Last week marked the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the 40th anniversary of March for Life. On January 21, antichoice activists gathered at the Family Research Council headquarters in D.C. for ProLifeCon, which focused on developing tactics for disseminating antichoice messages through social media and the internet. The conference marked another episode in the Right’s ongoing campaign attacking women’s bodily autonomy and access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare. As PRA detailed in its Summer 2013 issue of The Public Eye, these efforts have relied heavily on rhetorical maneuvering seeking to reframe abortion as a women’s health issue and antichoice stances as authentic feminism.
Political Research Associates was watching and listening to the conference. Among the extensive list of speakers, three, in particular, help shed light on the ways in which antichoice activists co-opt the language of feminism, women’s rights, and racial justice to undermine access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Here is what they had to say:
First to take the stage was Bethany Goodman, Assistant Director of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, which coordinated the demonstration held on the National Mall later that day. Goodman’s remarks focused on the importance of using social media campaigns to increase support among millennials and to expand the Right’s base of support. Goodman, previously Assistant Director of March for Life’s digital strategy, discussed the organization’s social media theme, “Why We March,” and encouraged viewers to access March for Life content on Twitter, Facebook, and an iPhone application. All of this content was designed to draw attention to “the women who are harmed by abortion.” Later, Goodman claimed, “We want a culture of life … where we embrace women in a loving way.” Goodman’s remarks are reflective of a shift in antichoice rhetoric, away from moralizing arguments about abortion toward a strategy of framing antichoice arguments as having a woman’s best interest at heart—as even being “feminist.” Speaking eagerly about the “youthful pro-life generation.” Goodman concluded her speech by stating, “The theme of this march is adoption,” arguing that adoption should replace abortion.
The adoption theme was echoed by Ryan Bomberger, a cofounder and chief creative officer at the Radiance Foundation. This antichoice, multimedia organization gained notoriety for its “Too Many Aborted” web and billboard campaign, which used inflammatory slogans such as “The thirteenth amendment freed us, abortion enslaves us.” Under the pretense of advancing racial justice, Bomberger claimed that the billboards illuminated “the disproportionate impact of abortion in the Black community,” and that the billboards were simultaneously a “campaign promoting adoption.” He continued by stating that adoption was “one of the only two life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” and that we currently live in a “culture of death.” In an attempt to discredit a major provider of comprehensive reproductive healthcare, Bomberger described Planned Parenthood as “abortion-minded, abortion-centered” and claimed that it “continues to demonize adoption” through convincing pregnant women to seek abortions rather than choose adoption. Yet Bomberger went further, accusing Planned Parenthood of supporting a “eugenics sort of mindset.” Finally, like many of his fellow speakers, Bomberger also sought to recast antichoice as pro-woman. Near the end of his speech, Bomberger reminded the audience, “You cannot ever forget the woman in this equation.”
Jane Fuller, the executive director of Assist Pregnancy Center of Virginia, began her speech by discussing her choice to first drop the word “crisis” from the name of her organization and later to change the name of the organization to “Metro Women’s Care.” (Crisis pregnancy centers have been widely documented as presenting conservative, antichoice ideologies as “health care,” “supportive counseling.”) Fuller went on to contrast her clients’ descriptions of abortion clinics as “cold,” “dirty,” and as employing “indifferent staff” with her center, which she claims is “geared towards the age group we are trying to reach,” namely young people.
Fuller then praised a new Virginia law, which requires women to receive an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before having an abortion, and discussed how this law has led to an increase in the number of women at her pregnancy center. Virginia’s ultrasound law is part of a larger, coordinated strategy to pass incremental restrictions on abortion—primarily at the state level—in order to chip away at women’s reproductive freedom and ultimately to overturn Roe. Like Bomberger, Fuller also accused Planned Parenthood of exploiting women, stating, “Anyone who can take infanticide and promote it as quality healthcare knows how to manipulate.” She called on activists to shift their focus from the unborn baby to the pregnant mother and to “focus on her and her needs.” Fuller’s rhetorical maneuvering mirrored that of Goodman and Bomberger.
All three speakers seek to co-opt the language of women’s rights in order to reframe antichoice policies as authentic feminism and, in the case of Ryan Bomberger, racial justice. Even though the antichoice movement’s strategies may be retooling for the 21st century, with social media integration and prayer smartphone applications, many of their messages are thinly veiled forms of arguments that have circulated for 41 years since the Roe v. Wade decision—arguments now veiled beneath the disguise of women’s rights and racial justice.
Owen Jennings contributed to this article