On Roe Anniversary, Anti-Abortion Group Protested by Crazier Anti-Abortion Group
As the landmark Roe v. Wade decision turns 40 today, a predictable array of anti-abortion protesters are hitting the streets. But while the parade of fetus T-shirts may seem merely like more of the same—notwithstanding yesterday's rather spectacular aerial protest, during which one inaugural attendee climbed 40-feet in the air to yell “Democrats are baby-killers,” reportedly breaking only to listen to Beyonce—the anti-abortion movement has successfully adapted over the years. The right-wing backlash against Roe v. Wade has proceeded piecemeal, chipping away at federally-protected rights through extreme measures at the state level, and indirectly restricting abortion by penalizing providers with onerous requirements.
The pro-choice movement, meanwhile, is in the midst of a debate as to whether it too should evolve—namely by abandoning the term “pro-choice.” Planned Parenthood's “Not In Her Shoes” campaign, which it unveiled last week, seeks to leave behind the “pro-choice” label in response to new data indicating that . Some feminists are dismayed by this attempt to go “label-free,” suggesting that the movement has been focus grouped into a political retreat. Others are embracing the moment as one ripe to reconsider the narratives surrounding women's rights and reproductive health.
As Tracy Weitz notes at RH Reality Check, there are long-standing critiques of the “choice” framework that this shift doesn't necessarily address. The focus on legalization of abortion has sometimes minimized the economic circumstances that restrict choice, and ignored that the rights of women of color to have and parent their children have also been under attack historically. So I'm not of the opinion that the debates over where the movement goes next are inherently divisive, or that feminists are obliged to close ranks around any one framing of reproductive justice.
Even so, it's heartening to see a little division brewing on the Right. While the group Ohio Right to Life holds its own events today, they'll be protested by members of far-right anti-abortion group the Resistance. According to a press release, Ohio pro-lifers will hold a press conference outside of Ohio Right to Life's headquarters to “stand against the 'pro-life' giant that is responsible for countless murders of unborn babies because of their support of legalized child-killing.” The Resistance made headlines previously for hanging and beating an effigy of North Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham after he voted to support Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court.
The context for this rift is the so-called “heartbeat bill” which was introduced in the Ohio legislature in 2011, and which would have banned abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat was detectable. The state's most established anti-abortion groups declined to support the bill, fearing it would provoke a legal challenge and ultimately result in a setback for the movement. Though the measure passed in the House, it ultimately died in the Senate. The bill's demise split the state's anti-abortion forces and led, as the New York Times reported, to the withdrawal of six county chapters from Ohio Right to Life.
It's not yet clear how to read this realignment. On the one hand, one can't help but smile on at the breathless denunciations of the “mainstream” pro-life movement (Resistance founder Randall Terry, apparently, will send you a free copy of his book on where the "religious right establishment" has gone wrong). On the other, it seems that this “mainstream” movement's strategy of incremental changes has rolled back enough protections that, as Lindsay Beyerstein has noted, their more forthright compatriates are now willing to talk explicitly about the unsavory end-goals of the movement, such as banning birth control. Whatever name it goes by, there's a big fight brewing as the heartbeat bill and similar measures are reintroduced in 2013.