Every month, the Archdiocese of New York leads a procession of right-wing anti-abortion activists to a local Planned Parenthood to harass and intimidate patients, and every time, they are met by a counterprotest blockade organized by NYC for Abortion Rights clinic defenders. It’s a spectacle that often mystifies onlookers: a thicket of clergy wielding Christ statues, assorted right-wing livestreamers and church girls, some obvious off-duty cops, and a barrier of uniformed police officers who are all-too-thrilled to defend their fashy friends from the horde of “Antifa” dykes—the clinic defenders with their signs and chants, refusing to cede the street.
At one such demonstration last summer, there was a particularly florid-faced priest who had clearly never attended before. “You’re all such beautiful girls! You’re made for joy!” he pleaded with dismay. He asked me if I’d had an abortion, and when I said yes, he replied, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” This condescension from some puffed-up, overdressed mountebank who had absolutely nothing to do with me, my life, or my body was infuriating. I wanted to retort—Who exactly do you think you are? I’m not sorry. Getting an abortion isn’t something that needs your approval or your pity—but my voice was swallowed up by the chanting of my comrades: “Not the church! Not the state! Only we decide our fate!”
One defender asked him, “Why do you hate women, bro?” He said, “I love women! I have four nieces, and I always tell them not to give themselves to any man who won’t put a ring on their finger.” To him, his presence as an anti-abortion demonstrator was an act of love and care.
This is something people on the right say a lot—not just men but often women: clinic harassers, right-wing “intellectuals” and legislators, younger and hipper social media influencers, and irony-poisoned “trad” leftists who mistake aesthetics for politics. To them, abortion is a form of violence that empowers men to objectify women for commitment-free, unprotected sex while escaping all consequences. Abortion, they contend, is the result of a soulless, individualistic modern world that does not value women or families, and if men respected women enough these days to marry them, there wouldn’t be a need for women to undergo the violence of abortion—but because feminism has disrupted the natural, God-given order of things, men don’t. I have heard this refrain everywhere, from female anti-abortion activists outside clinics to right-wing women arguing in the National Review and the New York Times, and on platforms like Reddit, Instagram, and TikTok. In Kansas, the recently rejected abortion ban amendment was legally titled “Value Them Both,” and the language read, “Because Kansans value both women and children, the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion.” And now, “Women Deserve Better than Abortion” has become a beloved slogan of the anti-abortion movement.
The Anti-Abortion Industrial Complex
Anti-abortion activists, or “antis,” frequently paint themselves as righteous crusaders, unjustly persecuted by a bloodthirsty Molochian government. But even in New York City, so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) actually outnumber abortion clinics by at least twenty-four to twenty. Many CPCs are concentrated in heavily Black and Latinx areas of the Bronx. These centers attempt to dissuade women from having abortions by spreading unproven or deliberately false and dangerous claims about the procedure—claims that medication abortions can be reversed, or that abortions cause cancer, sterility, and harmful psychological aftereffects. Though they try to make themselves look like medical clinics, they very seldom employ any licensed health care workers. And CPCs are often situated near abortion clinics. In Brooklyn, there’s a crisis pregnancy center in the very same building as Planned Parenthood’s Joan Malin Health Center, which provides abortions. This isn’t an accident. A New York Times article quotes Christopher Slattery, founder of Expectant Mother Care, New York City’s largest network of CPCs: “If we get people that are thinking we’re Planned Parenthood, we get them to come in. It has worked marvelously. We’ve rescued thousands of mothers.”
This condescension from some puffed-up, overdressed mountebank who had absolutely nothing to do with me, my life, or my body was infuriating.
Love Life, a right-wing evangelical organization based in North Carolina, is another group dedicated to “bringing an end to abortion.” A registered nonprofit which received over one million dollars in donations in 2020, Love Life has chapters all over the country that engage in livestreamed “sidewalk counseling”—that is, directly harassing patients who are entering abortion clinics. They launched in New York City in 2019 and are now a regular fixture at clinics around the city. “Let us help you” is their common refrain. One of their flyers reads: “HOPE IS HERE FOR YOU. God loves you and your child. . . . Your child is not a mistake.” It lists a phone number to contact for obtaining a (dangerous and medically unproven) “abortion pill reversal.” And the side effects of an abortion, this flyer insists, are “self-hatred” and “self-destructive behavior.” Love Life was founded by Justin Reeder, in close partnership with Jason and David Benham—the sons of Flip Benham, the far-right former director of Operation Save America, an offshoot of the violent and militant anti-abortion activist group Operation Rescue. While the Benhams’ mode of outreach pervades, another type has taken root across New York and beyond.
