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How the Right Uses Abortion Restrictions to Reinforce Racist and Gendered Hierarchies

The Dobbs decision, which took away the constitutional right to abortion, was a massive and long-sought victory for the far right. Severely restricting or banning abortion is a core part of their political program, one that is deeply intertwined with the movement’s broader goal of creating a society structured by rigid hierarchies – not only of gender and gender identity, but class and race.

Those kinds of hierarchies don’t form on their own. The right has become increasingly insistent that they must not only be supported by culture but mandated through law. In addition to laws that ban abortion, members of the far right also want to enact laws that limit access to gender-affirming care, prohibit transgender people from accessing spaces that conform to their gender identity and forbid discussing LGBTQ+ families in classrooms. The movement sees itself at war with degenerate forces: According to Scott Yenor, an anti-feminist activist and academic who works for the illiberal Claremont Institute, conservatives have a duty to “establish systems of honor and shame, pass laws and buttress institutions that shape our natural inclinations” in ways he views as being “more humane and fruitful” than those built by “feminists and sexual revolutionaries…”

Abortion has never been a single-issue campaign. Rather, it is an especially potent tool the far right uses to reinforce a specific kind of social and family structure.

Banning abortion severely limits if, when and how women and others who can become pregnant choose to have children, especially for those who have the fewest resources. That means that, theoretically, women are more likely to end up as mothers, caregivers and homemakers – roles that the far right see as most fit for them. Campaigns to limit or ban abortion go hand-in-hand with anti-LGBTQ+ policies that further limit how people can express their gender and sexuality and build their families. All these policies are part of an effort to enforce, through the state, a very specific kind of social structure.

Promotion block to Anti-Abortion Extremism page.

The attack on abortion is also part of an effort to reinforce racial hierarchies. The far right, which now occupies mainstream American politics, views limiting abortion rights as a way for the white race to steel itself against demographic changes in the U.S., or the so-called “great replacement.” The white supremacist conspiracy claims that white people, because of declining birth rates and immigration to the United States and other Western nations, are being systematically “replaced.” White power and anti-abortion activists have long intermingled and are often one in the same; groups like Patriot Front, Proud Boys and Goyim Defense League can regularly be found at anti-abortion demonstrations.

The far right’s ambition extends beyond Dobbs. In addition to their plans to enact further restrictions and bans, they have also proposed limiting birth control, creating greater surveillance of those seeking reproductive care and pushing more punitive measures on people who have abortions, perform the procedure and even those who offer information or support to those seeking abortion care. If anything, the right sees Dobbs as an invitation to broaden their attack on women, the LGBTQ+ community, Black people and others from groups that have historically been marginalized, in effect reversing decades of feminist and civil rights struggles.

‘The real goal is to abort the nuclear family’

The goal of ending abortion is ultimately a male supremacist political project: the far right believes that women should be afforded fewer rights and opportunities than men, and that their primary roles in society – as dictated through cultural norms as well as laws and policies – should be as mothers and caregivers. This also means that gay, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming and trans people should be, if not somehow eliminated from society, severely restricted in the ways they are able to express their gender identity, express their sexuality and build families. The far right views any deviation from these extremely regressive and repressive gender roles as an existential threat to society.

This is an idea often repeated in spaces like the National Conservatism Conference, where warnings about the left’s supposed desire to destroy the nation itself permeate many of the speeches of those who come from a decidedly authoritarian right-wing tradition. “Since a country is a collection of men and women, united in memory and committed to a common regime,” Yenor, a fellow at the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life, argued in a speech at the 2022 National Conservatism Conference, the most recently held in the U.S., “if women do not have children, if men do not rise to responsibility, and if they do not marry, the country has no future.”

The Heritage Project’s right-wing coalition Project 2025, which was created to prep for a future conservative presidency, also insists that the government has a strong role to play in ensuring such a family structure. In Project 2025’s Mandate for Leadership, Roger Severino, a former appointee of the Donald Trump administration to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who the Human Rights Campaign has described as a “radical anti-LGBTQ activist,” argues that one of HHS’s five core goals should be promoting “families comprised of a married mother, father, and their children,” because they are “the foundation of a well-ordered and healthy society.” The primary way the HHS should promote nuclear families is not through supportive public programs, it seems, but by prohibiting access to reproductive care. Severino devotes most of the chapter on HHS to ways the agency can limit access to abortion – indeed, “protecting life” by denying access to abortion is listed as the agency’s number-one goal. Abortion, which Severino insists “is not health care,” is mentioned over 130 times throughout.

