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Coming soon to Congress: women who oppose abortion rights.
The number of anti-abortion women in the House of Representatives is set to double, going from 13 seats to as many as 30, pending election results in three districts. All of the women are Republican.
There is no reason to think they were merely checking a box in hopes of getting elected as Republicans.
Michelle Fischbach, one of the new representatives, spent more than a decade as a state senator sponsoring laws that doled out state funds to anti-abortion fake clinics (commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers) and forced biased information on Minnesotans seeking abortion care. Married to the head of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and the daughter of National Right to Life Committee co-executive director Darla St. Martin, Fischbach is practically anti-abortion royalty. She defeated anti-choice Democrat Rep. Collin Peterson, long known for doing all the wrong things for reproductive health, rights, and justice, including voting for “personhood”—an effort to grant legal rights to fertilized eggs and fetuses, criminalizing abortion and even birth control in the process.
Then there’s Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, the “pro-life” QAnon supporter and incoming member of Congress who can be found tweeting “WE WILL NOT COMPLY!” in response to hypothetical mask mandates—even though masks are proven effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19 and would actually save lives.
Not all of the incoming anti-abortion women are white. There’s Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma, who will be the first Iranian American in Congress. Yvette Herrell of New Mexico is a member of the Cherokee nation, and Florida’s Maria Elvira Salazar is Cuban American.
Does any of this represent progress for women? No.
Feminism is not simply womanhood. Feminism is a movement for gender equality that puts women and girls at the center of analysis.
There are feminisms, many of them great—Black feminism, ecofeminism, sex-positive feminism, young feminism, and faith-based feminism, to name just a few—and a smaller handful of the repulsive and oppressive, such as white feminism, Islamophobic feminism, and trans-exclusionary radical feminism, all of which seek to slap pro-woman branding on plain old discrimination against marginalized people, women included.
Enacting laws against women’s equality is not progress, even when done with the collaboration, collusion, and leadership of women. Abortion is not merely a “women’s issue.” There are people of all genders who have the capacity for pregnancy, and delightfully, our understanding of feminism and gender itself are at inflection points, especially among younger people who seem to understand transgender equality and inclusion far better than older generations of feminists who have discriminated against, misgendered, and deeply wounded trans and nonbinary people.
That said, abortion and reproductive rights and justice will always remain core, urgent issues for women’s equality in this country and around the world.
At any moment, an enormous proportion of women could become pregnant, and this issue is inextricably entwined with every other issue affecting women’s lives, from police violence to pay equity and gender-based violence. There is no hope for women’s equality without readily available, adequately funded, shame-free access to abortion. Not contraception. Not comprehensive sex education. Not public assistance and support to raise families with dignity. These are all critical, but they are not substitutes for abortion access. Abortion is not a bad behavior to minimize. That thing telling us it is? That’s sexism and internalized misogyny talking.
As I have written for Rewire News Group and other publications throughout a lifetime of advocacy for women and girls, there is no such thing as “pro-life feminism.” So-called pro-life feminism is literally impossible. There is no purer expression of sexism in the United States today than the anti-abortion movement, which exists to advance and cement white male supremacy under the law by subjugating women, criminalizing all but a narrow band of accepted sexual and reproductive behaviors, and increasing white birth rates while leaving Black babies to die.
I know some people will say, “Can’t we just focus on women’s equality and set the controversial issue of reproductive rights to the side?” Well, if you argue that women can be equal so long as they do not transgress laws that might throw them in jail for abortion, miscarriage, and pregnancy, then what you are arguing for is not equality, but submission. Remember this as the inevitable, bad-faith think pieces emerge about the new anti-abortion women in Congress, as women opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment suddenly claim the mantle of feminism in order to further cement sex and gender discrimination into law.
The modern anti-abortion movement exists because a handful of conservative men got in a room (maybe even a smoke-filled one) 50 years ago and decided that overturning Roe v. Wade could become their primary wedge issue and voter mobilization tool as explicitly embracing segregationism became more unfashionable. Ever desperate to prove they are not just racist white men with cigars, they are increasingly eager to put forward women to close their disgusting deal.
Remember this when Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the cynically named Susan B. Anthony List, goes on a press junket about the new anti-abortion women coming to Washington, crowing about how women want laws that would throw even more people in jail for abortion, miscarriage, and pregnancy. Remember this when Justice Amy Coney Barrett hears her first abortion case at the Supreme Court. Remember this when the newly elected women in the House of Representatives are strategically chosen to sponsor anti-abortion legislation.
Central casting has always called on women, especially white women, to enforce the patriarchy. Don’t let them fool you.