The anti-abortion movement has effectively—albeit disingenuously—appropriated the language of racial justice and progressivism too. Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), for example, uses a highly coordinated social media strategy to target young people with language like “abolish the Abortion Industrial Complex.” Other pro-life groups, such as Standing With You, an initiative of Students for Life of America, target college-aged women and purport to advocate for universities that are more welcoming and accommodating toward pregnancy and childrearing. In the winter of 2021, I personally saw antis carry signs that equated abortion with racism and eugenics, drawing attention not only to the actual history of forced sterilization of Black women in America but also to the fact that Black women have the highest abortion rate at 23.8 per 1,000 women, according to 2019 data from the CDC. In a country where Black women also suffer some of the highest rates of maternal mortality, sexual violence, and poverty, it’s easy to propagandize that a white supremacist society would prefer abortion to motherhood for Black women. But declaring “the womb” as the most dangerous place for a Black child, and abortion as “black genocide,” continues the racist tradition of displacing the violence of a white supremacist society onto Black women themselves.
In the absence of a more compelling, consistent, and class-based defense of abortion rights than “choice,” the right can capitalize on very real systemic injustices to perpetrate another one: blocking access to abortion and reproductive health care. With the fall of Roe v. Wade, and abortion bans spreading throughout the country, it would seem that, for now, they have won. The right as currently constituted appears a lot different than it did in the Reagan or George W. Bush years. How did this triumphant right-wing backlash come to be?
Take Back the Might
On January 24, 2011, Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti participated in a talk on safety at York University. When discussing campus rape, Sanguinetti said, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” In April of that year, global outrage catalyzed the formation of the protest movement “SlutWalk,” where scantily clad women would march with the purpose of pushing back against misogynistic, victim-blaming attitudes about sexual assault—and to reclaim the term “slut.” The movement, predictably, garnered outrage from conservatives, but it also engendered criticism from many fellow feminists, who felt this reclamation centered the privileged position of the mostly young, white, cis women who made up the movement.
The anti-abortion movement has effectively—albeit disingenuously—appropriated the language of racial justice and progressivism too.
Despite the criticisms, there’s no doubt that this moment marked a sea change in the way we reckon with the politics of sex, sexual violence, and gender. By 2012, a new, more intersectional feminist wave emerged; longstanding norms surrounding these issues were questioned and reformulated, for better and for worse. This process was amplified by the widespread use of Web 2.0, the iteration of the internet that relies on user-generated content, including social media platforms and message boards like Reddit. People were connected on a worldwide scale at the click of a button, allowing social movements to not only spread extremely rapidly, but for people to steep themselves nonstop in the ideologically driven content of their choice. Also during this time, gay marriage was legalized in the United States, and discussions around polyamory, “sex-positivity,” kink, rape culture, age of consent, and queer and trans visibility all entered the sphere of mainstream politics. After the machismo that characterized the Bush years, it suddenly became socially acceptable to identify as a feminist, to the point where, now, the label is almost passé.
In the 2010s, another term entered the public lexicon: “enthusiastic consent.” But “consent” remains a difficult and precarious concept that shifts with perception and intent. The American feminist movement of this decade was extremely eager to distance itself from the man-hating, anti-pornography, hairy-legged feminists of the second wave; it openly embraced porn, kink, feminine beauty products, and lingerie under the mantra of “consent and empowerment.” This glib and highly individualistic formulation of “consent” elides the coercive social forces at play behind many decisions, and “empowerment” can be used to justify literally any choice a woman makes, especially if it involves consumerism. If SlutWalk sought to reclaim being a “slut” because there shouldn’t be anything shameful about expressing female sexuality, and sexuality should not be punished by violence, that’s all well and good. But this reclamation falls a little bit flat when a spectator doesn’t share the SlutWalk organizers’ nuanced views. The spectator could even become a predator who weaponizes these concepts for their own benefit.
