Things are looking good for the antiabortion movement.
We have almost completed the struggle of disentangling ourselves from the toxic, simplistic, binary culture wars of the 1970s. Twenty-million Democrats identify as “pro-life.” The voices of people of color, disproportionately against abortion when compared with whites, are finally being heard by our movement. Almost every major antiabortion organization has women’s issues at the center of their concern and is being led by a woman.
Pay attention to their rhetoric: Increased emphasis has been placed on the unjust social structures facing women and the patriarchal reasons this country pursued and accepted abortion on demand. Slate just ran a cover story on the future of the antiabortion movement that described it as, “young, female, secular, and ‘feminist.’”
In the long term, we have nearly everything going our way. I’ve even argued, given the continually rising status of millennials, women and people of color in our public discourse, we don’t have many years to wait before the debate naturally turns dramatically in our favor.
But there is one thing which, if associated with antiabortion movement, could halt our momentum: a Donald Trump presidency.
Trump is already disliked by a huge percentage of the population, but he is particularly loathed by — you guessed it — millennials, women and people of color, and with good reason. Trump’s positions on issues like immigration, criminal justice reform, health care and climate change are completely alienating to huge majorities in these demographics. His racist and sexist rhetoric and behavior even more so. And his horrific connections to sexual violence? You get the picture.
This kind of man is now dangerously close to becoming the face of the antiabortion movement. He was asked about it at the debate last night and identified as antiabortion. Abortion rights organizations are running ads and organizing other opposition to his supposedly antiabortion candidacy.
And if he is elected president, our opponents on abortion will be able to rightly point out that the antiabortion movement is led by a misogynist, racist, narcissist who is blinded by his own privilege. Successfully making this case is the only way left for abortion rights activists to stop antiabortion momentum, but it plays into deeply held stereotypes of the movement — stereotypes still held by media formed during the culture wars.
What about the Supreme Court? This concern has driven groups like National Right to Life, the Susan B. Anthony List and Students for Life to support Trump’s candidacy. Desperate to not lose the court for a generation, these groups will apparently stoop to virtually any level — including that of supporting a racist sexual predator — to avoid that fate. But there are good reasons to be skeptical of the “all that matters is the Supreme Court” strategy.
Antiabortion activists have hitched their wagon to the Republican Party for decades with precisely this in mind, but it hasn’t turned out very well for us. Republican presidents not only appointed five of the six justices who voted in favor of the original decision in Roe v. Wade, but they appointed the key justices who made sure the essential holding of Roe remained the law of the land: Sandra Day O’Connor (Ronald Reagan), David Souter (George H.W. Bush) and Anthony M. Kennedy (Reagan).
Furthermore, there is little reason to believe Trump is serious about appointing judges who would overturn Roe given the chance. After all, before his well-timed conversion, Trump was “pro-choice in every respect,” including when it came to partial-birth abortion.
Even during this very election cycle he claimed his abortion-rights-supporting sister would make a great Supreme Court justice. He took five different abortion positions in three days on his way to figuring out contemporary, women-centered antiabortion values. His has consistently refused to say that he wants Roe. v. Wade overturned.
This was on full display Wednesday night during the debate. The moderator, Chris Wallace, asked him three different times if he personally wanted Roe v. Wade to be overturned. Each time Trump refused to answer the question, and the first two times he mentioned that doing so would simply return the issue “back to the states.” Even when he finally insisted that Roe would be “automatically” overturned if he became president, he didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about the prospect.
Of course, if abortion were simply returned to the states, his home state of New York (and many, many others) would not give prenatal children any legal protection, and many millions of women would still be structurally coerced into having abortions they don’t want.
Happily, despite aid from the traditional antiabortion movement, it looks as though Trump will not be the next president of the United States. Without his leadership, we can continue to support the new trajectory of the movement — one that listens to and amplifies the voices young people, women and people of color speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves.