astounding number of women who are in a position to explain that there is no “abortion smell.” Abortion clinics smell like all medical clinics: antiseptic, rubber gloves, bleach — plus the occasional batch of cookies dropped off by a grateful patient. There is a generic medical odor, chemicals and perhaps a whiff of blood, but nothing unique to the procedure.
As for one of her other seemingly horrifying claims, that doctors piece together fetal remains to make sure the abortion is complete — that’s true. But it’s not some ghoulish jigsaw puzzle done on a lark. It’s because an incomplete abortion could be dangerous to a patient’s health, and abortion doctors care about women’s lives.
But Johnson had to describe abortion as a horror show because the alternative would have been too banal to achieve the effect she desired. Americans are no longer as scandalized by the concept of abortion as they once were. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last summer found support for legal abortion the highest it’s been in two decades, with around 60 percent of respondants supporting abortion in all or most cases. Only 14 percent said it should be completely illegal.
Johnson had to make abortions about telltale smells and twisted spinal cords and the rights of fetuses, because it was the only way to hide that what she wants the government to do is ignore the rights of women. She applauded President Trump for “protecting the rights of health-care workers objecting to abortion,” but appears to care not at all about protecting the rights of women to decide what they are willing to carry in their own bodies.
It was an impressive sleight of hand, and she wasn’t the only speaker on Tuesday night to try it.
Cissie Graham Lynch, Billy Graham’s granddaughter, claimed that her speech was about “free exercise of religion,” and about how Christians are “silenced” and “bullied.”
Really it was chockablock full of homophobic, misogynist dog whistles.
“Democrats tried to force adoption agencies to violate their deeply held beliefs,” was a coy way of saying, I don’t think LGBTQ people should be allowed to be parents. “Whether you’re a baker, a florist or a football coach, [Democrats] will force the choice between being obedient to God or to Caesar,” was a coy way of saying, I think businesses should be allowed to turn away LGBTQ people.
She touched on abortion, too: “Democrats tried to make organizations pay for abortion-inducing drugs” is a coy way of saying, I think your boss’s preferred insurance plan should have more of a say in your family planning than your doctor.
Her entire speech was a coy way of saying, I want to have the freedom to discriminate against you.
The Republican National Convention is halfway over, and it’s already clear that someone could have invented a heck of a drinking game based on the phrase “our way of life.” Every other speaker mentions a version of it — how Joe Biden wants to oppress their way of life, how their way of life is being threatened.
But Abby Johnson and Cissy Graham Lynch made their positions perfectly clear: Their way of life is to police other people’s lives and call it freedom. Their way of life is to claim they are being oppressed if they are not allowed to oppress others. That is the way of life they’re trying to protect.
Abortion doesn’t have a smell. But my God, something at Tuesday night’s convention sure did.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.