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Blue The Nation | August 28, 2014

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Jodie Laubenberg “Feels Vulnerable,” But She Still Can’t Feel Empathy

Jodie Laubenberg “Feels Vulnerable,” But She Still Can’t Feel Empathy
Jonathan Nathan

Even before the conclusion of the Wendy Davis filibuster that temporarily halted the Texas anti-abortion bill, conservative legislators in the state were reportedly being harassed by opponents of the measure. Some of the things they say they’ve had to endure are awful. If what they’ve reported is true, and unfortunately some of it probably is, it’s unconscionable. It represents an inability, for some progressives, to truly grasp what it is that they’re even fighting for. Yet at the same time, there’s something striking in the language they use to describe these encounters.

Jodie Laubenberg, the bill’s author, has received sexually and violently explicit phone calls, according to her chief of staff, Suzanne Bowers. “One of the callers left a message and said that they hoped her daughters and granddaughters were raped,” Bowers told the conservative National Review. It’s probably not the sort of thing that Republicans are used to hearing; such threats and attacks are generally reserved for liberal feminist women. In those cases, of course, the defense is always that the attacks shouldn’t be taken seriously. I wonder how Laubenberg and her allies feel about that kind of reasoning now.

And I have to wonder how many of those calls really were expressing a hope that Laubenberg’s daughters and granddaughters would be raped. I have to wonder if some of those callers weren’t actually expressing a subtler form of outrage, if perhaps they were asking how Laubenberg would feel if such a tragedy were to occur, if a family member became a rape victim and needed some form of family planning service, only to find that nearly all the providers had been run out of the state by Laubenberg’s own hand.

“Lots of the f-word, lots of the c-word, which we’ve never heard in our office before,” Bowers continued. “Despicable messages. They call and are very sexually explicit about what they would like somebody to do to her.” Perhaps Laubenberg and her allies have never experienced such things before. They certainly seem to be suggesting that such is the case. That would provide a lot of insight into their complete lack of understanding of the plight of most American women. The average American woman would hardly be surprised by such behavior. A woman can find herself on the receiving end of such insults and threats just for not sleeping with a guy. And while Laubenberg is unlikely to have to live through that kind of threat being actually carried out, many women are less fortunate.

When Laubenberg herself discusses her feelings, the words she chooses are telling. “Unnerving.” “Claustrophobic.” And the most significant of all, “You feel vulnerable.” As in, “I didn’t use to think of myself as being little until I got involved with this. When you have big guys or large groups coming at you, you get a little claustrophobic. It is unnerving, you feel vulnerable…If I walk down the crowd and one of them recognizes me, they’ll try to get very close, they’ll try to get in my face.”

That sounds an awful lot like the way many women describe their experiences with sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. Jodie Laubenberg is experiencing just a tiny little dose of what many–perhaps most–American women have to live with every day.

Laubenberg’s fellow pro-lifer, state Representative Stephanie Klick, described being cornered in the women’s restroom the night of the filibuster. Protesters crowded around her, yelling, chanting. “These folks were really pretty edgily dressed. They were pretty out there in their attire and the things that they were saying.”

And yet, Laubenberg and Klick and the rest of their merry band seem completely unable to muster any empathy for the Texas women who will suffer because of their anti-abortion law. “Vulnerable”? I bet it could make a woman feel pretty vulnerable if she had nowhere to go for family planning services because all the providers had been shut down thanks to arduous new restrictions. If a woman were to become pregnant but wanted to go somewhere more discreet than a major hospital, I suppose it might be “unnerving” to discover she was out of luck. And if she were lucky enough to find a family planning provider, one of the few still open in Texas after the bill’s passage? She’d be likely to find that place overrun by anti-choice protesters, since they’ll only have a few places to concentrate their efforts. I imagine such an ordeal might prove “claustrophobic.”

When given a little taste of the life they, and their ilk, have inflicted on millions of people all over the country, people Jodie Laubenberg shrink in fear. But it never occurs to them to feel any empathy. Nor will it ever occur to them. It’s not the conservative way.