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19 Anti-Choice Stars and Counting: The Heartbeat Bill and the Duggar Family

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August 19, 2013

What does the Heartbeat Bill of Ohio and the family of 19 Kids and Counting have in common?

Recently, the parents of the family, Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, were keynote speakers at a banquet for Faith2Action, a conservative, anti-choice group to help announce the Heartbeat bill. People have been surprised, asking: Why that family from 19 Kids and Counting?

What most people don’t realize is that the stars of the hit reality TLC show 19 Kids and Counting are anti-choice stars. In fact, their entire show is almost entirely fueled by their anti-choice politics. Every aspect of their PR is created to perpetuate their message, making them stars in the conservative arena.

Personally, I’ve been fascinated with the Duggars. I’ve watched several seasons and am familiar with their political affiliations. They were on the forefront of the Rick Santorum campaign, who talked about the “dangers” of contraception. They identify as fundamentalist Baptists and their daughters only wear long skirts – you’ll be hard-pressed to find them wearing pants at any time. Whenever they see a woman dressed “immodestly” in public, their code word is “Nike,” so the men in the family can look away until the coast is clear. According to Michelle Duggar, “the way to boys’ hearts are their eyes.”

Despite the fact that having their children’s lives heavily documented on television may feel a little like exploitation, the mission of the show is to “show how wonderful children are.” What’s hidden under this innocent-sounding message is their anti-choice rhetoric. They genuinely believe that all birth control, even the rhythm method that is highly praised amongst other fundamentalist religions, is not in God’s will. Their motto is wait until marriage to have any sort of intimate physical touching (okay, hand-holding is okay once you’re engaged), then get married and have all the sex you want. Children are to be embraced, no matter what the circumstances.

Their message was crafted when, according to Michelle and Jim Bob, they experience a miscarriage due to taking oral contraceptives (studies have shown over and over again that oral contraceptives and emergency contraceptives do not cause miscarriage). They even claim on their website that taking birth control was a “selfish action.” They want everyone to have children no matter what the circumstances, economically or personally. They even have tips about handling money and affording many children within the show, such as how to make your own laundry detergent. Of course, this message is convenient for the Duggars. Outside of the show, they sell and rent commercial real estate, including commercial warehouses and a cell phone tower. They don’t have to worry about child care costs, and their children are homeschooled by Michelle. They have health insurance. Their class and race privilege have absolutely afforded them to be able to have this message.

In fact, much of the success of the Duggar’s anti-choice message relies on their identity. They are rural, white and by all appearances upper middle class. The message of “don’t use birth control, have all the kids you want” only works within this context because if you switched them out with other identities, such as urban, low income people of color, or undocumented, or young or trans*, then it would be viewed by society as deviant and wrong. If Michelle Duggar was black, she would be called a welfare queen and viewed as a burden on society. For this white, middle class family, it’s a celebration to give birth to 20 children. For marginalized groups, particularly people of color, having a lot of children and refraining from birth control is something to be ashamed of, and is even branded irresponsible.

It’s important to remember when anti-choice politicians are putting legislation into place that these are their heroes. These are the paid speakers that they bring to events to support their legislation. People who have code words to avoid seeing scantily-clad women. Reproductive justice activists need to speak up about this family and start the conversation about their show and their message. This is not just another innocent Here Comes Honey Boo Boo type of show. The political undertones need to be called out, and so-called “heartbeat bills” cannot be justified by pointing to one family who are capable of managing 19 children. We need to rally legislation that reflects the reality of American families and their circumstances.

Allie Lahey is a student leader at Bowling Green University

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