This is the Logical Endpoint of the Anti-Abortion Movement

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Emboldened by the passage of Alabama’s almost total ban on abortion, some extremist anti-abortion activists are now pushing for the Republican Party to, in their words, “reconsider decades-old talking points” that make exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.


As NPR reported, a coalition of groups led by Students for Life of America, is urging party officials to adopt their hardline stance:

“We understand that issues like rape and incest are difficult topics to tackle; nevertheless, it is our view that the value of human life is not determined by the circumstances of one’s conception or birth,” said a draft of the letter provided to NPR by Students for Life of America, which led the effort.

The letter, which is addressed to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, goes on: “A child conceived in rape is still a child. We don’t blame children for other matters outside their control. Why should we do so here?”

Republican officials have increasingly embraced the language of anti-abortion extremists but sidestep the question of what seriously taking their claims—that abortion is murder—would really mean. After Alabama’s abortion ban, which has yet to take effect, was passed, a slew of prominent Republican leaders expressed reservations about the law’s lack of exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

“Personally, I would have the exceptions,” McDaniel told CNN, referring to rape and incest exceptions. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated the law “goes further than I believe,” adding, “I believe in exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, and that’s what I’ve voted on.” Donald Trump, in a tweet, repeated that sentiment. “I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions—Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother—the same position taken by Ronald Reagan,” he wrote.

Yet for a party that has largely wholeheartedly taken on the language of anti-abortion activists, whose most reactionary adherents have for decades pushed for an almost total ban on abortions, the Alabama law represents the ideologically consistent endpoint of the anti-abortion movement, which consistently frames abortion as “murder” and those who obtain abortions as killers.

This is a position best summed up by Troy Newman, an evangelical Christian who heads up the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. As quoted by the feminist philosopher Kate Manne, Newman wrote in his 2000 book Their Blood Cries Out:

By comparing abortion directly to any other act of premeditated contract killing, it is easy to see that there is no difference in principle. However, in our society, a mother of an aborted baby is considered untouchable whereas any other mother, killing any other family member, would be called what she is: a murderer.


He continued:

In our current social climate, it is acceptable to lay blame for abortion at the feet of the abortionists, the social liberals who encourage the abortions, and the law-makers who allow and even pay for them. But the mother is the one person we are not allowed to call guilty. Ironically, she is the one who needs most to see what she has done. . . . By confronting the woman with her sin, our objective is to get her to see the evil that has resulted from her actions. By withholding truthful confrontation from her, we prevent her from being brought to repentance and ultimate restoration.


This position—that abortion is a criminal act, akin to murder, which must be punished in all circumstances—is becoming more widespread, as extremist activists continue to push lawmakers to embrace legislation that would codify that belief into law. On Tuesday, two anti-abortion activists argued in the Federalist that people who terminate their pregnancies must be prosecuted. Pointing to recently failed bills in several Republican-led states that equated abortions with murder, they wrote, “Pro-life legislation that creates the right to DIY abortion and fails to categorize abortion as murder does not deserve our support.” In a hearing for the Texas bill, which would have equated an abortion with homicide, a crime that can lead to the death penalty in the state, Jim Baxa of West Texans for Life bluntly stated his support: “A woman who has committed murder should be charged with murder.”

Also on Tuesday, Charlotte Pence, the daughter of Vice President Mike Pence, penned an op-ed in the conservative Washington Times celebrating Alabama’s draconian abortion ban, writing, “Personally, I would not encourage a friend to get an abortion if she suffered the horrendous evil of rape or incest, because I care about her child—and her. I do not believe abortion provides healing.”


As my colleague Stassa Edwards wrote recently, “The myth of mother-as-murderer still animates the way in which the anti-abortion movement imagines women.” As much as some Republican officials are uncomfortable, at least in public, with the idea of following their beliefs to their logical conclusion, we should remember that this is what they’ve wanted all along.

Senior reporter, Jezebel



Okay, so I used to be an Evangelical Christian anti-abortion fanatic. As a currently sane person who adamantly supports reproductive freedom, this aspect of the current hardline turn to the Right is actually somewhat encouraging.

The vast majority of people, whether anti-abortion or pro-choice, are not hard-liners. They can be convinced of different modes and levels of regulation of abortion depending on the circumstances and how the laws are written, etc. These all-abortion-is-murder hardliners are so loud and well-funded and well-organized that they seem like a bigger group than they are. But most people, even pretty deeply committed pro-lifers, are not comfortable with the idea that abortion is *never* okay for *any* reason, and they’re definitely not okay with the idea that the pregnant woman could be criminally prosecuted for having an abortion. So many women experience miscarriages that just by sheer numbers too many people understand the risks inherent in letting a fanatic set criminal laws about when an elective (as opposed to spontaneous) abortion happens. In the early stages, they look identical to each other and the risk for politically, racially, or otherwise inappropriately motivated prosecution is just way too large. Nice, white, rich ladies would get swept up in it, eventually, and we can’t have that, of course.

This is why we’ve always had exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother. It’s embedded into the concept of abortion laws such that it just rolls off the tongue. These exceptions have served as a panacea to keep us from facing the realities of abortion access from both perspectives - not having the exceptions feels immediately, viscerally cruel. Interrogate that feeling and you’re forced to realize it’s because it is the most basic of human rights for an individual to control what happens to his or her own body. On the other hand, having the exceptions permits a sort of universal but tacit social agreement - like how everybody knows not to mention Uncle Terry’s mistress when he and his wife come over for Thanksgiving dinner - that we won’t fully engage with the logic that says abortion must be banned because it’s the killing of an innocent life. We’ll just get as far as demonizing it and then stop because going the Full Monty means we’d have to answer for the rape, incest, and life of mother exceptions, and that puts us into a place where we’d be forced to admit straight-out that we don’t give a shit about the woman’s rights or autonomy. Keeping the exceptions allows us to maintain this weird, false balance where it’s possible to ignore or deny the logical truths.

Coming clean with the logic and beliefs that have backed this movement since the early 80s feels like a victory and a vindication for these nutcases (who, remember, also suffer from a persecution complex by virtue of being Evangelical Christians), but I believe it is ultimately a tactical mistake. This has the potential to really shift social attitudes toward abortion much more to the left than to the right.