Advocates say limits to abortion access reinforce white supremacy
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was a mainstream conservative victory. But the fight against abortion access is a priority for far-right extremists, too.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak issued an executive order this week in reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned federal protections for abortion access. Under the new guidance, state agencies and employees are blocked from helping other states seeking to prosecute people who travel to Nevada for abortion care. Sisolak’s order also shields health care professionals who provide abortions from disciplinary actions in other states.
In a written statement announcing the order, Sisolak called reproductive health care a “basic human right.”
“No one should be punished for providing or receiving necessary medical care, including abortions, contraception and other reproductive health care services,” he said.
Meanwhile, Karen England of the Nevada Family Alliance celebrated the ruling but pointed out that abortion access is protected by state law.
“I don’t know why the left is whipping people up in hysteria,” she said. “It’s not going to change anything in the state of Nevada.”
Republicans are hailing the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which marked a major conservative victory in the 50-year battle to remove national abortion protections, but outside of the political mainstream, eliminating abortion access has long been a priority for far-right extremists, too.
“This is not a kind of issue that is detached from questions around access to equal education, or the privatization of education or attacks on voting rights, or the growth of white nationalist movements,” said Emily Hobson, chair of UNR’s Department of Gender, Race, and Identity.
Hobson acknowledged that many people who oppose abortion don’t support white nationalism, but she explained the political movements behind many right-wing causes have been organized together – including their more radical elements.
“One of the places to really look for the roots of the anti-choice movement is in those groups that began to directly attack abortion care providers and clinics,” she said, referring to the decades-long campaign of bombings, murder and intimidation of abortion providers.
The Roe v. Wade decision was partially based on due process rights guaranteed in the 14th Amendment. In an opinion supporting the elimination of federal abortion protections, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the Supreme Court should “reconsider” other rulings based on the same doctrine – including ones that allow same-sex marriage, protect LGBTQ+ people from discriminatory laws and uphold access to birth control for married couples.
“After overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions guarantee the myriad rights that our substantive due process cases have generated,” Thomas added.
Eliminating those protections is a priority for many groups on the far-right, which support a patriarchal vision of society and see abortions, birth control and same-sex relationships as threats to white male power. The anti-abortion movement also has historical ties to racism. For example, some 19th-century doctors opposed abortion because they worried white Protestant women wouldn’t have enough babies to keep up with other racial and ethnic groups.
The racist preoccupation with white birthrates is still around – one modern example is the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which inspired the shooter who killed 10 Black people in Buffalo, N.Y.
Back in Nevada, legal experts caution that even though the law protecting abortions was a voter-approved referendum that can only be undone by voters, the state could see more barriers crop up. Rebecca Gill, an associate professor of Political Science at UNLV, said if Republicans get a majority in the statehouse after the November election, they could pass laws to limit access.
“It is certainly possible that, just as other states have done for the past nearly 50 years, that they could start to nibble around the edges and put additional burdens in the way of accessing that care,” she said.
But Gill believes it’s more likely the GOP could win control of Congress and the White House, then pass laws that would override Nevada’s protections.
“They could go about passing some sort of fetal personhood statute at the federal level,” she said, “or some sort of nationwide ban on abortion care.”
For now, Nevada is surrounded by states moving quickly to ban or severely limit abortions. Idaho, Utah and Wyoming already had so-called trigger laws in place, which were designed to prohibit abortions as soon as Roe v. Wade was overturned. In Arizona, Republican officials have publicly disagreed over which form abortion restrictions will take. Gov. Doug Ducey supports a recently-passed, 15-week abortion ban, but Attorney General Mark Brnovich has claimed a territorial-era law mandating prison time for abortion providers takes precedence.
As a result, advocates say people are already coming to Nevada from other states in search of abortion access. According to Maureen Scott with the Wild West Access Fund of Nevada, nonprofits that offer help for people seeking abortions expect those numbers to grow.
“We’re definitely gearing up to provide even more practical support and funding to people traveling,” she said.
Scott also explained that abortion bans exacerbate racial inequality. She pointed to data that shows maternal mortality rates are rising in the U.S. – especially among Black women, who are about three times more likely to die of maternal causes than white women.
“White supremacy definitely is a driving force in why abortion access is attacked,” Scott said. “One way we can see that is the effect that limitations on abortion care have, and they come most harshly on people of color who are already at an economic disadvantage in this country, and who are already being targeted by white supremacist attacks.”
The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.