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Thu 3 December 2020

The myth of ‘live abortions’ is a key talking point in the anti-abortion movement – more than anything we need to understand the white supremacist motives of these attacks on women’s reproductive rights, reports Sian Norris

When Donald Trump took to the stage of the Republican National Convention, he talked about abortion in a way that may have shocked those in the UK.

The anti-choice US President, whose base includes Evangelical Christians happy to turn a blind eye to extra-marital affairs and divorce so long as their man in the White House undermines women’s reproductive rights, declared: “Joe Biden claims he has empathy for the vulnerable – yet the party he leads supports the extreme late-term abortion of defenseless babies right up to the moment of birth. Democrat leaders talk about moral decency, but they have no problem with stopping a baby’s beating heart in the ninth month of pregnancy.”

For anyone paying attention to the anti-abortion agenda both in the US and the UK, this rhetoric comes as no surprise. The so-called ‘live abortion’ myth regarding late-term terminations is key to the movement’s attempts to undermine reproductive justice. 

I know this because, last autumn, I sat down at my desk and pressed ‘play’ on a webinar produced by an anti-abortion organisation, as part of an undercover investigation I was working on for openDemocracy. In the course of my work, I came across individuals describing how doctors are observed “actively killing” the child. 

This highly-emotive language ignores some key facts about late-term abortion – the most important being that it is incredibly rare.

In the UK, only 1.4% of abortions take place after 20 weeks, and the majority of those cases are due to extreme health conditions including a threat to the mother’s or foetus’ life. In the US, the figures are about the same, with 1.5% of abortions taking place after 21 weeks. 

When Trump used his most important campaign speech to declare that doctors are aborting “defenceless babies right up to the moment of birth”, he acted as the mouthpiece for a multi-million-dollar anti-abortion industry determined to influence the US Supreme Court to cancel Roe v Wade – the 1973 law protecting women’s access to abortion in America.

He expressed a willingness to spread misinformation and use harmful, manipulative tactics to attack women’s reproductive rights – although sadly this was unsurprising. One of Trump’s first acts as President was to ban federal aid to overseas organisations offering abortion services. Now, in what may be his last months in office, he is repeating a live birth theory pushed by those who want to rollback women’s healthcare. 

But why are Trump and his White House so concerned about abortion, and why did he make it a central point in his RNC speech? 


Abortion and the ‘Great Replacement’

The subject plays well with the President’s Evangelical base and anti-choice organisations, but the abortion issue goes far beyond religion. It is racism and nationalism – more than Evangelicism – that is fuelling the White House’s anti-abortion stance.  

To understand these attacks on abortion rights, one needs to look to the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory – a racist trope that believes a mix of low white birth rates and rising immigration are ‘replacing’ the white race in the United States (and in Europe).

The way to raise the white birth rate, its adherents argue, is to pursue “procreation not immigration”. And the only way you can achieve that is by restricting or flat-out denying women autonomy over their own bodies – restricting access to abortion and, in some cases, incentivising birth. 

If we continue to abort our babies and import a replacement for them in the form of young violent men, we are supplanting our culture, our civilisation.

Steve King

The anti-abortion movement in the US and Europe also cannot be analysed without looking to the far-right. The links between the two are everywhere to be seen and yet rarely noted.

On another undercover assignment, this time into the UK anti-abortion movement, I listened to a director of CBR UK – famous for displaying graphic images outside pro-choice MP Stella Creasy’s office – repeating a far-right conspiracy theory that abortion is “Satanic ritual abuse”. Allegations about Satanic abuse are currently a centrepiece to the far-right Save The Children protests taking place in the US.

Meanwhile, Britain First founder Jim Dowson is also the man behind anti-abortion group Life League, and the “pro life figurehead” for the extremist Knights Templar International. The latter group claims that changing demographics in the UK are the “result of 50 years of contraception, propaganda and economic necessity making women work rather than have children, and literally millions of abortions”. Again, this is linking immigration and race to women’s reproductive rights – with the idea that, to ‘defeat’ one, the other has to be overturned.

This, more than anything, is what underpins the Trumpian right’s opposition to abortion. They view reproductive control as a way to raise the white birth rate and stoke up fears in his voting base against immigration and a so-called ‘white genocide’. This was expressed by Trump’s Republican colleague Steve King at the December 2019 International Conference on Family Policy, who said that “if we continue to abort our babies and import a replacement for them in the form of young violent men, we are supplanting our culture, our civilisation”. 

Such sentiments aren’t new from the Congressman. In 2017 he tweeted that “culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t rebuild our civilisation with somebody else’s babies”.


Waking Up to Dark Motives

It is a racist, anti-immigration agenda and belief system that fuels Trump’s, and the right’s, opposition to abortion in America (and across Europe, the UK included).

Anti-abortion policies are not about faith or religious morality anymore – if they ever were. Abortion is increasingly an issue of white supremacy, with right-wing leaders in the United States and Europe promising to halt a perceived ‘demographic decline’ by getting more (white) women to have (white) babies, rather than let (non-white) families in. 

African-American abortion doctor Willie Parker sums this up in his memoir Life’s Work: “The thing all too many white anti-abortion activists really want which they can’t say out loud is for white women to have more babies in order to push back against the browning of America.” 

That’s what Trump’s abortion comments signalled last night. It is a desire echoed by the men in his administration, and extremist anti-abortion groups in the US and around the world. 

It is time we pay attention to the rhetoric and motives of the modern anti-abortion movement and Trump’s embracing of its agenda. Because, if he wins in November, we are going to enter an even darker period for women and minorities than the one we’re in right now. 


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