‘Historical accident’: how abortion came to focus white, evangelical anger

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PPublic opinion on abortion in the US has changed little since 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized the procedure nationally in its ruling on the Roe v Wade case. According to Gallup, which has the longest-running poll on the issue, almost four out of five Americans believe abortion should be legal, at least under certain circumstances.

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Yet the politics of abortion has opened deep divisions over the past five decades, which have deepened in recent years of polarization. In 2021, state legislators passed dozens of restrictions on abortion access, making it the most unfavorable year for abortion rights on record.


The controversy came to the fore in the US Supreme Court on Wednesday, when a new conservative-dominated bench heard oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, the most important abortion rights case since Roe.

In gloomy arguments, the judges questioned whether the state of Mississippi should be allowed to ban nearly all abortions at 15 weeks’ gestation, nine weeks past the current approved limit. While the ruling, expected by the end of June next year, is far from a foregone conclusion, justice in the conservative majority appeared to signal their support for severely restricting access to abortion, a right Americans have held for two generations. used for.

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The divisive question among the conservative majority appears to be whether abortion should be restricted to before 15 weeks, weakening Roe, or if the precedent set in Roe should be reversed altogether.

Summarizing Mississippi’s argument, Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was controversially nominated to court by Donald Trump in 2018, said, “The Constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice …more Leaves the issue for the people to resolve in the democratic process.” If the issue is returned to the states, there will be 26 states “certain or likely” To ban or severely restrict the use of abortion.

TeaThat religious right in America has been laying the foundation for this decisive challenge to abortion rights for years. According to historians and researchers, it took decades of political conspiracy for this campaign to reach this point. The movement has been associated with nearly every major issue in American politics for the past five decades, from segregation to welfare reform to campaign finance.

Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Dartmouth University and author of the recently released book, said the conservative anti-abortion movement was “a kind of historical accident”. Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right,

It was not until Republican strategists sought to “deflect attention from the real narrative”, which Ballmer argues was racial integration, “and to advocate on behalf of the fetus”, that the largely non-violent Political evangelical Christians and Catholics would be united within the Republicans. Team. Balmer argues that advocacy began in 1969.

Although a Supreme Court decision in Brown v Board of Education called for an end to racial segregation in schools in 1954, many schools continued to have actual segregation 14 years later.

Then, the Supreme Court weighed in again, and ordered the schools to integrate “Immediately”, It “inspired” white Southerners to createisolation academies”, the only white private Christian schools registered as tax-exempt non-profit charities. African American parents in Mississippi sued, arguing it was taxpayer-subsidized discrimination. They won, and in 1971, repeal of tax authorities Non-profit status of 111 individual private schools.

Marchers in St. Paul, Minnesota protest the Supreme Court’s Roe decision, January 1973. Photograph: AP

In Balmer’s view, evangelical Christian leaders were catalyzed by the cancellation of the non-profit status of individual private schools, but even in the early 1970s the defense of racial segregation was not a populist message. However, the fetus may be protected.

The Republican operation began testing abortion as a vessel for the collective concerns of evangelical Christians, and cried As a shorthand for government infiltration into the family after the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Eventually, abortion became a reason for evangelists to deny Democratic President Jimmy Carter, himself an evangelical Christian, a second term.

In Ballmer’s book, evangelical opposition to abortion was “not an anti-abortion movement”, said Elmer L. Raminger, an administrator at the then-whites-only Christian college Bob Jones University. “For me it was government intrusion into private education.”

At the same time, anti-feminist Republican activist Phyllis Schlafly was linking concern about women’s changing roles in society with abortion. 1972. In Essay, she described the feminist movement as “anti-family, anti-children and pro-abortion”, and the writings of contemporary feminists as “a series of loud, high-pitched moaning complaints by unmarried women”. .

