By Anti-Choice Republicans’ Definition, 77% of Americans are “Abortion Extremists”
It’s no surprise that as we get closer to the election, Donald Trump and other Republican politicians are scrambling to distract from a massive economic recession, months of protests against racial injustice and police brutality, and the fact that their gross negligence and determination to put ideology over science has led to a staggering coronavirus death toll in the United States of nearly 200,000 lives lost. And Justice Ruth Bader Ginburg’s death means there’s now a critical Supreme Court vacancy on the line, giving Republicans yet another avenue to deflect from their plethora of devastating failures as they attempt to push through another justice hostile to reproductive freedom, despite the fact that Americans are already actively voting for the next president.
For years, the Republican Party has deliberately weaponized the issue of abortion as a distraction from its many failures. It’s a tactic that Trump himself regularly relies on. He, like the rest of the Radical Right, knows that self-proclaimed “single-issue” anti-choice activists are rarely pushed to reckon with their own role in perpetuating systemic inequality, and they’re given a pass on answering for any and all damage their policies do on issues of public health and safety, the environment, civil rights, or the economy. Instead, they can point the finger at Democrats in races up and down the ballot — from Sen. Kamala Harris’ vice presidential candidacy to Kansas candidate Barbara Bollier’s bid for the U.S. Senate — baselessly attacking them as “abortion extremists.”
What the Republican Party hopes we forget, particularly as they prepare to ram through a radically anti-choice Supreme Court nominee, is that 77% of Americans support Roe v. Wade and the right to legal abortion. Supporting reproductive freedom doesn’t just put Democratic candidates in good company — it is a winning issue and a path to victory in elections.
So, as Republican leaders increasingly work to use anti-choice disinformation as a weapon against Democrats who support reproductive freedom, it’s important for us all to be able to see through their lies.
Here are the top four ways Republican politicians are disingenuously attacking Democrats during this election cycle — and how you can respond.
TACTIC 1: Republican leaders are claiming any Democrat who supports Roe v. Wade’s affirmation of the constitutional right to abortion is an “extremist”
It’s important to remember that the vast majority of people in the United States — again, 77% of them — support Roe v. Wade. In fact, the majority of Republican voters want to keep Roe.
Because the anti-choice movement knows that its arguments are overwhelmingly unpopular, it resorts to fearmongering and spreading disinformation in order to falsely claim that Democrats who support reproductive freedom are “extremists.” We saw this tactic pick up steam in early 2019, when several states moved to lock the protections of Roe into law and protect the right to abortion at the state level. Abortion activists jumped to frame such proposals as “extreme” and, in some cases, falsely insisted they allowed for “infanticide.”
Now, as the 2020 election draws closer, we’re seeing more of these outrageous claims. Here are just a few examples:
Anti-choice leaders are always looking for a way to paper over their own greatest weaknesses and go on offense against Democrats. They recognize that they can’t win on the merits of their arguments, so they aim to intimidate Democrats from fully leaning into their own popular stance on reproductive freedom.
But the American people understand that Roe affirmed critical protections for women and pregnant people that should not be dismantled by anti-choice Republicans seeking to advance their own ideological agenda. Regardless of what the anti-choice movement and its allies in the Republican Party want people to believe, we know the truth: The vast majority of Americans agree that politicians should not be meddling with personal decisions about pregnancy.
TACTIC 2: Republican leaders are reaching for increasingly dramatic language about abortion later in pregnancy, while denying the realities pregnant people may face.
In order to manipulate people into believing that Democrats are “extreme,” the anti-choice movement has settled on framing support for abortion access in the most disingenuous and dramatic terms possible. In recent months, they have pushed the disinformation that anyone who opposes their draconian abortion bans and restrictions supports “abortion up until the moment of birth,” an absurd and false charge that does not reflect the reality of abortion care.
The reality is that when people are making difficult, complicated, and personal medical decisions, one-size-fits-all laws don’t work. Tragically, sometimes a pregnant person gets a diagnosis of a serious health complication that threatens their life or health. Other times, a family learns later in pregnancy there is a very serious or even fatal fetal diagnosis. Most people in the United States agree that when it comes to abortion or pregnancy loss, legislators in Washington, DC and state capitals can’t know what every family is going through, and that it’s wrong to interfere in people’s lives for political reasons.
Republican leaders want to distort this conversation with dramatic language they can use to disingenuously attack Democrats. The fact that Democratic leaders refuse to let conservatives erase pregnant people and the realities they experience puts Democrats firmly in line with what most voters believe — that when people are making complicated, personal decisions, one-size-fits-all restrictions don’t work.
TACTIC 3: Anti-choice Republicans are co-opting the language of the racial justice movement while claiming it’s extreme that Democrats respect Black women’s reproductive freedom.
The ongoing protests against entrenched white supremacy and police violence have led many people in the United States to wake up and realize that racial equity and justice is far from reality in this country. But instead of substantially engaging with the criticisms being raised by protesters about police brutality and racism, anti-choice groups and lawmakers are co-opting the language of the civil rights and racial justice movements to bolster their own political goals and claim Democrats’ support for abortion access means they don’t care about Black communities.
To deflect attention away from the obvious racism that infects the Trump campaign and administration, anti-choice activists and politicians have spent the past several months promoting co-opted slogans like “Black Preborn Lives Matter” and pushing false claims that supporting abortion access means supporting “systemic racism.”
This tactic means anti-choice Republicans can both center themselves as saviors and deny the agency of pregnant people making the best decisions for their lives, families, and specific circumstances. Instead of actually engaging in a conversation about racism in the United States and how to address it, these Republicans turn a conversation that should focus on the care people need into a weapon they can use against Democrats.