Roger Severino
In Project 2025’s Mandate for Leadership, Roger Severino, a former appointee of the Trump administration to the Department of Health and Human Services, argues that a core goal of HHS should be promoting “families comprised of a married mother, father, and their children,” because they are “the foundation of a well-ordered and healthy society.” (Alamy)

In the cultural realm, the far right has built up cottage industries aimed at demonizing abortion and elevating motherhood as the sole venture through which women can find happiness. Magazines like Evie, which claims to offer “quality content that affirms your femininity [and] encourages virtue,” discourage abortion and birth control in nearly all forms (even for men), while they advise women to relentlessly pursue marriage (with articles like “How to Get a Man to Marry You”) and not only have children, but to do so as early as possible. Evie is complemented by a network of social media accounts and blogs of antifeminist Christian influencers like Lori Alexander who, as “The Transformed Wife,” tells women they were made to be wives, mothers and homemakers, not members of the workforce.

Alexander can be viewed as part of the broader “tradwife” movement, which proclaims that women should assume a submissive position in their household and find fulfillment through homemaking and child-rearing. On social media, the women of the movement promote highly produced images and videos of their domestic lives – clad in milkmaid dresses, braids and tending to backyard chickens and children – which present the home as a place of solitude and contentment where women are shielded from the stresses of modern, capitalist society. The movement’s influencers are almost exclusively white women, and include many who explicitly argue that women have a duty to reproduce in order to protect the white race.

Many women in right-wing media have criticized the tradwife movement, but their quibbles are generally over the degree to which women should submit to the men in their lives, and not the virtue of traditional gender roles. Even while criticizing the aesthetics of “tradwifery,” women like BlazeTV podcaster Allie Beth Stuckey and Turning Point USA’s Alex Clark continue to embrace anti-feminism and reject abortion rights.

Some far-right organizations and influencers argue that feminism is the primary cause of what they view as widespread societal decay, including the existence of LGBTQ+ people. An article recently published by The Washington Stand, an outlet of the Family Research Council, left no room for interpretation: “Feminism has decimated Western civilization,” it argued. “Its atheistic, Luciferian disregard for the order instituted by God...has led to rampant degeneracy – from the contraceptive Sexual Revolution to the ‘normalization’ of homosexuality – and horrors prior generations could have never imagined – such as abortion and the surgical mutilation of children’s genitals.”

The pseudonymous author Peachy Keenan makes a similar argument in her 2023 book Domestic Extremist: A Practical Guide to Winning the Culture War, which is blurbed by well-known far-right reactionaries like Tucker Carlson and Christopher Rufo. “America is in free fall, and everyone knows it,” she argues, “What has befallen us? The answer is clear. It’s not mass immigration, unbridled wokeness, or disastrous foreign policy (although all of that sped our descent). The answer is: women have lost their way.” Keenan, who frequently writes for Claremont’s American Mind, presents herself a rebellious counterrevolutionary (“Wake up, CIA reader! You might want to write this one down we even…believe in God,” she writes of her band of extremists), but the book also has a paranoid tone. New World Order globalists, she argues, are destroying the nuclear family, femininity and masculinity through control of “most Western governments, Big Tech, Big Media…Big Pharma, Big Gender (that is, the all-powerful LGBTQ+ lobby), D.C., and the entire American educational system.”

This invisible menace can best be fought by women embracing traditionally feminine gender roles, getting married and having as many children as possible. In a chapter devoted to her opposition to abortion, Keenan argues that the “real goal” of what she calls the “abortion industry” – a term long used by anti-abortion activists – “is to abort the nuclear family.”

Galvanized by the Dobbs decision, the right has recently proposed other ways to limit women’s reproductive choices and autonomy, making it clear that their anti-abortion campaign is part of a broader effort to limit women’s rights and democratic participation. Many organizations have become more comfortable expressing their desire to make birth control illegal, often incorrectly arguing that hormonal birth control and intrauterine devices (IUDs) cause abortions. Others have made the argument that society should return “the danger...the consequentiality to sex” by eliminating hormonal birth control as part of an effort to limit and stigmatize women’s sexuality. At the very least, the right is attempting to make birth control access much more difficult. Many Republican-controlled states are increasing funding for anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, which are not only opposed to contraception, but are not medical centers and are therefore not authorized to prescribe it. These fake clinics purposely make themselves appear as if they provide legitimate medical care, deceiving people seeking abortions or other reproductive care into entering their doors and then manipulating them with misinformation.

