The Weaponization of Abortion
Before the mid-1970s, abortion was not the deeply polarizing political issue it is today. In Congress, Democrats and Republicans voted against abortion at the same rate. The Republican First Lady and Vice President of the 1974 Ford Administration supported abortion rights. Religious and moral rhetoric were absent from the conversation. In 1973, W.A. Criswell—leading Evangelical and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention—actually praised the Roe v. Wade decision:
“I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”
So what happened?
The era of indifference towards abortion was also one of advancements in civil rights. Brown v. Board of Education was handed down in 1954, establishing the unconstitutionality of racial segregation in public schools. Rosa Parks, in a planned but nevertheless courageous act, refused to give up her seat in 1955. The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 outlawed forms of discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. The womxn’s liberation, gay liberation, and Black power movements were radically shifting the status quo. America was changing.
The Southern white way of life, accurately described by Angie Maxwell and Todd G. Shields in their 2019 book, The Long Southern Strategy, “is best viewed as a triptych with religious fundamentalism and patriarchy standing as separate hinged panels that can be folded inward—bent to cover or reinforce white supremacy throughout much of the region’s history.” The radical change of the late 20th century stood in novel opposition to that way of life. Consequently, the Republican “Southern Strategy” was contrived.
By the late ‘70s, leaders of the far-right movement had largely succeeded in uniting the white, Southern, and culturally conservative voting bloc behind racism and misogyny through the use of corporate power and moral superiority rhetoric. But as the effects of these forces began to level off, the Republican establishment took on a new cause to energize their base: abortion.
Our current President went from saying that he is “very pro-choice” in 1999 to asserting that “there has to be some form of punishment” in 2016 for womxn who have had an abortion. Earlier this year, Alabama, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Texas governors declared abortion a “nonessential” and “elective” procedure. The GOP has clearly been successful in consolidating their base around the issue of abortion. The question now is whether or not they’ll be successful in dismantling reproductive rights.
Source(s): NARAL Pro-Choice America
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