The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The war on abortion rights meshes perfectly with MAGA authoritarianism

Abortion rights advocates demonstrate in Boise, Idaho, on May 3. (Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman via AP)

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, in the 100 days, as of Sunday, since the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, nearly 80 million people find themselves in 13 states that, in effect, ban abortion. There will be a record number of abortion-related measures on the midterm ballot. It would be a mistake to see the focus on abortion as distinct from the MAGA war on democracy.

Pundits and politicians tend to observe a bright distinction between the Donald Trump MAGA movement’s assault on democracy and the right-wing evisceration of women’s reproductive rights. After all, some pro-democracy voices on the right are antiabortion. But simply because not all forced-birth advocates are MAGA authoritarian supporters, that doesn’t mean a critical point should be overlooked: The attack on women’s self-determination and autonomy is as much a part of MAGA’s fascistic affinities as is the cult’s fondness for violence and white Christian nationalism.

One need only look at right-wing regimes present and past to see that they invariably include appeals to hyper-masculinity and demands for women to be limited to their roles as women and mothers. Modern authoritarian regimes — such as Viktor Orban’s Hungary or President Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil — and European fascists of the 1930s alike have sought to compel motherhood and limit women’s participation in society.

“Fascism is a rejection of the notion of equality, of an expansive definition of the people. And it comes at a time where people are pushing the parameters of an existing definition, one that basically included males, often male property owners only,” Anne Wingenter, professor of history and women’s studies at Loyola University Chicago, explained in a radio interview in April. “It was pushback against expanding that definition to excluded groups. What we seem to be experiencing today, to me, looks a lot like an attempt to define down that notion of the people again. And some people get to be fully autonomous, and some don’t.”

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That was certainly the pattern in 1930s fascist Italy. Wingenter explained, “[Benito] Mussolini was known for his kind of pithy little quotes. And he is on record as saying, ‘War is to man, as maternity is to woman.’ ” She continued, “The ideal woman in fascist Italy was the wife and mother of many children.”

The xenophobic right-wing movement in the United States today is obsessed with “replacement theory,” regarding women in the dominant group as essential to the preservation of white supremacy. There was a “kind of demographic panic in the wake of the World War I in Italy,” Wingenter said. Now, in the United States, it is the MAGA hysteria over white replacement. In both, part of the “solution” is for White mothers to have lots of children and forgo not only abortion but birth control.

We therefore should recognize, as Wingenter puts it, that those who “tolerate the removal of a whole series of rights for people, in the sense of a full ban on abortion,” strike not only at the rights of women to participate fully in society but to destroy the democratic ideal of equal rights and equal opportunity.

Mainstream media coverage has no problem recognizing the link between the MAGA anti-democratic movement and racism/white nationalism. One need only look at the Confederate flags carried through the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, or listen to right-wing fearmongering about immigrants to understand racism is intrinsic to the MAGA movement. However, when it comes to women’s rights, we see little acknowledgment in mainstream reporting and commentary that misogyny and deprivation of women’s rights are central to a movement playing largely on White male hysteria.

In sum, MAGA support for government intrusion into Americans’ most intimate decisions reflects an authoritarian outlook. It is not a coincidence that this targeting of women is occurring in tandem with a developing voter registration gender gap favoring women. They understand all too well that the GOP’s quest for a national abortion ban is about their reproductive rights — and also about their inclusion in society and ultimately the preservation of democracy.

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