You recently opgemerk that for many White women, particularly White women in the South, being so-called pro-life is less a consistent policy position than an identity. What did you mean by that?
Many people point out the hypocrisy of being “Pro-lewe” but then voting against things such as universal pre-K or universal health care that would provide resources for maternal health. But I think that when people point out that hypocrisy, they’re looking at it strictly as a policy position and not as a part of an identity and a label of being “pro-mom” of “pro-familie” of “Pro-lewe” in this general sense, which is wrapped up in a couple different issues.
I think that the “Pro-lewe” label functions differently than if someone were to say that they’re for the waiver of student loans. That’s a very specific policy position. “Pro-life” is a broader term. Ja, it signals a view on abortion, but it also tends to signal a kind of religious politics and is sometimes in line with traditional gender roles and anti-feminism. And that’s because the abortion debate builds on the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment.
Could you tell me a bit about that history, the history of the ERA?
In die 1970's, the folks who were hardcore pro-lifers — this is just very general — were primarily Catholics. The Catholic Church had always been very adamant about being anti-abortion, even when abortion wasn’t legal, even before Roe. But lots of Protestant churches, it wasn’t one of their main issues. I’m not saying that they were for abortion. It just wasn’t one of their main issues. Part of that had to do with the fact that there was still so much animosity between Catholics and Protestants. They unify in the fight to stop the ratification of the ERA.
Phyllis Schlafly reaches out and builds alliances with Mormon women and with the Southern Baptist Convention to stop what she claimed was the ERA’s mandate that women lose their kind of special status
, as she would call it
, their privileges as women
, and then just be treated the same as men and that was somehow less than
. That built a bridge among Catholics and Mormons and Protestants
. As those denominational barriers softened or even came down
, it was easy to unify under a
“pro-familie” banier, which very quickly turns into a
Nobody wanted to be out there going, “I’m an anti-feminist.” Of, “I’m anti-women’s equality.” In plaas daarvan, they took on the label as “pro-familie” because they demonized feminists as “anti-family. En, natuurlik, that’s a false equivalency. Maar die “pro-familie” label morphs into the “Pro-lewe” label as the abortion issue becomes more prominent in US politics.
So, I think that what’s embedded in “Pro-lewe” rhetoric is a religious Christian worldview with a special space for women and motherhood, and not much about the actual dictates of what would reduce unwanted pregnancies and what would be a regverdig way to handle unwanted pregnancies. It’s an unarticulated endorsement of women who want to be mothers.
Why is it important that we understand this dynamic as an identity-based one?
Many people assume that with Roe gone, women are going to be furious about that and that they’re going to march to the ballot box and show their anger at losing their bodily autonomy.
But if you have a pro-life kind of identity — and the view of women and gender and motherhood that it encapsulates — then not only are you not going to march to the ballot box in protest, but you’re probably going to march in celebration. All this comes down to a more nuanced understanding of the women’s vote.
We’ve done a somewhat good job of understanding that when we talk about things such as the gender gap that we have to look at White women and women of color separately. We’re starting to see that, but we never do it by region.
When the US Supreme Court draft opinion leaked, people said that women universally were going to reject it. They didn’t say that non-Republican women are going to reject it. Most Republican women did not.
It’s terrifying that the work of crafting abortion policy will now be in the hands of state legislators, many of whom have never had to think about how to govern on the issue. What do you make of that sentiment?
With abortion bans, like the trigger law in my own state — it’s one thing to pass a law like that when you know that it’ll be struck down as unconstitutional. We’ve seen this year after year in state legislatures. They’ll pass something, but the courts are going to stop it. It’s another thing to have to make policy. And that’s what’s going to happen now. All of a sudden, whatever you pass is actually going to be what’s in place. Governing is a lot harder than being the opposition party or passing unconstitutional things because they’re theater and they’re good for the campaign trail.
I’ll say this, ook. I thought that I understood a lot of things about all of this until — I had my own kid. There are many things that people don’t understand about pregnancy: how difficult it is, how expensive it is, how things can go very wrong very fast. Passing a law that somehow has a place for all of that nuance is almost impossible. Which is why leaving it up to women and their doctors is probably about the most nuanced you can be.
There’s also a whole side of this that’s going to affect women who want children very much. And that we don’t talk about much at all, because the debate is often about assumptions about women who don’t want to be pregnant.
With Roe’s reversal, there will essentially be different regimes for choosing when to give birth.
As someone who studies Southern politics, when I think about leaving bodily autonomy up to the states, that’s a hard one. Why is somebody else’s bodily autonomy more valuable than mine because they live in a blue state? You shouldn’t have more civil liberties protections from government interference or more civil rights depending on the state you live in.
That’s at the heart of it for me. Throwing human rights issues to the states has such a long, aaklig, dangerous history in this country.