Indeed, the #MeToo movement exposed several men who profited materially and socially from publicly espousing feminist values while privately abusing women—like Michael Hafford, who wrote a satirical column called “The Male Feminist’s Guide To . . .” for Broadly, Vice’s erstwhile feminist vertical. Several women came forward in 2017 claiming Hafford had assaulted them, recounting instances of battery and rape. In his column, he had quipped about men who posed as feminists to prey on unsuspecting women, giving cover to the author who used his platform to do that very same thing. “I think I was in very deep denial that somebody who everybody knows and likes his writing would be capable of hurting me that much,” one woman, who posted pictures of severe bruising on her neck and chest after a sexual encounter with Hafford, told Jezebel. Ultimately, an easily marketable and nonthreatening version of feminism which places free and open sexuality at its center, without interrogating male-dominated sexual scripts or the uncomfortable sources of our desires, will almost inevitably leave room for opponents of the movement to repurpose “feminism” for their own ends.
A similar problem plagues the rhetoric of “choice,” which has long been a cornerstone of the mainstream abortion rights movement, both in the United States and worldwide. Roe v. Wade did not guarantee abortion rights as an essential component of bodily autonomy and the collective liberation of women, but rather, as an individual’s right to privacy; in effect, it affirmed the bourgeois capitalist state’s primacy in granting and upholding rights. The mainstream abortion movement has often shied away even from using the word “abortion,” instead speaking euphemistically about “the right to choose”—they’re not “pro-abortion” but “pro-choice.”
Having a choice is certainly better than not having one, and there’s nothing liberatory about insisting that women cannot and should not have choices about their sex lives or reproduction. But just as neoliberal ideology prioritized consumers and workers having “choices” to make their exploitation by capitalists seem like freedom, so does a liberal formulation of “consent” give cover to other forms of exploitation of women. Many pro-choicers have lauded the fact that some companies have pledged to cover costs for employees to travel out of state to receive abortion care—an admirable and necessary move—but often those same employers make no similar provisions for prenatal care, childbirth, or parental leave, presumably because these measures cost the company more money.
It’s no surprise, then, that many women—particularly young women coming of age in an era of skyrocketing inequality, imminent climate disaster, surveillance, and late capitalist blight—feel alienated by the version of feminist empowerment that’s been presented to them. Of course, alongside these alienated women is a growing and horrifying tide of right-wing men and women eager to re-codify women’s oppression into law.
Happy TradWife, Happy TradLife
Last winter, teen pop idol Billie Eilish spoke out against the proliferation of pornography. As I have written previously for The Baffler, this is a dangerous line of rhetoric, by which state violence against and persecution of sex workers is engineered under the guise of “protecting women and children.” Still, the fact that Eilish openly proclaimed this stance certainly indicates a level of dissatisfaction with sex-positivity and disillusionment about whether readily available porn is really all that empowering. Compare this to Miley Cyrus circa “We Can’t Stop”—it would be very difficult to imagine a pop star of her generation coming out with an anti-pornography screed.
It’s no surprise that many women feel alienated by the version of feminist empowerment that’s been presented to them.
But across the internet, right-wing communities of all stripes have similarly gained ground with views about women far more troubling and reactionary than Billie Eilish’s. Girl Defined is the project of Bethany and Kristen, a pair of sisters who present a pastel-colored, easily accessible, and nonthreatening version of right-wing Christian ideology. On their website, an aesthetic knock-off of Refinery29 or xoJane, the sisters cover teenage angst, dating, and marriage in chirpy, youthful rhetoric. Their homepage banner depicts the pair frolicking around in jeans and T-shirts, presumably to drive home how normal, happy, and totally-not-oppressed they are. Alongside Girl Defined’s seemingly benign articles is a podcast episode that could have been lifted right from the frothiest parts of incel Reddit: “‘Freeze Your Eggs. Free Your Career.’ The Alarming Trend of Putting Babies on Hold.” In a pearl-clutching essay that rails against the “Shout Your Abortion” project, Bethany writes that “abortion isn’t about a ‘woman’s right to choose,’ it’s about a woman’s right to be her own god and do whatever she thinks is best for her.”
