Content warning: This article contains references to sexual violence.
With the future of Roe v. Wade in doubt, the pro-choice movement could learn from the political strategies of anti-choicers.
If the recent Texas and Mississippi abortion cases brought before the Supreme Court can teach us anything, it should be that now is the time to radicalize the pro-choice movement. Arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Clinic were heard by the Supreme Court last week, and the Justices’ responses suggest that they will likely uphold Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. Whether this will result in Roe v. Wade’s downfall is something we won’t know until the decision is released in June. However, regardless of Roe’s status following the outcome of the Texas and Mississippi cases, the Dobbs ruling will illustrate that the Justices are willing to chip away at precedent when it comes to women’s rights.
For many pro-choice advocates, this is a blaring wake-up call. The reality is that it shouldn’t be. The number of Americans who believe that abortion should be legal has remained relatively static since Roe in 1973. While Americans predominantly support legal abortions, the percentage of Americans who self-identify as pro-life has actually increased since 1995. Currently, 47 percent of poll-takers identify as pro-life, while only 33 percent did in 1995. When compared to the public opinion trends of other social issues addressed by the Court, such as desegregation and same-sex marriage, abortion trends stand out.
Arguments against Brown v. Board of Education are rare in mainstream American discourse. Anyone championing racial segregation would rightly be written off as racist. And increasingly so, those who oppose the Court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, are rebuffed as homophobic. While conservatives are certainly trying—often successfully so—to limit the rights of same-sex couples and people of color, they acknowledge that direct attacks to Obergefell and Brown have limited support from the American public.
Insightfully, conservatives recognize that Roe is vulnerable. They assault it with fury. This begs the question: why haven’t Americans accepted Roe and legal abortions as part of mainstream culture, just as they have with desegregation and same-sex marriage? Or, consequently, how can the pro-choice movement alter its strategies to increase acceptance of abortion in American society?
I say, start with visibility. Important topics like racism and homophobia are regularly discussed in the media and among individuals. Consider children’s books. There are countless books written for young children that address anti-racism. Similarly, an increasing number of children’s books explain same-sex marriage through stories about “families of all shapes and sizes.” The humanity of all people, regardless of skin color or sexuality, is enshrined in children’s literature. However, I rarely come across a children’s book addressing women’s autonomy. Some exist that peddle tepid narratives concerning personal space, but I have yet to find one that explicitly describes and justifies terminating a pregnancy. Potential titles like “Mommy Had an Abortion” or “You Almost Had a Sibling” appear jarring since the American public is so opposed to discussing abortion, particularly with children.
The restriction of positive conversations concerning abortion is a form of self-sabotage for reproductive justice advocates. Almost one in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime, yet most of the peers I talk to cannot name a single person they know who has terminated a pregnancy. My peers could be lying, but either way, their answers illustrate just how taboo abortion remains even on a campus as devotedly liberal as Bowdoin’s.
Along with increasing public affirmation of abortion, the pro-choice movement should renounce its timid publicity. The sugar-coated, pink slogans of “Pussy Power” and “The Future is Female” have little efficacy when advertised next to the violent rhetoric of anti-choicers. Phrases like “Abortion is Murder,” “Modern Genocide” and “Everything Hitler Did Was Legal” are touted on signs at the March for Life and outside of women’s clinics. While women’s rights activists decorate pastel cardboard cutouts with illustrations of breasts, abortion opponents flash the gory images of aborted fetuses.
Perhaps it is time that the pro-choice movement start disseminating pictures of women whose pregnancies originated from rape by parents or domestic partners, who died obtaining unsafe, illegal abortions or whose fatal preganancies killed them.
Through the Texas and Mississippi abortion bans, “pro-life” politicians display their shrinking tolerance for legal abortion exceptions. Neither law permits the termination of a pregnancy, even due to rape or incest. This illustrates the increasingly conservative development of the anti-choice agenda. Before Roe, exceptions were often made to allow for abortions to be performed on women whose pregnancies were due to rape, incest or presented a serious threat to their safety.
The Texas and Mississippi bans indicate a terrifying future of the Right’s intolerance toward any challenge to their anti-abortion views, and the Supreme Court is poised to enable such a future. Pro-choice activists need to take a page out of conservatives’ books. They should refuse to be tolerant. In this case, being intolerant toward those who would rather see women and people with uteruses dead and incarcerated than able to make decisions about their own bodies seems warranted.
Ultimately, conservatives take a harder stance against abortion than liberals take protecting it. By enmeshing right-wing politics with evangelical Christianity, conservatives have established an indoctrination machine that inculcates children with conservative Christian beliefs, the most prevalent being anti-abortion sentiment. Across denominations, Christians will often refer to their children as being “soldiers for Christ.” Such language only serves to underscore the intensity of the “pro-life” movement’s backing. For anti-choicers, ending abortion is a war; for pro-choicers, it needs to become one. Otherwise, women are going to lose their lives.
Overturning Roe v. Wade and enacting state choice is not the final agenda of abortion opponents. And frankly, it is dangerously ignorant of pro-choicers to continue strategizing as if it is. Abortion can no longer be a topic danced around by liberal politicians. It must become a central priority for the Left. Anti-choicers aren’t going to stop once abortion is relegated to the states. With tragic consequences for American women, the Radical Right has made overturning Roe v. Wade nothing more than a test of the waters for their ultimate anti-abortion ambitions.
Abby Pachynski-Hoopes is a member of the Class of 2024.