Reproductive justice advocates have been speaking out for years about why this anti-choice propaganda is harmful to Black women and pregnant people. Loretta Ross, co-founder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, explained in 2011 that anti-choice activists’ appropriation of racial justice language is nothing more than an attempt to “shame-and-blame Black women who choose abortion” and drive a wedge between them and their communities.
TACTIC 4: Republicans are baselessly pitting support for reproductive freedom against support for religious liberty in order to attack Democrats.
A major part of the Republican strategy as we approach both the 2020 election and a contentious battle over the fate of the Supreme Court has been to deflect from Trump’s many leadership failures and obvious amorality by baselessly fearmongering that Democrats oppose religious freedom or despise religious people — despite the fact that Democrats up and down the ballot, including Vice President Joe Biden, openly discuss their own faith.
For decades, the Radical Right has worked to disingenuously paint Democrats as being anti-religion. This tactic has historically been used to justify Christian conservatives’ right to discriminate against others on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. In fact, Republican politicians’ frequent claim that “religious freedom” is under attack has roots in the Republican Party’s efforts to maintain school segregation in the 1960s. Now, In the leadup to Trump’s announcement of his nominee to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Supreme Court seat, Republicans have already begun spreading the lie that Democrats will be bigoted against any nominee with a religious identity, especially if that nominee is Catholic — ignoring the very legitimate questions anyone who values justice or the rule of law would have after reviewing the frightening records of Trump’s top Supreme Court contenders.
And of course, for the Republican Party, it’s merely an inconvenient reality that two of the Democratic Party’s most prominent leaders, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, are well-known practicing Catholics.
These disingenuous arguments are intended to hide the reality that many people support reproductive freedom because of their religious beliefs. Look no further than Georgia senatorial candidate Raphael Warnock, who is both a Baptist minister and a lifelong advocate for reproductive freedom. When asked about how his religion affected his stance on abortion, Warnock said: “For me, reproductive justice is consistent with my commitment to [ensuring health care as a human right]. I believe unequivocally in a woman’s right to choose.”
Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, acting president of Catholics for Choice, illustrated in a statement exactly why religion can be a powerful motivator for supporting reproductive freedom. “As Catholics,” Ratcliffe wrote, “we are called by our faith to follow our conscience in all matters of moral decision-making and to respect another’s right to do the same. When a person exercises their moral agency to seek abortion services, they should be met with affordable, accessible and compassionate care.”
Rebecca Luckett, a lifelong Catholic and practicing obstetrician, wrote in 2018 about how Catholicism’s emphasis on empathy inspired her support for reproductive freedom. “I had no idea how formative my Catholic education was in preparing me for my first encounter with a patient who needed an abortion,” Luckett wrote. “My patient opened a door for me, revealed to me the dark and sad space in her life, and I could understand that for her, an abortion was both right and necessary. And for her to be able to make the choice was just.”
While religion and spirituality are deeply personal subjects, for many reproductive freedom supporters, their religious beliefs emphasize empathy and compassion for women and pregnant people who seek abortion care. In fact, religious leaders were some of the most active advocates for abortion access prior to Roe v. Wade, as they recognized that keeping abortion illegal endangered women and barred them from making decisions about their own lives and families.
By framing Democrats’ efforts to protect reproductive freedom as “religious bigotry” and extremism, anti-choice Republicans hope to intimidate them from fighting to protect abortion and contraceptive access during what is certain to be a rushed and contested Supreme Court confirmation process.
So what can we do to combat the “abortion extremist” narrative and other falsehoods?
We know that Trump and other anti-choice Republicans will continue to spread disinformation during the Supreme Court confirmation process, through the 2020 election, and far beyond. It’s important to be prepared to debunk those arguments.
Here are some ways you can respond:
- When confronted with anti-choice disinformation, remember to focus on calling out the dangerous tactic, rather than spending your time repeating anti-choice lies. Research has shown that repeating disinformation causes people to remember the lie, even if you go on to debunk it in the exact same post. If you have to quickly mention the lie in order to debunk it (like we occasionally did here), make sure you start with the truth and that you are continually repeating it so that your audience understands the broader context and leaves the conversation with that in mind.
- It is also vital to center pregnant women and people in conversations about abortion. Remind your friends and family that these aren’t theoretical conversations — they are about real people who have real needs, and who deserve to have their voices heard and their decisions respected. Look out for the ways Republican politicians work to de-center the people most affected by their dangerous one-size-fits-all policies, and find opportunities to elevate pregnant peoples’ stories wherever you can.
- Highlight the values that the vast majority of voters share. Don’t be shy about stating your belief that every body should have the freedom to make the decisions that are best for their lives and their families — and these decisions should be treated with the compassion, empathy, and respect they deserve. And remind people that we’re in good company. Supporting reproductive freedom is something that the majority of people in the U.S. believe in!
The stakes are high this year, and we know that abortion will be front and center in the 2020 elections AND discussions about filling the Supreme Court vacancy. We also know that embracing reproductive freedom is a winning issue for Democrats up and down the ballot.
Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris not only form a historic presidential ticket, but will also be the perfect ticket to beat Trump in November. Especially during a pandemic and unprecedented economic and social uncertainty, voters want leadership that focuses on fact-driven policy — not an administration consumed with pushing its own ideological agenda. Vice President Biden and Sen. Harris’ commitment to our fundamental rights is a key advantage we need to amplify.