For years, the right has been passing anti-choice laws in the hope they will end up in the Supreme Court and lead to the overturning of Roe v Wade. Alabama passed such a law. More recently, Texas passed a diabolically clever law crafted to effectively ban abortion . My adopted plague land state of Florida has also jumped on board, introducing a similar bill.
While purporting to be motivated by pro-life (or at least anti-death) principles, these laws and bills are fundamentally misogynistic. They have three fundamental functions. The first is to appease a key portion of the base; the right has been promising their anti-choice wing that they will ban abortion for decades. Now they find themselves in a position where they both need to and can make good on this promise.
Second, couched in pro-life language, these laws provide excellent dog whistles for misogynists. The male misogynists generally understand that the message being sent to them is: “Your baby in her body. Her body in your kitchen. Making you a sandwich to put in your body.” More generally, the laws say to the misogynists in the base “we are misogynists like you, and we will put women in their proper place.” Naturally, to make these claims is to seem crazy in the eyes of the “normies” who do not have the inclination to peer beneath the surface of the debate.
Third, the laws actual codify misogyny by harming women. To be fair, I can add a fourth reason that brings in the Democrats: the abortion debate was something of a battlefield of deceit in which the Republicans falsely claim to be pro-life (or at least anti-death) and the mainstream Democrats agree to fight the battle on this assumption. Their rhetoric is that they are pro-choice and they do not seem inclined to get into a substantial and complex fight over the core ethical and political issues. That is, of course, broadly true across what was mainstream politics: politicians mouthing their fighting words while most of them struggle to keep the status quo and themselves in power. But this current fight could lead to a massive change: the right-wing court majority appears eager to strike down Roe v Wade. But it could be objected that I am mischaracterizing the situation.
One objection is that while some misogynists might support these laws, proponents of anti-abortion laws, such as Alabama governor Kay Ivey, claim that the motivation behind the law is to protect life. As the governor said, “to the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.” But this is a bad faith claim.
Given the professed view that Alabamans regard life as a precious, sacred gift, one should be shocked to learn that Alabama is terrible in terms of maternal and infant health. Alabama is tied for 4th worst in the United States, with 7.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. While it might be argued that this is due to factors beyond their control, there is a consistent correlation between strong anti-abortion laws and poor maternal and infant health. While correlation is not causation, the reason for this correlation is clear: the state governments that enact the strictest anti-abortion laws also show, via public policies, the least concern for maternal and infant health. Texas, as should surprise no one, also has a high maternal mortality rate. While not nearly as bad as Texas and Alabama, Florida also has a high maternal (and infant) mortality rate.
This is certainly inconsistent with the professed principle that life is a precious, sacred gift. It is also inconsistent with the professed motivation for anti-abortion laws: to protect the life of children. It is, however, consistent with the hypothesis that this (and most) anti-abortion laws are motivated by misogynistic principles. After all, if legislators pass anti-abortion laws because of hostility towards women’s reproductive freedom and wellbeing, then one would also expect them to neglect maternal and infant health in their other policies. On the face of it, this is the better explanation.
Another objection is that the laws are aimed at reducing the number of abortions and this is not misogynistic. Again, it just so happens that it impacts women. The easy and obvious reply is that the most effective way to reduce abortions is to reduce the need for them. Improved sex education and easy and free access to birth control reduces unwanted pregnancies. One might assert that anti-abortion folks also tend to oppose sex ed and birth control; but these are also usually misogynistic positions as well. Defending misogyny with more misogyny is hardly a good defense.
For those who oppose sex-ed and birth control without being misogynists, one can argue for using social programs to provide women and girls with the means to complete a pregnancy while also not suffering from this. But, as is well known, the anti-abortion folks tend to be savage opponents of such programs. If they were so devoted to life that they think the state should use its coercive power to take control over the life of a woman, then they should be on board with providing basic state support to enable more women to be able to elect to complete their pregnancy. But the easy and obvious explanation is that the pro-life claims are bad faith assertions; they are not pro-life but are misogynists.
A final objection is to point to women who support anti-abortion laws. Surely, one might say, women would not support misogynist laws. And, of course, men involved with the laws can point out that they have a mother and some of their best friends are women…so how can they be misogynists?
In some cases, women support such laws from ignorance. That is, they accept the bad faith reasons and think that they are supporting the protection of life, not realizing the misogynist consequences of the laws. Interestingly, women on the right are sometimes shocked that the right is misogynistic. They apparently fail to grasp that racism and sexism are the peanut butter and chocolate of the right.
In other cases, they might be aware that the laws are advanced in bad faith but agree with the stated goal of restricting abortion. So, they go along with the misogyny because it gets them something they want.
A third possibility is that a woman is herself a misogynist—while this might sound odd, it can happen. Finally, a woman might be an opportunist rather than ignorant or a misogynist—she has calculated that she will gain more as an individual by backing misogyny than she will lose as a woman. So, for example, a female judge or politician might recognize that the right is fundamentally misogynistic but decide that she gains a personal advantage by cooperating. Just as the folks on the right desire a few minorities to provide them with that black friend as a shield against accusations of racism, they also want a few women to provide them with a shield against accusations of sexism.
Somewhat ironically, the powerful women on the right represent something radical that undermines the right: they can hold these positions of power (and vote) because of the past battles fought by the left and by simply being capable women in power they give lie to the misogyny of the right (and left). Not so long ago, the right (and left) was openly misogynistic; but this has changed and there is a strong reaction to this shift. It is, of course, ironic that the women who occupy their positions of power due to the fight against misogyny are fighting so hard to roll back the clock for women. Perhaps they think that they will retire before the clock is rolled back. Perhaps they are unaware of the consequences of what they are fighting for. Or perhaps they sincerely believe that they should not have been allowed to be where they chose to be and that future women should not be allowed this choice.
It might be wondered why anyone would bother making the arguments I have made. After all, the right and their supporters either are already aware of the misogynistic purpose of the laws or will not believe that they have this quality. But there seems to be some value in attempting to reveal that the right’s arguments are in bad faith. There is a slight chance that some people might change their minds about supporting such bad faith laws.
It also seems desirable to try to reveal the bad faith on the right. For example, when they engage in their bad faith arguments and rhetoric about protecting life, that would be the ideal time to call them out on their lack of support (and opposition) to laws that do protect children. These include regulating pollutants that kill children, providing stronger social support for children, ensuring clean water and adequate food for children, providing quality education for children, ensuring quality health care for children, and so on for so many things the “pro-life” right fights.