Phyllis Schlafly opposed abortion as part of her anti-feminist agenda.
Phyllis Schlafly opposed abortion as part of her anti-feminist agenda. Photograph: Anonymous/AP

By the 1978 midterm congressional elections, Paul Werich, one of the architects of modern conservatism, with a small fund from the Republican National Committee, was testing abortion as a campaign issue with evangelical Christians. Roman Catholic volunteers distributed hundreds of thousands of leaflets in church parking lots in Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota, and their efforts were successful. Four anti-abortion Republicans ousted Democrats.

The foundation laid by Schlafly and Weyrich created “Roe”. Shorthand for a host of concerns about sexual equality and sexuality”, wrote Mary Ziegler, a professor of law at Florida State University and author of After Row: The Lost History of the Abortion Debate.

“By the end of August 1980, the Reagan-Bush campaign was not certain that abortion would serve as a political issue for them,” Ballmer said. However, as Reagan raced to victory, he was swayed by religious voters over the promise of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. When a constitutional amendment failed, a new strategy took hold: Control the Supreme Court.

Anti-abortion protests in Boston, January 1981.
An anti-abortion demonstration in Boston, January 1981. Photograph: The Boston Globe / Getty Images

Historians said secession was only part of a complex and multi-faceted movement that has long seen itself as a human rights campaign. By the 1970s, “there was an anti-abortion movement that was influential and very effective in states that were ready for the new right to work,” Ziegler said.

In the years to come, Reagan would reimagine the politics of fertility through a new racist prism, as he projected the mythical stereotype of the “welfare queen”. The image allowed politicians to portray “all single mothers as persons of color and all persons of color dependent on public assistance”, according to reproductive rights activists Loretta Ross and Ricky Solinger in their 2017 book Reproductive Justice. : Wrote in an introduction.

Image Divorced family well-being and welfare aid from abortion access and rights. Thus, the “broad middle ground” of issues on which anti-abortion and pro-election voters agreed became “strongly partisan”, said Julia Briggs, author of How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics and professor of women, gender and sexuality. And the president said. Studied at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

NSIn the 1990s, anti-abortion activists had turned professional. So-called “right to life” organizations rallied the base, and religious law firms devoted themselves to fighting abortion in the courts. The Supreme Court weighed in on abortion again in 1992, in another watershed case called Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey. The case allowed states to restrict abortion, as long as such restrictions did not create an “unreasonable burden” on the right to abortion and serve the purpose of protecting the woman’s health or the life of the unborn.

States hostile to abortion passed “trap” laws, or targeted regulations of abortion providers, that required abortion clinics to become “the functional equivalent of hospitals.” legal scholar, States established 24-hour waiting periods for abortions, state-mandated misinformation, and invasive sonograms.

Many clinics went out of business as they struggled to meet the costly new requirements, and pregnant people struggled to obtain abortions because they had to travel more to find a provider.

These laws will also play a big part in Dobbs’ trial. Conservative judges debated whether they could hold an “unreasonable burden” standard, rejecting Roe’s central tenet, that women can terminate a pregnancy as long as the fetus cannot survive outside the womb, or “viability.” “.

“Why isn’t 15 weeks enough time?” At the hearing, Chief Justice John Roberts, a Conservative, asked.

The politics of fertility sparked new debate over acceptable restrictions on birth control, stem cell research, and sex education during the George W. Bush administration. But it was the election of America’s first black president, Barack Obama, that supercharged the Republican opposition.

In 2010, the Tea Party won the midterm elections. More extreme candidates entered the Houses of Congress and state through the practice of challenging office bearers in districts to be trusted Republicans. And, in a decision not generally thought of as an anti-abortion victory, the National Right to Life’s chief advocate successfully argued a Supreme Court case that would expose huge amounts of black money in US elections United vs Federal Election Commission.

“The anti-abortion movement, along with other conservative allies over time, worked to change things like the rules for campaign finance for the conservative movement,” Ziegler said. “Anti-abortion lawyers played an integral role in cases like Citizens United.”

Until Donald Trump ran…

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