Elsewhere, on Instagram and TikTok, #trad, #tradwife, and #tradlife conjure up a nostalgic vision of life where a woman doesn’t need to have a series of gross Tinder dates to find a partner or work long hours at an unfulfilling job to afford a cramped room in a crumbling apartment. The common narrative among these #trad posts is that women have been let down by liberal feminism. Estee C. Williams, a popular “trad wife” TikTok influencer, told Insider, “I chose the trad lifestyle because I believe that women have drifted far from our roots. For me, the hustle culture was not appealing . . . [working outside the home] is the cause of burnout for many mothers.” Another such influencer on Instagram, @isa_ryan, asked, “Are women really empowered by being expected to work outside the home and outsource their caretaking and homemaking to others?” A third, @femininity_rules, who calls herself an “EX feminist,” posted a 1950s-style drawing of a woman in an apron serving coffee, captioned “I’d take ‘belonging in the kitchen’ any day over having to split 50/50 and work a 9-5.”
The #trad movement, like many right-wing movements, is based on romanticizing the past. It offers a revisionist account of “traditional” and “conservative” values and ahistorically situates patriarchal structures as systems of care. The formulation juxtaposes the modern language of the internet with a total rejection of modernity. In fact, the #trad movement is ideally suited to today’s internet because it is driven by curated, contextless images, designed to be scrolled through mindlessly as they worm themselves into your brain. Of course, what these accounts don’t include are depictions of the horrific misogynistic violence, exploitation, and degradation that this idealized past lifestyle was predicated upon.
But the Discourse Says
This rhetoric isn’t limited to influencers on the internet—mainstream publications and legislative bodies have also given air to arguments against feminism’s supposed excesses. A constellation of “pro-life feminist groups” have emerged to cannily poke holes in the logic of the term “pro-choice”—if this choice is coerced through fear of a partner, they argue, or through economic or social conditions, then it is no choice at all. The Silent No More anti-abortion campaign fearmongers that abortion is necessarily a traumatic experience for all women, and it draws on the experiences of women who have been coerced into abortions they didn’t want. Jennifer O’Neill, a spokeswoman for this campaign, has stated that she was coerced into having an abortion by her fiancé, who claimed he would take her baby away from her if she went through with the pregnancy, and has also said that the abortion caused damage to her cervix. “Nothing in the world could ever make me opt for that choice again,” she told legislators at a Senate briefing, as part of a campaign called Women Deserve Better, created by Serrin M. Foster. The campaign was spearheaded by Silent No More and other anti-abortion groups with names like Feminists for Life, Solidarity with Women, and Women and Children First. Women Deserve Better enthusiastically supported Texas’s 2021–2022 SB8 bill, which gives literally anyone, including an abusive partner, the ability to stop someone from having an abortion.
The #trad movement, like many right-wing movements, is based on romanticizing the past.
One wing of the anti-abortion right has espoused social welfare programs in an attempt to revive the Fordist nuclear family. In a New York Times op-ed titled “Where Will the Anti-Abortion Feminist Movement Go Post-Roe?” so-called pro-life feminist Erika Bachiochi claims that for too long, abortion has been the liberal solution to female poverty; instead of increasing social spending to support women and families, the United States relies on handing out birth control pills and abortions, and without Roe, we can finally implement generous social welfare policies. Her 2021 book The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision purports to draw on the wisdom of eighteenth-century women’s rights pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft to advance a new horizon for womanhood. Bachiochi makes certain feminist concessions: women aren’t the intellectual inferiors of men, and they aren’t meant to be kept in subjection and isolation. Instead, women’s formidable intellectual and spiritual powers mean that they ought to be of service to their communities. But for Bachiochi, women’s spiritually exalted contribution to the community is not labor organizing, or anti-police organizing, or mutual aid—it is, and ought to be, marriage and childrearing. Atlantic columnist Elizabeth Bruenig has made an entire career out of being a Catholic, pro-life, not-like-the-other-socialist-girls media darling. In a particularly mystifying post-Dobbs article, Bruenig pondered whether, now that the contemporary pro-life movement had succeeded in pushing forward anti-abortion measures, pro-life Republicans might consider supporting robust, government-funded social programs that would materially help children and families.
