The Pro-Life Movement Is in Danger Repealing Roe Would Be a Hollow Victory If the Anti-Abortion Cause Is Seen as Anti-Woman

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 20, 2018 | Go to article overview

The Pro-Life Movement Is in Danger Repealing Roe Would Be a Hollow Victory If the Anti-Abortion Cause Is Seen as Anti-Woman


While on the surface it is the embryo's fate that seems to be at stake," the sociologist Kristin Luker wrote in 1984, "the abortion debate is actually about the meaning of women's lives."

This line, from Ms. Luker's book "Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood," neatly encapsulates a longstanding pro-choice charge against the pro-life movement. As much as opponents of abortion claim to care about the killing of the unborn, the argument goes, in reality abortion restriction is a means to a different end: The restraint of women's choices, the restriction of their sexual freedom, their subordination to the rule of fathers and husbands and patriarchy writ large.

The reality has always been more complicated. From the beginning of the modern anti-abortion movement - whose origins lie in the 1960s, not just the aftermath of Roe v. Wade - it has included female leaders who identify as pro-life feminists and reject the idea that female liberty depends on a right to kill your unborn child. And while the pro-life grass roots tended to be strongly traditionalist on gender roles in the 1970s, with time pro-life and pro-choice citizens converged in their views on women's roles; by the late 2000s, the Claremont McKenna professor Jon Shields wrote in a 2012 commentary on Ms. Luker's book, a clear majority of pro-life voters held views that sociologists would describe as "gender egalitarian," not traditionalist or Gileadean.

At the same time, the abortion-rights movement was linked in its early days to a distinctive form of upper-class WASP paternalism - in which legal abortion was sold as a means of helping upper-class "good girls" out of trouble while keeping the undesirable fertility of other classes and races in check. And from Hugh Hefner's early abortion-rights advocacy to a certain style of predatory male feminism today, support for legal abortion among men has often carried a strong whiff of self-interest, with feticide as a get-out-of-responsibility-free card for caddish men.

But with all this said, it's also obvious that social conservatism can lapse into a version of Ms. Luker's portrait, and it's easy to think of examples - the Todd Akin fiasco of 2012, for instance - where a cruelly sexist form of anti-abortion politics reared an ugly head.

Which is why the allegation of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh represents a uniquely dangerous moment for a pro-life movement that has spent decades working toward the goal of a fifth Supreme Court vote to amend or overturn Roe v. Wade.

Judge Kavanaugh may be innocent. The allegation against him is plausible but not nearly as dispositive as the cascade of #MeToo claims that have felled other prominent men. If it is false, the work of a faulty or disoriented memory, then he is in a legitimately terrible position, with a lifetime's reputation for probity at stake and no clear way to clear his name.

But the story of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, may be true. And it has landed at a moment of great cultural peril for a type of social conservatism that regards itself as idealistic and pro-woman and capable of marrying its convictions to support for female advancement and empowerment.

In its targets, the #MeToo movement has made no partisan distinctions; if anything, it has probably ended the careers of more prominent liberal than right-wing pigs. But for reasons of political expedience, conservatives have been more likely to make excuses for their predators, and indeed have elevated one of the more prominent examples to the White House. That elevation, and the Trumpification of the right it has required, has accelerated the political polarization of the sexes, so that what was once a modest gender gap is now an extraordinary gulf. …

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