Surprise! Anti-choice people are sexist

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Opponents of reproductive rights want people to believe that their activism stems from a concern for children. That concern is usually belied by their opposition to most programs that prevent unintended pregnancies or help children once they are born.

The truth also comes out when you examine their rhetoric about women. One does not have to do much digging to surface some disturbing views about women’s place in society. Most fierce opposition to reproductive rights comes from a backlash against the growing autonomy and power women have. Anti-choice people know that reproductive freedom leads to economic freedom and opportunity to break free of prescribed gender roles, and they don’t like it. 

The correlation between sexism and anti-choice views was confirmed in a recent study:

In their study of 627 male and female students from six universities, the researchers found African American and Asian American respondents were significantly less likely to be against abortion than were white respondents. Unsurprisingly, students who were more religious tended to have the strongest anti-abortion views.

The study also confirmed its main hypothesis: that sexist attitudes were correlated to anti-abortion views. As individuals increasingly endorsed either hostile or benevolent forms of sexism, they also tended to increasingly endorse anti-abortion views.

“This suggests that sexism, regardless of whether it is justified through traditional, old-fashioned misogynistic rhetoric or through a ‘kinder’ or ‘more gentle’ rhetoric, plays a continued and significant role in the opposition to abortion rights for women,” the researchers said.

The researchers made an important distinction between hostile and benevolent sexism, which goes a long way toward explaining why these views are embraced by women as well as men:

Benevolent sexism describes the belief that women are nurturing, caring and gentle, but cannot function properly without protection from a strong male partner.  Kathleen Connelly of the University of Florida has summarized benevolent sexism as the belief that “women are wonderful, but weak.”

Hostile sexism, on the other hand, represents overt antipathy or dislike of women. Both forms of sexism maintain that women should be subordinate to men.

“While women have been shown to endorse forms of hostile sexism somewhat infrequently, women’s endorsements of benevolent sexist beliefs are quite common,” the researchers noted.

This benevolent sexism manifests itself in many forms:

  • Infantilizing women. Several women at the anti-abortion Heartbeat International conference told a reporter that their job is to protect women from abortion as “an adult tells a child not to touch a hot stove.”
  • Removing women from the discussion completely. In this insanely creepy video, men apologize for letting women get abortions. There is not one mention of how the woman might have felt in any of the situations.
  • Slut shaming and double standards. This brochure distributed at anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers tells women “girls want relationships, boys want sex” and tells women “they don’t make condoms for your heart.” The version for men gives them an action hero scenario, telling them condoms are “as safe as hanging over a cliff with a frayed rope.” A crisis pregnancy center in Wisconsin put up posters in a public school calling prom night “a night to protect her character” (no word on what they thought about his).
  • Taking away sexual agency and making women victims. A protester outside an abortion clinic dismisses the idea that women may be choosing sex for their own reasons, saying, “Men are winning because of the way women are giving themselves away.”
  • Reducing women to their role as mothers. A monk protesting outside a clinic told a reporter, “The fullness of being a woman is being a mother. For a woman to say that she has to have control over her body or over herself in such a way that she can’t be a mother really speaks to a degradation towards women.”
  • Treating women as incubators instead of human beings. Another protester decried how “the womb of the mother has become the most dangerous place to be.” A uterus isn’t just some place, it’s an organ inside a human woman.

All these examples came from articles I read recently and remembered without much digging. There are many more where those came from. When anti-choice people talk like this, it’s abundantly clear they don’t think of women as smart, capable human beings who should have control of their own lives.

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Author: Rebecca Griffin

I am a passionate advocate for progressive causes with over a decade of experience organizing for social change. That organizing experience informs the way I look at the world and the challenges we face in working toward social justice. I started Of Means and Ends to write about social issues I care about and share my thoughts on how we organize in a smart, strategic way. Please visit and join the conversation.

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