I’ve heard from so many people, especially women, who are utterly shocked at the progress anti-abortion forces have made in the last year and a half. Left and right bills are being passed that limit women’s ability to obtain abortions.
The latest one in Georgia outlaws abortion after 20 weeks, with exception only given for pregnancies that are “medically futile” or threaten the mother’s life. There are initiatives to bestow personhood on zygotes and fetuses taking place all over the country. The Virginia ultrasound bill passed and Utah recently mandated a three day waiting period.
When Thomas Frank wrote What’s the Matter with Kansas back in 2004, he argued that Republicans were essentially using issues like abortion in order to gain votes (and to get people to vote against their economic best interests), but that once in office they never did anything about it. It was essentially symbolic. That has clearly changed.
The laws that have been passed or proposed in the last year and a half, these are laws that the anti-abortion movement has wanted to pass for a long time. I know because I grew up attending rallies and banquets where these sorts of laws were called for. The goal was to pass longer waiting periods, to mandate ultrasounds, to mandate that women hear about the “health risks” of abortion, etc, all in the hopes of keeping women from getting abortions. And of course, I grew up hearing the morning after pill and even the birth control pill itself denounced as “abortifacients,” and therefore as something that should be banned alongside abortion (because, I was taught, they were abortion). But of course, all of this was a pipe dream, something to keep plugging away at but not something that could be accomplished all at once.
What changed was that in 2010 Republicans made incredibly impressive electoral gains. Suddenly, in many states Republicans controlled the governorship and both houses of the state legislature – and sometimes with enormous margins. And these newly Republicans weren’t you grandfather’s Republicans either – they were Tea Party Republicans.
A lot of people tried to pretend that the Tea Party was all about libertarianism and had nothing to do with conservative social issues. The thing is, libertarianism and social conservatism have become so entangled in this country that they’re pretty difficult to unsort from each other. Even leading libertarian Ron Paul calls for abortion to be banned.
As any historian will tell you, modern conservatism was born in the 1950s out of several different strands: libertarianism, social conservatism, and anticommunism. Anticommunism bound the first two strands, which technically contradict each other, together, and that alliance largely holds up to this day.
With the surge of the Tea Party and the Republicanization of state governments, the anti-abortion movement finally had what it needed to act. The laws and ideas that it has brought forward are not new, but what is new is that they have the political capital to enact their agenda. And that is what they are busily working on doing.
I don’t know why so many liberals stayed home in 2010. It’s like they didn’t realize that there would be consequences if they did so, and it is those consequences we are seeing. Even the discussion on contraception is part of that; after all, the anti-abortion movement has been dead set against hormonal contraception (which they argue is the same as abortion) for decades. This isn’t new. It’s just that before it sort of stayed under the radar. But with the changing political fortunes of 2010, no longer.
One reason for the flurry of new laws, including laws like that of Georgia, which are blatant violations of Roe v. Wade, is that the anti-abortion movement is hoping to force a Supreme Court reevaluation of Roe. Why? Because they know what I know. The Supreme Court has been moving to the right for decades. Far, far to the right. A right-wing takeover of sorts. If Roe is reevaluated by today’s Supreme Court, I cannot say with confidence that it would be upheld. And the anti-abortion movement is very, very aware of that.
Besides trying to force a Supreme Court reevaluation, the current flurry of new laws has another motivation: preventing women from having abortions by whatever means possible. Whether anti-abortion activists oppose abortion because it involves “murdering babies” or whether they oppose it because it involves women rejecting their rightful role, motherhood, every abortion that is prevented is a success.
Waiting laws, ultrasound bills, restrictions and requirements, it’s all part of trying to scare or shame women out of having abortions – whether because abortion is murder or because a woman must take “responsibility” for having sex without being ready to accept her God-given role of motherhood – or even to simply prevent women from having abortions altogether. When states like Mississippi have only one abortion provider, the result is that many women simply cannot obtain abortions, or would have to go through a great deal of trouble to do so. This is the goal of the anti-abortion movement and has been their agenda for years. Short of forcing a reevaluation of Roe, they want to make abortions as hard, humiliating, and even impossible to get as they possibly can.
Like I said, I’m not surprised. What I am is more and more and more convinced that every election matters. We need to not simply become jaded or apathetic when those we vote for don’t fulfill everything they hoped they would. And, we need to remember that state and local elections matter as well. Believe it or not, some municipalities have started imposing lengthier waiting periods and entangling abortion clinics in a growing web of regulation. Being politically involved and fighting for women’s reproductive rights is critically important. As a woman of reproductive age and the mother of a young daughter, I am reminded of that every day.