Conservative writer and Compact cofounder Sohrab Ahmari has recently styled himself as a “Pro-Life New Dealer” on Twitter. The openly anti-abortion and devoutly Catholic Ahmari describes a “reasonable” post-liberal worldview as “pro-family, pro-labor.” Ahmari organized the right-wing “Restoring a Nation” conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville in October 2022, which claimed “to focus on reversing the decline of America by recovering the forgotten wisdom of our nation’s Western and Christian foundations.” He invoked the leftist writer Mark Fisher to rail against the “hyper-competitive, hyper-individualistic political economy in which the state’s only role is to break down all barriers to the accumulation of capital, to thin out social welfare and solidarity to a bare minimum, to privatize what used to be common goods.”
To pseudo-socialist antis, abortion access is a tool of capitalists to trick women into abandoning their true calling as mothers in order to make them more effective wage slaves—ignoring that actual Marxist feminists, including Engels himself, consistently argued that women’s liberation from the unwaged drudgery and violence of the home is an essential part of the communist horizon. They erase the work of Black reproductive rights organizations like SisterSong, who have long argued that abortion rights must exist alongside the right to have children in safe and sustainable communities. And they ignore the fact that liberals have never done much to make abortion accessible to the poor. In fact, Democrat Jimmy Carter supported the Hyde Amendment, which banned using federal Medicaid to cover almost all abortion services, claiming “there are many things in life that are not fair, that wealthy people can afford and poor people can’t.” And it takes a jaw-dropping revision of history to ignore that the anti-abortion, trickle-down Reaganomics Right has been at the forefront of destroying anything approaching a social safety net, railing against handouts specifically on the basis that they allow women to rely on the state for survival rather than a husband, like God intended.
While the “pro-labor, pro-family” position is a fringe minority on the right, it’s one that has the potential to gain ground. Most of those in power who are passing abortion bans are determined to proceed apace with a legislative program of abject misery, deprivation, and poverty for the many, the extent of which would take several books to enumerate. The same conservative-dominated Supreme Court that overturned Roe is now poised to give corporations new rights to sue striking workers, which is no surprise given the reenergized labor movement gaining ground throughout the country. Jackson, Mississippi—the Jackson of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—has been without safe running water for several months as a result of longstanding austerity by the state’s Republican governors. In Texas, Amanda Zurawski almost died of sepsis during a high-risk pregnancy after the hospital ethics board refused to allow doctors to induce miscarriage and extract the fetus—the standard protocol—and instead mandated that doctors let the infection worsen for three days. And yet, since Republicans are now eager to shed their “love the fetus, hate the child” public image, they are now loudly reversing their position on paid family leave. Of course, they’re not willing to raise taxes on the wealthy to cover these costs or offload them onto employers, but Senator Marco Rubio is happy to let families take money out of their future Social Security payments in order to stay home with their children. There will be no provisions to compensate the labor of gestation and childrearing under the desperate conditions of modern existence. In this context, overturning Roe is an act of class warfare in direct opposition to growing waves of worker organizing. It is not a gain for women, workers, or families.
What Ahmari, Bachiochi, and Bruenig—as well as the proliferation of pseudo-leftist, “pro-woman,” anti-abortion groups—neglect to acknowledge is the danger and trauma of forced pregnancy and motherhood, in addition to the potential criminalization of pregnancy outcomes. It’s unclear how “women deserve better” than abortion yet also deserve police persecution and incarceration if they, for instance, order abortion pills over the internet. In a Feminists for Life pamphlet about how to talk to pro-choice women that cites Bachiochi, Serrin M. Foster writes of a student who was raped by a cousin and became pregnant. The woman “said she would never pass on the violence that was perpetrated against her to her own unborn child. Now that is the strength of a woman! Pregnancy is not a punishment.” The Feminists for Life thesis on rape exceptions is that abortion punishes the baby rather than the rapist and subjects women to a second form of violence—never mind whether or not the woman or girl in question would be traumatized by being forced to carry her rapist’s baby.
It is undoubtedly essential for the state to provide robust social services so that anyone who wants to have a child may do so safely, in dignified circumstances, lacking for nothing. But why is it necessary to criminalize abortion or birth control to do so? Because for all the social services that Scandinavian countries offer, they are still seeing declining birthrates. Their example demonstrates that many women, even when given ample material incentives, simply do not choose to marry or have children when they have access to birth control, abortion, and the ability to meet their basic material needs without a husband or a soul-sucking job.
