Lawmakers hostile to our fundamental rights in states like North Dakota, Alabama, and Mississippi are engaging in a coordinated attempt to ban transgender children from playing sports and eliminate access to gender-affirming healthcare. Of course, anti-choice activists have joined this chorus of attacks, amplifying harmful disinformation about transgender and non-binary people. Like the broader conservative movement, they disingenuously feign “concern” for cisgender women and girls to provide cover for their dangerous and discriminatory views.
This tactic comes straight from the anti-choice playbook. Anti-choice leaders have spent years co-opting feminism and falsely claiming to be the “true supporters” of gender equality in an attempt to sell more people their extreme agenda. When they cry “women’s rights” to push anti-choice and transphobic policies, they’re working in service of the Right’s core agenda: maintaining white, patriarchal control.
This Women’s History Month, we’re pulling back the curtain on how the anti-choice movement co-opts women’s empowerment to attack our fundamental freedoms.
FAKE FEMINISM TACTIC 1: Elevate (cisgender, straight, white) women as the faces of their movement to obscure their extreme and harmful agenda.
While anti-choice leaders falsely claim that they aim to “protect” women and families, it’s critical to remember that the movement’s actual origins were in opposition to school desegregation. This effort to maintain all-white schools was one facet of a political strategy intended to keep conservative white men in power in a rapidly-changing society. These men decided to politicize and attack abortion care to cement support from white Evangelical voters, but quickly recognized the need for a different messenger. So they enlisted white women like Phyllis Schlafly to help sanitize their assault on reproductive freedom.
The modern day anti-choice movement has continued this tradition, even as its cisgender male legislative champions regularly expose how little they care about pregnant people, science, and medical expertise. Spotlighting anti-choice women helps the movement hide the reality that the men driving its agenda forward don’t feel the effects of anti-choice policies and really only care about controlling pregnant people and bolstering their own political power.
Prior to becoming a household name as a key Trump advisor, Kellyanne Conway helped shape the anti-choice movement’s strategy around elevating women. In 2013, she explicitly admitted that the way women leaders articulated the anti-choice movement’s extreme positions helped it appear less “scary” to the rest of us. In 2020, the anti-choice movement gained more “non-scary” women to spread its disinformation and provide a smokescreen for its agenda. Following the November elections, anti-choice activists celebrated the elevation of new anti-choice women to the U.S. Congress, including known conspiracy theorists like Representatives Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser claimed that the Republican Party’s freshman women were proof of the “diversity characteristic of the pro-life movement.”
FAKE FEMINIST TACTIC 2: Promote a narrow and exclusionary vision of womanhood to justify discriminatory and harmful policies.
Anti-choice activists espouse fake feminism as part of a broader strategy to narrowly define womanhood and motherhood in order to justify sweeping restrictions on abortion and reproductive healthcare.
Take for example Amy Barrett’s rushed confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, when movement leaders falsely claimed that she wasn’t a threat to women’s rights, healthcare, or workplace protections because Barrett is a mother. More recently, anti-choice activists have attempted to pit cisgender and transgender women against each other in order to erase transgender and non-binary people from conversations about pregnancy and reproductive healthcare, including abortion care.
In the anti-choice movement’s world, the “ideal” woman is always cisgender and usually white, straight, Christian, wealthy, and a mother (who didn’t need IVF). If she’s a working mom, the movement falsely claims it’s “proof” that no women ever have to choose between their career and having a child — completely ignoring differences in socioeconomic status that afford some people the flexibility and privilege to make that decision.
Some anti-choice activists go even further. Live Action’s Lila Rose recently insisted on the importance of the “nuclear family,” tacitly shaming single parents and outright attacking LGBTQ families. Abby Johnson, another movement leader, openly supported the concept of household voting, wherein women would cede their right to vote to their husbands.
Anti-choice activists promote this narrow version of womanhood because it enables them to make sweeping and false claims about the necessity of abortion access. While their “ideal” woman may not need to access abortion care, the reality is that thousands of women and pregnant people do need access for a variety of reasons — all valid. The anti-choice agenda relies on erasing this diversity of experiences in favor of the dangerous notion that every pregnancy should be carried to term, regardless of how it impacts the pregnant person.
FAKE FEMINIST TACTIC 3: Co-opting women’s empowerment to distract from the movement’s lack of support for policies that help women, pregnant people, and families.
The anti-choice movement’s falsehoods about feminism and “supporting” women distract from the fact that the anti-choice movement does nothing to help women, pregnant people, and families. In fact, its transactional relationship with the Republican Party ensures it often ignores or actively works against efforts to promote gender equity and safeguard the health and well-being of the American people.
Anti-choice activists stood by as Republicans in Congress voted against the Violence Against Women Act, fought legislation to close the gender pay gap, tried to defund health insurance for children, attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and opposed legislation to protect women in the military from sexual assault, to name a few. They haven’t acknowledged the dire maternal mortality crisis disproportionately affecting Black women or the exodus of women from the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve actively celebrated Republican politicians like Donald Trump and Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) despite numerous credible allegations of sexual assault against them. And of course, they champion legislation that directly harms women and pregnant people and attacks their fundamental rights.
Don’t buy the anti-choice movement’s lies — gender equality requires reproductive freedom for every body.
The anti-choice movement will continue to co-opt feminism and highlight women who buy into its regressive ideology, all while it works to control people, attack LGBTQ rights and equality, and limit access to abortion care. That’s why it’s more critical than ever for the 7 in 10 Americans who support reproductive freedom to be loud about our values, fight back against divisive and harmful disinformation, and unequivocally support reproductive freedom for every body.