This year, President Donald Trump became the first sitting president to address the annual anti-abortion March for Life by live video. The event, which is scheduled each year to coincide with the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision affirming the right to legal abortion, is a gathering of single-issue anti-abortion voters. The president knows he needs them to win.
“We are protecting the sanctity of life and the family as the foundation of our society,” he said, and the crowd went wild. The theme of this year’s march was crisis pregnancy centers, which are fake clinics with anti-abortion agendas that exist to shame and mislead women seeking abortion care. This was timely, for fake clinics are the subject of a Supreme Court case, NIFLA v. Becerra, in which oral arguments are taking place on Tuesday. It is the first abortion-related case the court will hear since the ascension of Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Remaking the Supreme Court and overturning Roe are key goals for the anti-abortion movement, which has continued to enthusiastically stand with Trump regardless of what is happening in the country or his personal life. No policy or pronouncement has been enough to turn “pro-lifers” away. Not an immigration policy that hurts babies and tears families apart. Not a travel ban targeting Muslims that will bar Syrian refugees from entering the country, literally leaving some children to die. And though there’s a wing of the anti-abortion movement that has appropriated the words “Black Lives Matter” to shame and isolate black women seeking abortions, that wing didn’t say a word in pro-life protest when the president reportedly made a racist statement about Haiti and African nations being “shithole” countries.
At first blush, the alliance between Trump and anti-abortion voters appears unnatural, or even hypocritical. But a new poll suggests they have more in common than first meets the eye.
In January, communications and public opinion research firm PerryUndem released The State of the Union on Gender Equality, Sexism, and Women’s Rights, a study that shows voters who want to see Roe v. Wade overturned have markedly different views on gender roles than voters who do not. Nearly two-thirds of anti-Roe voters agreed they were “more comfortable with women having traditional roles in society, such as caring for children and the family.” Only 31 percent of pro-Roe voters agreed with that statement. Two-thirds of anti-Roe voters agreed that “male politicians can represent the interests of women as well as female politicians can.” Only 27 percent of pro-Roe voters agreed with that statement.
There’s more. Nearly two-thirds of anti-abortion voters disagreed with the statement that “men should not have a say in legislating what women do with their bodies” and almost half of them disagreed with the statement that “the country would be better off with more women in political office.”
This new data suggests what pro-choice activists have long suspected: that opposition to abortion is not just about hostility to abortion or even discomfort with women’s sexuality. At its core, opposition to abortion is about keeping women from having power in the public square. Once we acknowledge the anti-abortion movement’s anti-feminism, the group’s alliance with the president makes far more sense.
Nearly two-thirds of anti-Roe voters agreed that they were 'more comfortable with women having traditional roles in society, such as caring for children and the family.'
The president faces more than a dozen accusations of sexual harassment, to say nothing of his own on-tape bragging about sexually assaulting women. “Grab ’em by the pussy,” he told Billy Bush. “You can do anything.” Then, there’s the alleged affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who is suing Trump’s lawyer, arguing that the legal agreement she signed to never speak of her purported affair with the president is invalid.
Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, was willing to acknowledge the president’s moral rot but also to keep standing with him; he told Politico he gave Trump a “mulligan … a do-over” on the Stormy Daniels affair because “he has delivered more than any other president in my lifetime.”
A president trying to buy the silence of a woman with whom he had an affair is not the same thing as a president accused of sexual harassment or a recording of a president bragging about sexual assault. What all three have in common is a fundamental disregard for women, their bodies and their right to hold equal power in public life.
No matter how the women working in the White House characterize their employer ― White House counselor Kellyanne Conway claimed that Trump “has many times come to the aid of women privately” ― the president’s well-documented history of behavior toward women makes the Oval Office sound like a frightening place for any woman to enter, alone or in a group. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the West Wing, the vice president’s office observes a very different set of norms. Mike Pence won’t eat alone with women or attend events where alcohol is served unless his wife is there, too.
The Pence Rule, too, is logically coherent with the anti-abortion worldview. On one hand, we have a president who treats women as objects of sexual convenience. On the other, we have a vice president who won’t even meet with women alone ― an explicit acknowledgment that sex discrimination dictates who can lobby the person holding the second-highest office in the land, and under what circumstances.
Though they express it differently, anti-feminism unites Trump and Pence. Together, they are a dream team that agrees with their anti-abortion base ― it’s better for men to be in charge. While it is possible for an individual woman to be empowered without ever deciding to have an abortion, it is not possible for women as a class to hold full power over their lives when they are forced by the state to bear children.
Many members of the anti-abortion movement insist they are neither anti-woman nor anti-equality. Some even try to appropriate the label of feminist in their quest to overturn Roe v. Wade and support fake clinics that lie to women about abortion and their bodies. Yet, plain facts and polling show what anti-abortion voters believe about women, and it’s not pretty. The anti-abortion policy agenda is not pro-life, and its dear leaders are blatantly sexist. If they get their way on Roe and abortion rights, why would they stop there?