A new face for the antiabortion movement? Lisa Miller talks religion

Nov 04, 2011

Lisa Miller was online, Friday at 2pm to discuss the emerging leaders of the antiabortion movement. What will these emerging leaders contribute to the antiabortion movement? And what do they mean for abortions rights activists?

From the chat: "There's something new here. It was easier to discount the harsh rhetoric of Robertson et al as out-of-touch screaming. These women look like Everywoman. And so their rhetoric potentially has more impact."

Does this "relatability" -- and, presumably, the ability to relate more broadly to other women's lives -- translate to any less right-to-life orthodoxy? For example, on questions of birth control and promoting women's health outside of the more narrow question of abortion? (I'd like to think, "yes," but given the implications of the "personhood" movement, it sure looks more like a no.) Surely many of these women are in fact making use of birth control -- at least those with 2 kids, not 5.

It looks like you're conflating two things. on abortion, they're not any more flexible than the old white men were. on birth control, there's always been a little bit more wiggle room. the roman catholic church has been very clear that most kinds of birth control goes against it's "life" position. but protestants have always been more flexible on that.

You wrote: "And that's because American can see what these women's lives don't show - that there are imaginable occasions when a pregnancy is not, in fact a blessing." Many pregnancies are difficult and/or unexpected, and might not feel like a blessing. But certainly all babies - all children - are themselves blessings - are they not?

This is a difficult question. I can imagine a woman -- poor, unemployed, single, with a bunch of kids already -- for whom having another child might not be a blessing. I think that if we as a country want all our children to be blessings, we need to do a MUCH better job supporting families with good education, health care, parental leave policies, sick days, etc. We can't both say that all our children are blessings, and then leave parents without any help raising them. 

Aside from catastrophic pregnancies, abortion should not be used as a form of birth control. But I am in no position to tell someone else what to do. I don't want anyone telling me what to do, either.

You point out an interesting paradox. Which is that the big move on the right is to "get government out of our lives." but in the case of abortion, the pro-life folks want /more/ governmental regulation.

Lisa, I am definitely on the pro-choice side of the question. I feel this is an incredibly personal decision for a woman (or girl) to have to make. I think the anti-abortion people are killing their cause by being anti-birth control at the same time. Punishing women for having sex seems spiteful. A man who has created a child MIGHT have to pay support, but the woman will have her life turned upside down and inside out bringing up this new life. As for adoption, they make it sound like there are just thousands of people waiting for babies, but the foster homes are packed with children needing families. Worse yet are the extremists who would even deny abortions in the case of rape or incest; what a horrible burden to force on a woman - or child - who is guilty of nothing.

Your point about foster kids is a good one. It's incredibly difficult -- and expensive -- to adopt a healthy white infant. But there are all kinds of kids -- older kids, kids with disabilities, kids born with addictions -- who have no loving parents. 

What I do not understand, as a practicing Christian, why the "Christian" community focuses on stopping abortion and limiting women's access to birth control, and focus on 1) effective male birth control and 2) special needs /older children adoption? Honestly, I don't see any Christianity in their actions. Only hypocracy, condemnation, and a virulently un-Christian prejuduce.

there is growing awareness of this -- and the numbers of foster kids being adopted is growing. for me, the question is really about policy. what are people who believe in "family," doing to help families? 

I don't see a huge difference between the women in the article and the older pro life men. The people discussed come from a place of privilege (financially stable, educated, married, white (?)), and I question whether they can relate to a poor woman's dilemma of being saddled with another child. This  question was glossed-over in the article: "What is a poor woman with no support system and a bunch of kids at home to do in the event of an unwanted pregnancy?" The point is that she doesn't have a MIL to help and can't hire a sitter. And, much of the conservative ideology promotes having an unwanted baby and "working it out," but does not support government-provided social services for poor people.

The difference, as the story says, is that they're gentler in their view of working women, working moms. They don't seem to have it all figured out. They're not harsh in their assessments of the compromises women have to make to earn money and have children. They get to the nub of the matter, which is -- as one poster above said -- that most of us believe that children /are/ blessings and we want to make it work. This is not a right or left issue.

 The problem -- as another poster mentioned -- is that these leaders only see one kind of working mom. They still don't see that on occasion, it's better  for the whole family not to have another child, and that the prospective mother is in the best case to make that call.

I don't really see anything new here. As a woman, I've been bombarded by female propaganda about why no one should have an abortion, ever. I see nothing different here. All they do is reveal that the issue at heart is a religious one. They believe their religion bans abortion and want to impose that on everyone else. We live in a pluralistic society and I don't think one religious viewpoint should trump everyone else's. If they don't want to have an abortion, fine. But don't tell me that I can't have one. The one promising thread according to the article is that the women might support policies that support families. However, much of the anti-choice movement also advocates strongly against anything that would support families - living wage, union rights, and welfare.

There's something new here. It was easier to discount the harsh rhetoric of RObertson et al as out-of-touch screaming. These women look like Everywoman. And so their rhetoric potentially has more impact.


There is pro-abortion or anti-abortion. Semantic footsie with the "unborn" and abortion "rights" is nonsense and evidence of attempts to slant discourse. (Set aside, for now, those who see some exceptions, like rape. Those are tiny slices of the abortion census, percentage-wise.) Why allow pols, activists and others to hide behind loaded verbiage? The "rights" term is especially tortured, in this instance. We all know abortion is legal, for now. The journos should call this fight and refuse to use the freighted terminology. Pro or con. That's it.

Yes, the semantics here are infuriating. I agree with you. no one wants to say that they're pro-abortion, right? Because no one WANTS an abortion, no one thinks abortion is great. There were a bunch of stories a couple years ago saying that folks on the left were adopting the term "pro life," becasue who isn't pro life?

I'll say it: no. If we are to make any progress, we have to be unafriad to say real things. Meaningless lines like "all chilrden are blessings" does nothing but manipulate people into being afraid to be frank. Honestly, no child is a blessing all the time. And an ill-timed pregnancy to a young, poor, sick, anything mom is not a blessing.

I'll take the bait. No children are blessings all the time, and all children are blessings some of the time. The real point here is  not whether children are blessings or not, but that a woman for whom a new child is /not/ a blessing needs to be able to make that call. And under the law of the land, she can.

I understand the appeal of these mothers. What I don't understand is that they are not talking to men. No woman would be pregnant without a penis starting the whole process. Why, then, don't these Christian women talk directly to men -in as graphic terms as they use about aborted fetuses? Why don't Catholic priests take to the pulpit and talk directly to the men about male sexuality instead of focusing fire and brimstone on the horrors of abortion? These women are putting on the Sarah Palin face, but they still skirt over the double standard that men can (wink wink) still have sex but of course their darling men would never be in favor of abortion...

This is a side point, but I was at a Susan B. Athony list event several years ago, and I was amazed at the number of women who brought their daughters to the event. It really is a new kind of women's movement on the right. There's this connection between motherhood and empowerment -- Palin's mama grizzly language -- that has mass appeal.


The statistics discussed in the Post from time to time suggest that abortion is frequently used to terminate pregnancies when the child/fetus has some sort of abnormality. The figure for Down Syndrome children is something like 90% of pregnancies. Why do we not hear any condemnation of that figure? Do we, as a society, really believe that it's okay to wipe out a section of our population because of their biological characteristics? (and on a side note, people with Down Syndrome are always the nicest, most forgiving people I've ever met, so I don't understand the fear and loathing directed at them.)

This is part of the movement's appeal, I think. It recognizes those children. A couple of the women I cited in the story have kids with genetic illnesses or disabilities: Shannon Royce and Kristan Hawkins. Palin, of course. It's important to bring this part of the abortion question into the light and for folks on the abortion-rights side of things to figure out how to answer it.

Hello, Just a comment: putting aside that these women probably make great money at their non-profits jobs, have flexible schedules, can hire help, they are out of touch with the every day woman seeking an abortion. I see these women and their partners once a month when I volunteer as a clinic escort. Real faces, real problems, most with children that they cannot afford, etc. The anti-choice group offers them diapers and onesies. Literally. Can a woman like Marjorie Dannenfelser, who made $149K at her job in 2010 (Guidestar.org), relate to the woman who really cannot afford to be pregnant? The women you cited may be the prettier, well put together face of the anti-choice movement but they are still out of touch of why women even seek abortions.

I agree that they are not taking the real plight of poor American families seriously.



Why not? It's a simple procedure, safer than having your tonsils removed. Less recovery time than periodontal surgery, less medication required. Come on, it's a simple medical procedure and would be treated as such if people weren't afraid to be labeled baby killers. It IS a great procedure that has improved many people's situations.

I think we'll get further in this conversation if we acknowledge the gray areas. On both sides.

That's what fearmongers say. I"ll say it: I wanted an abortion. I got it. I'm glad.

This reminds me of an article in New York magazine this week (where I am a contributor). In the early days of Ms. magazine, a bunch of women signed a petition confessing they'd had abortions.  And then printed it in the pages of Ms.

As an educated, white, working mom, I'm not any more compelled by these women than by Pat Robertson. It's still generated by privileged Christians. In fact, it may be WORSE. We EXPECT old white men to try to keep young women down. We don't expect young women to keep young women down.

I am. It's easier to discount Robertson. I think that on the left, folks don't take the appeal of women like this -- and Palin, and Bachmann -- seriously enough.

When you spoke to these anti-abortion women activists, most of whom I presume are religiously motivated, were any of them aware of the role religious leaders played in securing safe, therapeutic abortions for women before Roe?

We didn't talk about it, but it's an interesting question.

I'm confused. You didn't really answer your own question in the article. How are women who work for Presidents and have PhDs from UVA relatable to a poor, single woman wrestling with whether to continue a pregnancy or not? In your zeal to build up women who would take a most fundamental right away from other women your article lost focus.

I'm not building them up. I'm showing the face of a new movement that few people know anything about and suggesting that they have figured out how to make the anti-abortion movement into a pro-woman movement. Thus, they create a powerful political force that appeals to lots and lots of people.

"Pro-abortion" is consistent with how we label other controversial views. We talk about politicians being "pro-immigration" or (historically) "pro-slavery" even though these politicians merely support the choice to immigrate or to own slaves. I don't see how it's a misnomer in any way that is inconsistent with how we've always described political views.

In this context, "pro abortion" is what the right uses to tar the left, making it sound like lefties love having abortions.

Yes, it's probably true that the new pro-life movement is dominated by white, affluent, college-educated women who can afford to hire help and work part-time. And that's the exact same demographic that led the feminist movement. The simple fact is that neither movement has much involvement by blue-collar or minority women, so you can't criticize one without the other. About the only difference is that pro-life women are more conservative and religious than feminists.

It's a really interesting point. Alice Walker quit Ms. magazine because she hated being the token black.

Sounds like a PR move to put a more appealing face in front of the same restrictive lobbying efforts.

I think it's more complicated than that. The religious right was started in the late 1970s in response to Roe. It was a bunch of men -- mostly -- who told Christians that they should get politically active and vote for candidates who opposed abortion. But guess what? Those men had daughters, and those daughters went to college. This phenomenon is, in a way, about the maturing of the religous right.

When I speak with people who most definitely won't agree with me (I mean, it's not a 'right or wrong' question, but anyway), I ask them: when people have abortions, do youwant them to be safe? or not? Because if abortion is illegal, it doesn't stop abortions, only makes it more likely that women will be maimed or killed in the process. That the process will be unsanitary. It doesn't matter when 'life begins' because two people will never agree. The question is: do you want this illegal...and what do you think the consequences of that happening would be?

This is an excellent point, which hasn't come up yet in this discussion. I'm glad the days of wire-hanger signs are past, but that was the reality.

This is really about religious control of sex and morality. These people also want to ban non-marital sex and divorce (even the Protestants want to ban no-fault divorce). They want to control sexual mores, including how sex may be portrayed in the media and in the schools. Until recently, they banned inter-racial sex and marriage. And no matter what they say, they want to ban homosexuality. In the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, this means criminalizing homosexuality. If people like Dannenfelser are such fierce defenders of life, I'd ask them one question: Should Abraham have told god to shove it when God demanded a post-birth abortion of Abraham's son, Isaac? A true defender of life would say yes. A religious fanatic would say no.

It turns out that evangelical Christians actually have a higher divorce rate than other groups. So their whole take on divorce has had to change in recent years. The new head of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, had a single mom.


Here's the response to commenter who wrote this: Keeping unborn children, including female children alive, is not keeping them down. In fact, it's the most pro-feminist thing a woman can do.

There's good economic evidence that suggests that educating girls is the most feminist thing that a person can do. A country's economic prosperity is directly linked to the educational attainment of its girls

Ok guys, that's it for me. Talk to you next week. You can find me on Facebook and on twitter @lisaxmiller.




In This Chat
Lisa Miller
Lisa Miller is a contributing editor at New York magazine and the author of "Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife." She was a senior editor at Newsweek, overseeing the magazine's religion coverage, writing the weekly "Belief Watch" column and editing Newsweek's prominent "Spirituality in America" double issue.

Before joining Newsweek, Miller covered religion for The Wall Street Journal. She has also worked with The New Yorker, Self magazine and Harvard Business Review.

An award-winning journalist, she is the recipient of the 2010 Wilbur Award for outstanding magazine column. She is a frequent guest on television and radio, including the Colbert Report, the O'Reilly Factor, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, NPR and others.
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