REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: Report Analyzes Tactics of Antiabortion Movement
A report, titled "Reproducing Patriarchy: Reproductive Rights Under Siege," issued by Political Research Associates, a not-for-profit research center, analyzes the membership and political tactics of the antiabortion movement. The report, published in The Public Eye, finds that the antiabortion group is "largely made up of conservative Christians, both Catholic and Protestant," some of whom belong to the "political powerhouse" of the "Christian Right." Also mentioned are the various groups belonging to the movement -- Operation Rescue, the Pro-Life Action League, Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, the National Right to Life Committee and the Moral Majority, among others. Abortion-rights opponents' "framing" of the abortion issue, according to the report, consists of "[b]oth leaders and strategists ... skillfully manipulat[ing] their language and the images they use to create the context for their ... debate." Stating that "framing" can have an impact on whether the public is attracted to the antiabortion cause, the report argues that the movement's presentation of the issue as one of "morality" -- thereby placing abortion-rights advocates outside the frame of morality -- is one example of the tactic. Another example, the report states, is the framing of abortion as murder, a mindset that allows antiabortion activists to "justify civil disobedience and other law-breaking activities as answering to a higher moral code than the U.S. judicial system." In order to avoid losing members or "diluting the potency of their own message," the report says, most single-issue antiabortion groups treat abortion separately from other reproductive issues such as contraception, women's health care and sexual education. The report notes that language often plays a key role in antiabortion campaigns, citing the choice of the terms "pro-life" in reference to antiabortion advocates, "culture of death" in reference to the work of abortion-rights advocates, and "baby" as opposed to fetus. The connotations of the latter term, the report states, both bolster the claim that life begins at conception and attribute "feelings and a personality" to a fetus. By neglecting the issue of the pregnant woman's rights, antiabortion groups "sidestep the difficulties of resolving a competing rights struggle (between fetus and [woman])." The report argues that antiabortion advocates "apply a double standard" drawn upon racial and economic lines in the area of reproductive rights. The report states that "when the focus is changed from abortion to broader reproductive freedom, the right applies race and class criteria that distinguish between the rights of white, middle-class women and low-income women of color." Antiabortion activists believe that middle- and upper-class white women should bear children and stay at home while lower-class women, especially minorities, should work and limit their childbearing, the report says. The report cites as an example the "historical" practice by doctors of discouraging sterilization to middle-class white women while encouraging the procedure to lower-class white and minority women. The report adds that many minorities are "suspicious" of the abortion-rights movement, equating it with the historical "genocide within their communities." In addition, the report states, poorer women may be frightened away by the occasional appearance in the abortion-rights movement of the "right-wing argument" that abortion is beneficial to society since it will limit the number of women and children on welfare. "The right will continue its campaign to limit and control women's reproductive practices. ... When we understand the nature of the right's ideas, strategies and tactics, we can see how the right has targeted nothing less than women's autonomy," the report concludes (Chamberlain/Hardisty, The Public Eye, Spring 2000).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.