Recently, The Washington Post ran an article about anti-choice women. “A Feminine Face for the Anti-Choice Movement” focused on several female anti-choice leaders, including Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List; Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life; and Penny Nance, chief executive of Concerned Women for America, among others.
According to Washington Post writer Lisa Miller, these women were representatives of a “major strategic shift in the abortion war” and not just because they put forth a warmer, less crotchety image than anti-choice leaders like Jerry Falwell. Because while older male leaders were unable to relate to “a poor woman with no support system and a bunch of kids at home” who was facing an unwanted pregnancy, these women are somehow able to relate, simply because they are working mothers.
The idea that no matter how much you disagree with a message, hearing it come from someone of your gender makes it better, is simplistic and sexist. If that really is the belief that the anti-choice movement is working under, then it gives women even less credit than I imagined.
Equally befuddling is the idea that the anti-choice movement and its leaders can relate to poor women. I have no doubt that Yoest, Nance, et. al. have faced serious struggles and challenges in having both careers and families; and for all I know, they may also have personal experience with single motherhood and poverty. But they represent organizations that consistently show a blatant disregard for any initiatives that could improve women’s health. Concerned Women of America opposes a mandated HPV vaccine, as well as most forms of birth control. The Susan B. Anthony List vigorously opposed healthcare reform, and Americans United for Life supports crisis pregnancy centers that knowingly give women false information about abortion. So while the anti-choice movement may have its share of female leaders and prominent activists, it’s a stretch to think that they’ll be any more equipped to offer women real, thoughtful choices than their male predecessors were.
Miller ends her article on an interesting, and to my eyes ambiguous, note. After observing that the majority of Americans see abortion as both the wrong choice morally and a service that should be legal at least some of the time, she writes:
“And that’s because Americans see what these women’s lives don’t show — that there are imaginable occasions when a pregnancy is not, in fact, a blessing. And that we might serve the world equally well by supporting policies that care for the children who live here already.”
Are the women that she writes of the ones that she’s profiled? Are they American women in general, or the hypothetical poor mother in this article? While that is unclear, I couldn’t agree more with her last statement. If these anti-choicers really wanted to lower this country’s abortion rate, it stands to reason that they’d be in favor of both comprehensive sex education and improved access to contraception, to ensure that every child is a wanted one; and increased hourly wages, government-subsidized day care, and a host of other family-friendly policies that aim to help all mothers – and fathers – best care for the children that they do have.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.