Strange Bedfellows: The Destigmatization of Anti-Abortion Reform

Leinwand, Tali R.

As the United States abortion debate continues into its fifth decade since Roe v. Wade, pro-life groups are increasingly aiming to align themselves and their messages with classically “feminist” or “liberal” interests. Pro-life groups now heavily focus on women’s rights as a platform for advancing their ideological arguments and achieving legislative measures that ultimately restrict access to abortion. The use of such platforms allows antiabortion sentiment to appear more palatable to a broader swath of women while enabling the pro-life movement to soften its image and improve its appeal. This strategy, which I will refer to as pro-life “destigmatization,” manifests itself most clearly in law and politics, wherein pro-life advocates frame their anti-abortion arguments in broadly appealing, women’s rights-oriented terms. This ironic alignment is demonstrated through three examples that collectively represent an underlying effort to destigmatize antiabortion reform and portray it as a branch of women’s rights: 1) advocacy for the expansion of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), particularly in the context of the recently decided Supreme Court case of Young v. United Parcel Service; 2) political advocacy organizations’ support for pro-life women candidates and the creative framing of antiabortion legislation in election campaigns; and 3) anti-abortion legislation that restricts abortions specifically performed for sex-selection purposes. In each of these examples, there is a deliberate appeal to ideals many women already value such that, in theory, there would not be much of a leap from supporting feminist concerns to supporting the pro-life movement writ large. This connection is so close because, as each of these example shows, the ultimate goal of chipping away at abortion rights is portrayed as secondary, if it is even acknowledged at all. Rather, the pro-life presence is positioned as advocating something different from abortion, be it pregnancy rights or tax reform. Casting anti-abortion arguments in “feminist” terms is not a new effort. Scholars like Reva Siegel have long charted the development of the pro-life movement’s “womenprotective antiabortion argument[s]” and the ways in which the pro-life movement has “supplant[ed] the constitutional argument ‘[a]bortion kills a baby’ with [the] new claim ‘[a]bortion hurts women.’” Similarly, Mary Ziegler’s 2013 article in the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice provides a detailed history of pro-life feminism, assessing the evolution of “pro-life, socially conservative, self-proclaimed feminists” and their growing role in the abortion debate. Consider also the decades-old legislative history of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which, as discussed infra, shows the law’s twin goals of female equality in the workforce and the preservation of a woman’s right to bear and raise children. Still, the pro-life movement’s destigmatization strategy has gained traction in recent years as pro-life feminism targets “a new generation of young women who reject the illusion that to be pro-woman is to be pro-choice.” The examples discussed in this Note are contemporary ones that, when taken as a whole, coalesce into indications of a dominant trend. This Note adds to this area of scholarship by demonstrating how pro-life advocates, legislators, and courts are currently drawing on feminist and women’s rights movements to advance abortion bans and destigmatize anti-abortion sentiment.


  • thumnail for Strange_BedfellowS_the_deStIgMatIZatIon_of_antI-aBortIon_reforM.pdf Strange_BedfellowS_the_deStIgMatIZatIon_of_antI-aBortIon_reforM.pdf application/pdf 756 KB Download File

Also Published In

Columbia Journal of Gender and Law

More About This Work

Academic Units
Published Here
January 18, 2017