Why the bigots hate women’s rights

August 21, 2018

The struggle to defend reproductive rights goes beyond opposing Brett Kavanaugh to challenging the agenda of the right — from the White House to the white supremacists.

NATIONAL DIRECTOR of Priests for Life Father Frank Pavone spoke for a lot of opponents of women’s rights in responding to the news of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

“Those of us who worked so hard to elect President Trump, and who will work even harder to re-elect him, are enjoying one of our proudest moments tonight,” Pavone said. “These are the kinds of decisions that motivate us to elect leaders like President Trump.”

Since Ronald Reagan, Republican presidential candidates have run on a platform of restricting women’s reproductive rights to pander to anti-abortion forces who have a home in the Republican Party. And the Trump administration has been especially enthusiastic about this support.

Since taking office, the administration has rewarded the Religious Right for its support with several anti-women attacks, such as establishing, in the name of “religious liberty,” legal protections to medical staff who refuse to provide abortions or birth control.

Pro-choice activists take a stand against the right
Pro-choice activists take a stand against the right (Steve Rhodes)

Trump has also appointed numerous anti-choice zealots to cabinet positions — like Health and Human Services Secretaries Tom Price and Alex Azar. Before Price resigned, he authored a “draft strategic plan” for HHS that referenced “faith” or “faith-based” organizations more than 40 times.

Azar took over last January and hit the ground running, supporting a global gag rule on abortion, defending the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Scott Lloyd when he tried to block young undocumented women from obtaining abortions and creating a “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” of the HHS.

“Because of President Trump, we have had more pro-life legislation come out than any president since Reagan,” a jubilant Brian Gibson of Pro-Life Action Ministries said at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., last January. “He’s done even more than Reagan!”

Before the march, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife met for a special “Pro-Life VIP” reception session with anti-abortion leaders, including representatives of Students for Life, a group organizing on high school and college campuses to “recruit, train and mobilize the Pro-Life Generation to abolish abortion.”

As for the Supreme Court, Trump appointed anti-choice justice Neil Gorsuch last year, and this year, it’s Brett Kavanaugh, who opposed allowing an undocumented 17-year-old to obtain an abortion while she was in detention.

ALL OF these attempts to restrict women’s right to choose are intertwined with the administration’s attacks on women more broadly, including an unrelenting stream of anti-women remarks coming from the president himself.

Trump headed into the home stretch of his campaign in 2016 with recordings revealing him bragging about sexually assaulting women, and he began his presidency by calling the dozens of women who accused him of sexual harassment liars.

Last week, the “leader of the free world” added another chapter to his misogyny by calling former staff member Omarosa Manigault Newman a “dog” after she accused him of racism.

When all of this is something the president says on any given day, sexism and denigration of women can become acceptable — and so, too, can policies that chip away at women’s rights.

In this climate, the fanatical anti-choice right, just like their white supremacist cousins, have also been emboldened by Trump’s bigotry and xenophobia. This means that reproductive rights are under attack in the courts, but also at our clinics.

Just a few weeks ago, Seattle pro-choice activists who gathered to defend a women’s clinic where patients and staff have been regularly harassed by anti-abortion zealots were met with an ugly surprise: Members of the far-right groups Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys had also mobilized to harass and intimidate people going in.

These two organizations are well known for their marches alongside outright Nazis and other white supremacists to spread their hateful views and commit violence against anti-racist protesters.

But on this day in Seattle, they lent their support to the anti-abortion forces and tried to intimidate supporters of women’s rights.

THE PRESENCE of violent white supremacists tears the mask away from the so-called “right-to-life” movement’s claims that they care about the sanctity of life. It also exposes their supposed support for “free speech” when they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with violent groups that regularly seek to silence anyone they oppose, including immigrants, Muslims, Blacks and many more.

The far right also includes women, and those who support women’s right to control their own bodies, on their hit list.

This should raise questions for those who have been told by the anti-choice bigots that access to legal abortion constitutes a “genocide against Black people.” Their allies are actual supporters of genocide against Black people.

While some sections of the anti-abortion movement that try to appeal to the mainstream may underplay the racism in their ranks, others are less concerned with letting their hate show — even when the racism is justifying children being separated from their families, which the right wing supposedly reveres.

As hundreds of thousands of people around the country joined protests in response to the Trump administration’s jailing of immigrant children in cages at the border, Cheryl Sullenger, senior vice president of the fanatical anti-abortion protest group Operation Rescue, tweeted: “Here’s an easy solution for parents who don’t want to be separated from their children when illegally crossing into the U.S. STAY HOME!”

Despite the Religious Right’s rhetoric about “respect for life,” there is a decades-long history of violence perpetrated against women’s clinics. The anti-abortionists have threatened patients and staff, bombed clinics, and stalked and assassinated abortion providers.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, wrote in its 2017 report Hate in God’s Name:

Anti-abortion-related criminal activity in the U.S. has increased in recent years after experiencing a significant drop during the early 2000s in comparison to peak periods in the mid-1980s and mid-1990s...

During 2015, there were several attacks against Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Washington and California. Most of the 2015 attacks were likely related to increased media coverage of government funding of Planned Parenthood as well as an undercover video controversy involving Planned Parenthood allegedly selling fetal body parts.

With organizing by the far right accelerating in the climate created by the Trump administration’s steady stream of racist attacks, it’s important to recognize that the anti-abortion movement is another aspect of far-right organizing that cannot be ignored.

OUR SIDE is learning important lessons about how the far right organizes and what it takes to push them back.

The mass protest organized against the right in Boston last summer, one week after the deadly attack on anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, is an example of broad forces coming together to defeat the right in the way that we are the most powerful: countering their message by far outnumbering them in the streets.

Organizing has begun to try to defeat the Kavanaugh nomination, including grassroots protests organized in Maine to pressure Republican Sen. Susan Collins to make good on her pro-choice credentials and vote against his nomination to the Supreme Court. Activists also organized protests against Students for Life when they attempted to rally for Kavanaugh.

There is a clear pro-choice majority in the U.S., and we have the potential to defeat the right on this issue. As reproductive rights activist and journalist Liz Plank told The Hill in July: “The idea that repealing Roe v. Wade is a popular measure is just not true. In fact, if you look at the president’s approval rating, abortion is more popular than Donald Trump.”

Protests on August 26 called by Indivisible, NARAL and other groups will hopefully be one of many actions against Kavanaugh’s appointment. Counterprotests of the upcoming “40 Days for Life” organized by the anti-choice bigots nationally will be another opportunity to let our voices be heard.

In this way, our side can start building the kind of networks we will need to counter and demoralize the anti-abortion, anti-women right — in the White House and in front of the clinics.

Earlier this month, a woman described the stakes of this struggle in an article in the Portland Press Herald, referring to her own illegal abortion in 1965:

Women in need of an abortion should be able to go to health centers and doctors’ offices. No one should have to ride blindfolded from a hotel parking lot to a farmhouse in order to undergo a safe medical procedure. But I fear that will happen again if an anti-abortion rights judge like Brett Kavanaugh joins the Supreme Court.

Denying women access to abortion isn’t about “religious freedom.” It’s about bigotry and discrimination against women. And without reproductive rights, women pay with their lives.

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