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1 Apr 2023
By Anthony DiMaggio

NextImg:War on women: The link between white supremacy, "men's rights" and anti-abortion politics

Efforts by Republicans and their allies to roll back abortion rights continue, with a looming federal ban on the abortion pill mifepristone, which accounts for more than half of all pregnancy terminations each year. That case is being decided by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, and was litigated by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group that was also involved in the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision last year, which overturned Roe v. Wade and the nationwide right to abortion. Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, has adopted various terms used by anti-abortion advocates in his comments from the case, referring to "chemical abortion" and "mail-in abortion," for example, phrases that are widely rejected in medical professional settings. His language has led to concerns that the judge is tipping his hand to the anti-abortion movement, and will likely declare a national ban on mifepristone.

The right-wing Christian dimension to the anti-abortion movement has long been obvious, and even as the proportion of evangelical Christians has steadily declined in American society, the religious right has become a highly influential force in the Republican Party. What is missed in this discourse, however, is any discussion about the ways that both white supremacist and male supremacist ideology appear to be driving the contemporary push to outlaw abortions in America. 

"Pro-life" activists and advocates rarely bill their campaign to outlaw abortion as explicitly driven by a commitment to the "men's rights" movement and its efforts to dominate women, and tend to avoid any overt association with racism or white supremacy. In cases where a link with racism becomes explicit, those articulating the connection are quickly denounced. For example, Rep. Mary Miller, an Illinois Republican, encountered significant blowback for announcing at a 2022 rally attended by Donald Trump that she wanted to thank the former president and his Supreme Court for the Dobbs decision – "on behalf of all the MAGA patriots in America," who appreciated "the historic victory for white life." 

Miller quickly backtracked, claiming that she had meant to say a victory for the "right to life." That explanation was clearly undermined by her history of embracing far-right reactionary beliefs, including Adolf Hitler in a speech one day before the Jan. 6 insurrection. Miller's denials across multiple instances of mainstreaming white supremacy are typical of the reactionary right in the Trump era, as increasingly extreme ideas are offered as red meat for the GOP base, while those who utter them later protest that they were taken out of context, kidding or misunderstood. 

The contention that the Trumpian right is pursuing an extremist war against women has gained traction in the wake of the 2022 Dobbs ruling. For example, Margaret Atwood draws on her classic dystopian novel to warn that the U.S. is on its way to becoming a "Handmaid's Tale" republic, establishing a "state religion" to assault women's reproductive rights, which now "belong only to the state." Atwood reflects: "Theocratic dictatorships do not lie only in the distant past: There are a number of them on the planet today. What is to prevent the United States from becoming one of them?"

Our survey found significant evidence of the racialization of anti-abortion politics on the American right: More than a third of Trump voters embrace white supremacist values.

But what if the war on women is also driven by a vision of society that is dominated by white heterosexual men, and that idealizes a national identity that marginalizes and suppresses people of color, and particularly women of color? To test this position, I developed a survey with the help of my research team working in association with the Marcon Institute for the study of racial and social justice at Lehigh University. 

The February 2022 Marcon survey contacted a national sample of 1,021 Americans, asking them their opinions of various social and political issues, as related to questions of white supremacy, male supremacy and abortion. The survey found significant evidence of the racialization of anti-abortion politics on the American right, via the mainstreaming of white supremacy. While only 15 percent of American adults overall agreed with Mary Miller's claim that the Dobbs decision was "a victory for white life," the number was more than twice as high – 35 percent – among Trump supporters. 

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It is disturbing and illuminating to find that more than a third of Trump's followers embrace white supremacist values, and link them explicitly to their anti-abortion views. This is significant evidence of the mainstreaming of white supremacy – even though most Republicans do not endorse this sort of toxic ideology. What's even more disturbing is the finding that an even larger number of Americans are susceptible to "men's rights" ideology, and that such values are linked to the racialized ways that people look at abortion. 

The Marcon survey includes a four-question index that gauges Americans' openness to various heteronormative beliefs that are at the core of the men's rights movement. These questions include asking respondents whether they agree with the following assertions:

Overall identification with this heteronormative index reveals that a large minority of Americans are susceptible to these values. Forty-one percent of respondents agreed in the Marcon survey with at least one of the four values, while 28 percent agreed with at least two or more, and 11 percent agreed with three or more. These are not insignificant numbers. These values are also tied to susceptibility to the men's rights movement's values and opinions regarding white supremacy and abortion. 

Utilizing statistical regression analysis of the Marcon survey, I measure the relationship between openness to heteronormative beliefs and agreement with Miller's claim that the Dobbs ruling was "a victory for white life," while controlling for various other factors, including respondents' income, age, education, race, gender, political party identification (Republican, independent or Democrat), ideology (conservative, moderate or liberal) and personal financial situation (very/somewhat good or very/somewhat poor). 

Susceptibility to the reactionary heteronormative values that drive the men's rights movement is a significant predictor of white nationalist-friendly views of abortion. To explain that further, as one moves from individuals with the least favorable responses to our heteronormative index (61 percent of respondents agreed with none of the four values) to those who were the most favorable (3.4 percent of respondents agreed with all four values), the likelihood of agreeing that the Dobbs ruling is a "victory for white life" increases by 52 percent, after controlling for all the other variables in my analysis.

Public support on the pro-Trump right for the Dobbs ruling is driven to a significant extent by white nationalist values that elevate white children's lives above children of color, and above the lives of people of color more broadly. This is an important finding, because it suggests that many people who oppose abortion rights in the U.S. are not being honest about their motives in seeking to downplay the racist, white supremacist aspects of their politics in relation to abortion and women's rights. But anti-abortion politics are about more than just race. They are also about a way of looking at the world that idealizes masculinity, misogyny and anti-LGBTQ+ identities, with these forms of bigotry being increasingly normalized under Trumpism and within contemporary Republican politics. 

Despite its rhetoric, in other words, the anti-abortion right is not simply concerned with the unborn's "right to life." Evidence clearly shows a link between the values of the men's rights movement, racial bigotry and anti-abortion politics. The Christian-Republican right wants to control women and maintain white heteronormativity as the dominant socio-political hierarchy. In seeking to control 50 percent of the population and deny them the right to make their own reproductive choices, it infringes on the very foundation of democracy. 

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from social scientist Anthony DiMaggio