Roe v. Will Wade be canceled? What future for anti-abortion activists?

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In late 2020, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa was kneeling next to the border wall cutting stenciled graffiti decrying US immigration policy. “Migrant children have heartbeats too,” the stencils said.

Last week in Washington, DC, she brought the same message to the March for Life. Members of her organization, New Wave Feminists, which bills itself as a “pro-life feminist organization,” carried black and pink signs emblazoned with the words.

Although the tagline remained the same, the two scenes were quite different. The March for Life is dominated by political conservatives. Pro-immigration protests, on the other hand, are usually led by liberals.

Herndon-De La Rosa’s presence at both events shows that she is not a typical anti-abortion activist. Rather, her anti-abortion stance is based on the idea that “every human being should live a life free from violence, from the womb to the grave,” as her group’s website puts it, bringing her not only to fight against abortion but also to devote themselves to the rights of migrants – an issue that many right-wing anti-abortion activists will not address.

Herndon-De La Rosa said her holistic “pro-life” approach left her politically homeless.

In her early days as an anti-abortion activist, Herndon-De La Rosa explained, she felt she “had to vote Republican.” But her strict party allegiance ended when she realized that most Republican politicians were unwilling to fund the services pregnant women needed.

“Most of the services we provided (for pregnant women) were government services and (I was) asked to turn around and vote for politicians who don’t support those same things,” she said. declared.

But if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court later this year, Republicans may be forced to rethink their opposition to the social safety net — especially if the party wants to retain some of its anti-abortion voters. That the “pro-life” movement is currently at a crossroads was the subject of a recent webinar hosted by the Catholic Social Thought and Public Life Initiative at Georgetown University.

Blurring party lines

Herndon-De La Rosa and other anti-abortion activists like her believe our country’s policies need to better reflect a holistic approach to life support — and that the left and right are currently falling short.

They say that Democrats’ support for abortion rights amounts to a kind of structural violence that actually helps hide the unequal status of women in the United States and that access to abortion is not a real liberation for women.

“Abortion supports systems of oppression,” said Gloria Purvis, a women’s rights advocate who hosts “The Gloria Purvis Podcast.” Purvis added that the Democratic Party’s stance on abortion allows corporate America to shirk their duty to offer policies that truly support working mothers and families.

“It’s a smokescreen for women to say, ‘Hey, you’re freed to be like men.’ Instead, we must build an economy, a society… that is supportive of women as we are – not that we are fake men, but domale,” she says.

But Purvis, Herndon-De La Rosa and others also criticize the political right. They believe that the Conservatives’ support for life begins at conception but ends at birth.

If Republicans truly respected life, they would take a holistic approach that included tackling the topic of racial injustice, Purvis said.

“I think the mistake we’ve really made in talking about pro-life is that it’s detached from the central issue which is really human dignity…from the moment of conception until natural death,” she said.

The dignity of the unborn child can and should be addressed, Purvis said, “while understanding that we have an obligation to uphold the dignity of all others outside the womb, especially in the area of race”.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Purvis added, the silence of those claiming to be “pro-life” was “indicative of the (political) problem” plaguing the anti-abortion movement.

The Republican Party, Purvis continued, publicly “praises” marriage and family, but at the same time “penalizes the women who made these tough decisions,” portraying those who need state benefits to survive as profiteers. .

“One of the best things that could happen would be for the Democratic Party to make room for us,” said Herndon-De La Rosa, who is now a registered independent. Likewise, she added, “The infant mortality rate for women of color — that should be 100% a pro-life Republican issue.”

The forgotten history of the anti-abortion movement

According to Daniel Williams, author of “Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade,” such a change would actually bring the anti-abortion movement back to its roots, which lie on the left, not the right.

Although opposition to abortion is closely associated with the Republican Party today, the movement owes its conception to Catholic social teachings, 20th-century liberalism, and the emphasis on human rights that emerged in the aftermath of World War II, he said.

Some of the first calls against abortion came from Catholic doctors who were reacting to the liberalization of abortion law. They felt killing one person to save another was not human rights, said Williams, who is also a professor of history at the University of West Georgia.

But for most Catholics then – and many like Purvis still today – respect for human rights required a holistic approach that included embracing liberal values ​​like the right to education and supporting to various social programs.

In the 1960s, anti-abortion activists were Catholic Democrats who also opposed the Vietnam War. Until the 1970s, there was still no clear partisan divide on the issue, Williams said. But, later, Ronald Reagan – who as governor of California had signed liberal abortion legislation – helped detach the anti-abortion movement from its left-wing roots, firmly entrenching the most vocal opposition. to the procedure on the right. And as the right focused “on creating legal protections that had been undone by Roe v. Wade … it was hard to see Democratic politicians as potential allies,” Williams said, introducing some of the polarization we see today as well as the myopic focus on the courts.

This anti-abortion movement also brought together two groups of people with different ideas about the role the state should play in our lives: Catholics – a group that “historically had a very positive view of the state…the most Catholics thought the state had an obligation to families and citizens,” said Williams – along with Southern Protestants, a group that widely mistrusted the state and state intervention on a variety questions and has been for 200 years, Williams said.

If Roe v. Wade is canceled, which has been the overarching goal of these disparate groups, Williams added, “it will be interesting to see if these differences in the pro-life movement become more apparent.”

However, the Supreme Court rules in her abortion case, Herndon-De La Rosa – who believes abortion has been unnecessarily politicized – hopes to see Americans working together on issues from the womb to the grave, regardless of their political origins.

‘The best thing that can happen to this nation is for everyone to wake up tomorrow and everyone to be independent and we focus on the issues’ rather than the political parties, she said .

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