To those who borrow feminist or left-wing rhetoric to advance a right-wing agenda, a state that guarantees the common good need not also guarantee the liberation of women from the labor of domesticity, childbirth, and social reproduction. This vision of the “common good” is one that doles out resources selectively and strategically to coerce women back into the domestic sphere, a mission that becomes easier as the promises of liberal, capitalist-friendly feminism continue to fail most women. Such an ostensibly progressive economic policy would discriminate against women who do not marry, remain married, or perform the labor of gestation and childrearing. The messaging of all “pro-life, pro-woman” platforms, pseudo-socialist or otherwise, relies on the fundamental, misogynistic belief that every single woman wants to be a mother—and if she doesn’t, she is brainwashed at best and a slut at worst.
A New New Right
The contemporary right-wing movement—particularly its anti-feminist and anti-abortion agenda—has its genesis in the New Right of the 1980s, which coalesced in response to the sexual revolution and the civil rights and feminist movements of the preceding decades. It was during the 1980s that Randall Terry formed Operation Rescue, which conducted mass blockades at clinics, such as the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” in Wichita, Kansas, wherein thousands of antis blockaded abortion clinics including that of Dr. George Tiller. Operation Rescue threatened and harassed patients, posted posters of abortion doctors’ names and addresses, and has been linked to Tiller’s eventual murder. It was also during this decade that the New Right, through skillful organizing and legislative maneuvering, instituted far-right social programs and hyper-capitalist economic policies on a massive scale.
To pseudo-socialist antis, abortion access is a tool of capitalists to trick women into abandoning their true calling as mothers in order to make them more effective wage slaves.
Susan Faludi’s landmark 1991 book, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, unpacks when and how the anti-abortion movement realized they would have to move from a defensive position—reacting to women’s liberation—to an offensive one—“pro-life, pro-family, pro-America,” etc. But this was only ever a rhetorical transformation, not an ideological one. Faludi cites a number of anti-abortion activists of the era, like John Willke, the president of the National Right to Life Committee, who claimed that pro-choice women “do violence to marriage” because they “remove the right of a husband to protect the life of the child he has fathered in his wife’s womb.” She paraphrases the main talking points of Father Michael Carey’s keynote address at the National Day of Rescue II: “What was most distasteful about these abortion rights activists was their insistence that women be free to make reproductive choices without consulting their husbands.”
According to Faludi, right-wing Reaganomics exponent George Gilder “most forthrightly expressed the fear underlying much of the male anxiety about female reproductive freedom.” In his 1986 book Men and Marriage, Gilder argued that feminists’ success in winning the rights to birth control and abortion “shift[ed] the balance of sexual power further in favor of women.” Faludi quotes an anti-abortion activist, Don Grundemann, who said that abortion is “revenge against men. Men have treated women shabbily and now the women’s movement has struck back in overkill.” During the 1980s, men filed lawsuits to prevent their spouses and partners from having abortions, with mixed success. In 1988, a judge in Utah issued a court order forbidding an eighteen-year-old from having an abortion at her estranged husband’s behest, which was later retracted. That same year, David Ostreicher sued not only his wife for having an abortion, but the doctors and the hospital where the procedure was performed, claiming, “It’s a case of an outrageous act that a wife did against a husband.” This is still happening in America. At least two men, Ryan Magers of Alabama and Mario Villegas of Arizona, have sued abortion clinics for providing abortions to their partners within the past five years.
But the anti-abortion movement of this era was also savvy—they realized that they wouldn’t gain many followers if they stuck to woman-hating messaging. Faludi cites Joseph Scheidler’s Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion as a prime example of how the right developed new tactics for speaking about abortion to the press and in conversations with others. The Willke handbook called on readers to appropriate the “feminist credo” of a woman’s “right to her own body” to talk about aborted female fetuses. The logic of choice became “The baby has to have a choice!”—an enduring favorite of antis at demonstrations to this day. The anti-abortion movement also fabricated the supposedly endemic ailment “postabortion syndrome” and claimed that women didn’t choose to have abortions but were “women exploited by abortion.”
Faludi touches briefly on an anxiety that was likely more consequential than she imagined and which would go on to form the basis of Jenny Brown’s book Birth Strike. She interviews Gary Bauer, the “family-policy czar” of the Reagan administration, who frets about the birth rate: “We’re running at 1.8 children per woman in this country . . . That’s below replacement level. There are going to be serious consequences for free society if we continue down this path.” Bauer’s proposals to “save the family” included, among other things, barring single mothers from public housing and denying contraception to unmarried women.
