Don’t Fall for Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s Motherhood Trap
Conservatives are using Amy Coney Barrett as a weapon to divide mothers.
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In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, President Donald Trump vowed to nominate a woman to fill her seat. So it was hardly a surprise when the president nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative judge who currently sits on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Even more predictably, conservatives—and even a small number of liberals—instantly propped her up as the pinnacle of working motherhood. Barrels of ink have already been spilled describing Barrett, a mother of seven, as someone who “sets an example for working mothers”; who proves “it’s possible to manage family and career”; who “represents the fact that not all women need to think the same way about the raising of children and family planning.”
In other words, Barrett embodies the antithesis of the type of people anti-abortion conservatives envision when they consider people who seek out abortion care. And now that Roe v. Wade is on the line, conservatives and GOP politicians are leaning into one of their most fervent and successful anti-abortion tactics: weaponizing motherhood.
Trying to convince a public that overwhelmingly supports legal access to abortion care that only one type of person—the “bad,” child-free, irresponsible, promiscuous, atheist type—has abortions is far from revolutionary. There’s nothing new about pitting people who have miscarriages against people who terminate their pregnancies, or women who don’t want to become mothers against those who do, or those who cannot have children against those who do not want to stay pregnant.
Like every other nefarious anti-abortion tactic, it’s also a completely fabricated dichotomy. Fifty-nine percent of abortion patients in 2014 already had at least one child at home, and one-third had at least two existing children. Mothers have abortions; the dramatic impact that another child would have on their existing children’s lives is one of the most frequently reported reasons moms decide to have those abortions.
They know, firsthand, what it is like to carry a pregnancy to term, or close to it; to go through labor; to have your delivery plans thwarted by circumstance; to navigate the haze of postpartum life; to watch your body be forever changed by the act of reproduction. They know what it is like to sacrifice for another person. And that knowledge undoubtedly plays a part in why they make the decision to have an abortion—when mothers are denied abortion care, studies have shown that their existing children end up worse off than their peers.
But abortion isn’t just a common health-care procedure most often acquired by people who are already parents—it’s a health-care decision that often makes it possible for people to become parents when they’re ready, willing, and able.
If I had not been able to access the abortion I wanted when I was a year out of college, living paycheck to paycheck, and involved in a toxic relationship, I could never have become a healthy, loving, working mother to my two sons, now 6 and 1 (just like it would have been impossible for my then-partner to eventually become a father with someone he actually loves, too).
While plenty of people who have abortions never want children (and that’s perfectly OK), in a 2013 study of 954 abortion patients, 36 percent said the timing was the reason they sought abortion care. In other words, it isn’t that many of us don’t want children; it’s that we want to decide when it’s best for us to have children—to be financially, emotionally, and mentally prepared for the fulfilling but intense responsibility of parenthood.
Barrett is not the antithesis of the woman who seeks out an abortion. Under different circumstances, she very well could have been one. Barrett is a devout Catholic—24 percent of abortion patients identify as Catholic. Barrett is a conservative—one-third of Republicans are pro-choice. She has attacked abortion rights in the past, advocating for harsher abortion restrictions and bans on abortion later in pregnancy; ask any abortion provider, and they’ll tell you about the day they provided abortion care to the very person screaming obscenities outside their clinic, only to see them return a week later to protest again.
The right would like us all to think that the person who has an abortion and the person who becomes a mom are two different people. They’re not. Both those women are me.
Barrett and I—the Catholic woman with seven children and the atheist woman who had an abortion in her 20s—are not at odds with each other because of our personal health-care decisons and parenting choices. We’re at odds because one of us wants to strip away affordable health care, curtail abortion access, and maybe even overturn Roe v. Wade, while the other wants pregnant people to have the same reproductive health-care options and access as she did. One wants to make motherhood a punishment instead of a choice, while the other wants to honor pregnant people’s decisions as sacrosanct.
The right will keep weaponizing Barrett’s identity as a mother in tireless pursuit of ending legal access to abortion. But what deserves to be weaponized, in the necessary defense of abortion access, is her inhumanity.