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May 20, 2024

The fallacy of Clinton as the “pro-choice” candidate

By EMELINE ARMITAGE | March 31, 2016

Although this is the first election in which I’m eligible to vote, I think I can say with confidence that this election has spawned the most memes. My Twitter and Facebook are flooded with Trump’s hair, the bird that landed on Sanders’ podium and Ted Cruz, a.k.a. the Zodiac Killer. A new species of meme has also landed on my social media: the Hillary Clinton the Feminist (TM) meme. Mainstream feminist accounts and publications share images of Clinton with captions such as “YAS QUEEN” and “SLAY QUEEN HILL.” (The appropriation of black slang is a different but important conversation.)

I have been disappointed in mainstream feminism and pro-choice communities in the United States. Clinton has been labeled the pro-choice feminist candidate without much mainstream discussion as to the appropriateness of these labels. I argue that labeling Clinton the pro-choice candidate is misguided and ignores a huge part of her political career. (For the record, obviously Clinton would be better for reproductive rights in the U.S. than any Republican candidate. I’m just arguing the labels that are used to describe her politics [mainly by liberals] are misguided.)

Clinton does support reproductive and abortion rights — but for whom? For U.S. citizens, but what about the other people’s lives she’s had a major impact on: undocumented people and the people of any country in which the U.S. has intervened in the past 20 years. Clinton was Secretary of State for four years and has had an enormous impact on the lives of women across the world during her political career. Failing to interrogate this part of her politics is a huge failure by mainstream feminism and pro-choice activism. When we look at Clinton’s entire career and impact, the “pro-choice” label quickly falls apart.

Hillary Clinton and her husband have been heavily involved in Haitian aid and intervention, both in the 1990s and with the 2010 creation of the Clinton-Bush Haiti fund. The aid programs tied to the Clintons have been heavily involved in forced or coerced sterilizations of Haitian women, a huge reproductive rights issue. A 1993 report from the U.S. Agency for International Development outlines a goal for intervention in Haiti of establishing 23 sterilization facilities. Yet it also suggests the "elimination of the practice of requiring physician visits.” Essentially, this document states that the sterilization of Haitian women is more important than regular pap smears or pelvic exams.

In 1994, a Brooklyn-based Haitian women's group “Women of Koalisyon” reported that local Haitian clinics gave women food and a little money to encourage sterilization, an egregious ethical violation. These sterilization programs in Haiti were cloaked in mainstream feminist empowerment rhetoric that ignored the unethical coercion and imperialism implicit in the programs. A 1994 Counterpunch report titled “Sterile Hopes” states that “cut through all the reassuring lingo about ‘empowering women’...and the fundamental goal of the American government is to keep the natives from breeding.” I could find no comment from Hillary Clinton apologizing for, addressing or even acknowledging the Haitian sterilization controversy.

Similarly, Hillary Clinton and her husband in the 1990s were supportive of Alberto Fujimori’s presidency in Peru. Under Fujimori’s administration (1990-2000) more than 270,000 Peruvian women were sterilized against their will. I also could not find any comment from Clinton about her support of the Fujimori regime. More recently during her term as Secretary of State, Clinton supported the horrendous 2009 Honduran coup d’état and supported the Hernández administration, which has been responsible for the murder of activists. Al-Jazeera reports that after the coup, the Honduran murder rate spiked by 50 percent and femicide in particular skyrocketed. The Hernández administration has also been horrible for reproductive and abortion rights, especially during the current Zika virus crisis. Again, I could find no substantial comment from Clinton, which is as much a condemnation of her as well as mainstream journalists for not pressing her on the issue.

When we extol Hillary Clinton for being “feminist” or “pro-choice” we forget (or consciously ignore) the millions of women being denied basic reproductive rights because of Clinton’s policies. Reporting on Clinton as the “pro-choice” candidate is cloaked in female-empowerment rhetoric, much like the disastrous Haitian sterilization programs were. I implore my fellow feminists to take a broader, more inclusive view of what “pro-choice” means. Yes, pro-choice means supporting U.S. abortion rights and Planned Parenthood — but it also means decrying the forced sterilization of Haitian and Peruvian women, the wholesale murder of female activists, and remembering women outside of our immediate communities who are affected by U.S. imperialist policies. Hopefully we can cut through the mainstream rhetoric and criticize “feminist” politicians without being drowned out by shallow shouts of empowerment and girl power. Let us not let our critical thinking take a backseat to “Queen Hillary” memes.

Emeline Armitage is a sophomore International Studies major from Cleveland.

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