The more nakedly misogynistic right of the 1980s didn’t go anywhere—they just got a rebrand. These days, many former members of Operation Rescue are now involved in Red Rose Rescue, a campaign in which anti-abortion activists trespass into the waiting rooms of abortion clinics and thrust roses on the patients waiting for their appointments, urging them not to go through with an abortion. When the police arrive to eject them from the clinic, the activists go limp, often chaining themselves inside or locking the clinic doors. Fidelis Moscinski, who was involved with clinic harassment and invasion all the way back in the bad old days of the 1990s, is a figurehead of Red Rose Rescue. He’s also a regular fixture in New York City as part of the Archdiocese’s Witness for Life, and Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising can regularly be seen palling around with him. Speaking of which: some of PAAU’s members are self-described abolitionists and devotees of police and prison abolition organizer Mariame Kaba. But, ironically, they consider the criminalization of abortion a victory, even when patients themselves are charged for performing their own abortions. And while they claim that their anti-abortion stance is based on secularism, nonviolence, progressivism, and feminism, they’re not above working closely with the right. You may have seen PAAU in the news a few months ago when one of their members, Lauren Handy, was found to be storing five dead fetuses in her apartment. At the subsequent press conference, PAAU was joined by none other than Operation Rescue’s Randall Terry as their spokesman and media liaison.
Operation Rescue once pledged to open a home for expectant mothers. This home, the House of Life in Pennsylvania, never housed more than four women before it closed because the family who ran it wanted to devote more attention to their own children. Today, the Expectant Mother Care CPC network promises that they will provide support for women who choose to keep their pregnancies; the extent of this support seems to be finding affordable housing and providing diapers, which is a negligible fraction of the costs of parenting. Founder Christopher Slattery claims to give away $3 million in baby products every year, all of which comes from private and corporate donations. But some women who were “saved” by Expectant Mother Care claim they’ve never received anything from it or from Slattery.
In her 1983 book Right-Wing Women, Andrea Dworkin unpacks the role that women played in the anti-feminist, anti-abortion backlash—women who experienced or perceived the sexual revolution as alienating, traumatic, and harmful; women who saw nothing in it but the freedom to cater to any man’s sexual demands, no matter how degrading. She wrote that right-wing women choose tradition, marriage, and childrearing because
they see that traditional marriage means selling to one man, not hundreds: the better deal. They see that the streets are cold, and the women who walk them are tired, sick, and bruised . . . They know too that the Left has nothing better to offer: leftist men also want wives and whores . . . They are not wrong. Right-wing women see that within the system in which they live they cannot make their bodies their own, but they can agree to privatized male ownership.
But is marriage really “the better deal,” really private? To the right, women’s bodies don’t belong to themselves; they belong to God and to their husbands, because this way of organizing society is necessary for Christianity and capitalism to flourish. “The family is the building block of society” is their constant refrain.
Immediately after the leak of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe, NYC for Abortion Rights held a clinic defense at which we saw much of the usual crowd: National Review writer Kathryn Jean Lopez, who’s a big exponent of the “pro-life, pro-woman” rhetoric; people holding signs equating abortion with racist violence; and a group of Young Republicans. You may have seen the viral footage of “FDNY guy”—a young man with a cocky smile, pointing at protesters and shouting, “Not your body. Your body is mine, and you’re having my baby.” On the extremely far-right, virulently racist, Groyper-adjacent Dalton Clodfelter’s podcast, this same young man doubled down on his comments: “Their bodies are mine. And they will have my children.”
The language of the right becomes seductive when there is a real poverty of discussion surrounding the class politics of abortion and the limits of liberal sex positivity. But it cannot be stated strongly enough: the “pro-woman” promise of the right is an empty one. The nuclear family is touted as a refuge from the demands of capitalism, from the degradations of sexually disrespectful men: a loving bondage that ultimately sets you free. It is, in fact, a primary site of capitalist exploitation and gender-based violence. If the right promises the gilded cage of the nuclear family to women, they’re also the ones razing everything outside of it to the ground. So winning abortion rights truly does mean asserting that we can “have it all”: free abortion on demand, free childcare, free housing, an end to the police and prisons, and a totally different model of sexuality, one decoupled from male supremacy, rooted in love and care for others and ourselves.