In the first four months of 2021, Republican lawmakers introduced over 360 bills to restrict voting rights and 536 bills to restrict abortion rights. The defeat of Donald Trump, and Biden’s attempts to dismantle Trump’s white supremacist agenda, have inspired a fevered campaign by state-level Republican lawmakers of voter suppression and abortion restrictions.
While at first glance these efforts might appear to be unrelated, they are deeply connected, says Smith College professor Loretta Ross. “The right-wing has an intersectional agenda. Their whole plan is to maintain a white majority by whatever means possible. So that requires them to try to socially engineer white women into having more babies and to restrict voting rights and immigrant rights.”
The long-standing connection between white supremacists and the anti-abortion movement has been extensively documented by University of Kentucky professor Carol Mason, the author of Killing for Life about the US anti-abortion movement.
“The strategy of pursuing abortion restrictions alongside voter suppression to maintain political power is not new. In her book, When Abortion Was a Crime, University of Illinois professor Leslie Reagan argues that one of the reasons states made abortion illegal in the US in the late 19th century was to maintain white male supremacy. At the time, birth rates among white women were declining while immigrants poured into the country. White politicians feared that immigrant families, many of whom were Catholic, were larger and would soon out-populate native-born white families and threaten their political power. Hostility to immigrants, Catholics and people of color fuelled the campaign to criminalize abortion, argues Reagan. Abortion restrictions were also a response to the women’s movement’s increasing demand for the vote and other rights.”
It is no accident that 75% of the 69 restrictions enacted this year were in states already considered to be hostile or very hostile toward abortion rights, writes the Guttmacher Institute. The 2021 abortion restrictions largely build on earlier ones, as each additional restriction increases patients’ logistical, financial and legal barriers to care, especially where entire clusters of states are hostile to abortion.
As they had predicted, state policymakers are testing the limits of what the new US Supreme Court majority might allow and laying the groundwork for a day when federal constitutional protections for abortion are weakened or eliminated entirely. They have called on the Biden-Harris administration and Congress to act to safeguard the right to abortion, including through passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would establish federal statutory abortion rights for providers and patients against state restrictions and bans.
Between 26 and 29 April, 28 new restrictions were signed into law in seven states – almost half of the restrictions passed at that point in 2021. This was the highest number of new restrictions signed in a single week in at least a decade. It includes multiple abortion bans that directly challenge Roe v Wade: a near-total ban on abortion in Oklahoma, six-week abortion bans in Idaho and Oklahoma, a 20-week ban in Montana, and a ban on abortion for non-lethal genetic anomalies in Arizona.
Another trend is states’ continued focus on restricting abortion pills, with four new restrictions in Montana, three in Indiana and another in Arizona in direct response by anti-abortion legislators to the push for broader telemedicine access to the method.
Guttmacher describe this as an “unprecedented threat to reproductive health care and rights” and 2021 as a defining year in abortion rights history.
SOURCES: Ms Magazine, by Carrie N Baker, 7 May 2021 ; Guttmacher Institute Policy Analysis, by Elizabeth Nash, Lauren Cross, April 2021 + VISUAL, shared in Ms.