Attacking abortion is not just about abortion

“woman sitting on black chair in front of glass-panel window with white curtains” by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

The allegedly moderate Republican Senator from Maine Susan Collins received assurances from Judge Brett Kavanaugh that the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion is “settled law.” Collins, who claims to be pro-choice, was reportedly heartened by this assurance.

True abortion rights activists have been somewhat less impressed. Their concern is not so much that the Supreme Court will overtly overrule Roe. Such a blatant move would seriously undermine the legitimacy of the Court given the public’s overall belief that abortion should not be banned. Instead, they fear that states will be allowed to create such barriers of access to abortion that the legal right itself will be meaningless. As Serena Mayeri opined in The New York Times, abortion rights will die a death of 1000 cuts.

While many of us have focused our attention on the abortion issue itself, it is perhaps instructive to look at it as a canary in a coalmine. It is an issue that indicates the success of the right in attacking aspects of our society that virtually everyone would agree are fundamental to our society.

In my view, we can break down the anti-abortion crusaders into two groups. I will start with the first group who I believe actually oppose abortion for legitimate reasons. Some of my fellow abortion rights activists might balk at the idea that there are any legitimate reasons to oppose abortion, but such a view is delusional. If we consider ourselves liberals who care about the least among us, how can we not be concerned about the legal killing of children. At least that is how many anti-abortion activists view the issue, and it is why the issue has been so divisive for many who would otherwise support the liberal agenda.

This group, however, do not simply want to stop with abortion. To use a cliche, they want to turn back the clock to an era when women were subservient to men. Banning abortion is just the first step. Just as the right to use birth control granted in Griswold v. Connecticut led to abortion rights under Roe, the ultimate goal of the most fervent anti-abortionists is the elimination of birth control.

Don’t believe me? Just consider the fact that the issue that motivated the owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of stores to take their opposition of Obamacare to the U.S. Supreme Court was the requirement that their health insurance plans for employees include coverage for birth control for women. No, the world they want to return to is a world where women were viewed as mothers and little else. And these are the anti-abortion activists who deserve credit for at least taking a principled position.

The other group involves those who really don’t want abortion banned, but just want it banned for everyone except the rich. These are the very wealthy who hope to deny good education and good healthcare to everyone else because it heightens their position of privilege.

Again, if you don’t believe me, consider the case of Pennsylvania Republican Tim Murphy, who fought to make abortion illegal while urging his mistress to get one. This is not an example of hypocrisy, this is actually a revelation of what the privileged few really want. They will always be able to get abortions when they want them due to their position and wealth. That fact will further distinguish them from the other 99% from whom they want to separate themselves.

What is particularly instructive about this issue is how the wealthy privileged few seeking to further improve their status have successfully recruited people with genuine issue concerns to support this effort. Remember that were it not for the abortion issue, many of these anti-abortion activists would be enthusiastic liberals. But by emphasizing this divisive issue, the very wealthy have engaged these sincere individuals into their cynical policy agenda.

This approach is not uncommon. Indeed, it is how the wealthy have convinced many working class people to vote against their own economic interests. They have successfully identified issues that cut away pieces of the natural coalition for the left until that group no longer makes up the majority. The only way the left will regain its position in making policy is by deemphasizing the issues that divide our coalition to instead stress those issues that unite us.

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Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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