Some groups have proposed reversing no-fault divorce – laws that, since they first passed beginning in 1969, have led to major decreases in domestic abuse, suicide among women, and spousal homicide of women. Four states already restrict divorce during pregnancy, all of which also have extreme anti-abortion laws in place. That means people who become pregnant might have to remain married to an abusive partner. Pregnancy is an especially dangerous time to be trapped in an abusive relationship: homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant and postpartum women in the United States and, as one study recently found, rates of intimate partner homicide during pregnancy have risen in states with restrictive abortion laws.

Other far-right figures have set their sights on further limiting women’s democratic participation by reversing the 19th Amendment. “I absolutely want to go back to the America where women couldn’t vote,” Mark Robinson, the Republican candidate for governor of North Carolina, said in 2020 remarks that resurfaced after Robinson won his party’s primary in March 2024.

While the right is working to prohibit abortion and restrict women’s rights and autonomy in other ways, certain quarters have also argued that public programs to support mothers and children should be cut in order to force women into familial, dependent positions. Yenor, for instance, has argued that the government should cease funding pre-K programs and other “surrogates for family life.” Project 2025, the blueprint a broad right-wing coalition has created for a potential conservative presidential administration, also argues against public funding for day care and proposes cutting Head Start, a federal program that provides support and educational services to low-income families. Some states have also cut funding that provides resources for mothers and children. Idaho, after adopting one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans, for example, disbanded a committee charged with investigating causes of maternal death, turned down $36 million in federal grants for child care, and failed to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage. People who give birth in Idaho only receive Medicaid coverage for 60 days after giving birth. It is one of only three states that have failed to expand, or that are planning to expand, postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months. The others are Iowa and Arkansas, the latter of which has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country.

Person at podium is flanked by people holding signs opposing abortion with Capitol building in background.
Janae Stracke, vice president of outreach and advocacy for The Heritage Foundation joined a news event to announce the Ending Chemical Abortion Act in Capitol Hill of Washington, D.C., in September 2023. Members of the far right, in addition to seeking laws that ban abortion, also want laws that limit access to gender-affirming care, prohibit transgender people from accessing spaces that conform to their gender identity and forbid discussing LGBTQ+ families in classrooms. (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Abortion Politics and White Supremacy

Opposition to abortion is also one component of the growing far-right pro-natalist movement. In response to declining American birth rates, as well as a growing share of non-parents who say they are likely to remain that way, influencers and activists on the right encourage one another to make their families as large as possible. Attendees at the Natal Conference, a gathering held in late 2023 where far-right actors (including Peachy Keenan) mingled with tech entrepreneurs, claimed they had gathered to ensure “a world in which our children can have grandchildren.” The message to procreate was directed squarely at people like themselves: conservative, mostly white Christian nationalists. The organizers’ aim, one journalist reported, was to build their own “high fertility subcultures.”

One organizer, in a June 2023 interview, made that conference’s racist undertones more explicit. On a podcast hosted with Edward Dutton, once the editor of the white nationalist publication Mankind Quarterly, organizer Kevin Dolan explained, “I think that the pro-natalist and the eugenics positions are very much not in opposition, they’re very much aligned.”

For many in the far right, the command for people like them – white, conservative – to have more children is indelibly linked to their opposition to immigration and fears of demographic change. The country’s white populations, with its low birth rates, are being systematically and deliberately “replaced” by non-white, non-native populations, they argue in a white supremacist conspiracy called the “great replacement,” which will have dire consequences for Western civilization. “It is not problematic for a people who can trace their ancestral lineage back more than just a few generations, some even to the founding of the republic itself, to want to preserve their heritage and legacy, and perpetuate that legacy well beyond the present,” Claremont fellow Paul Ingrassia penned in an early 2024 piece for the Institute’s American Mind. “Advocacy for limited, rational immigration, increased birth rates among the native born, and an end to suicidal policies that select against their own, like affirmative action and DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion],” he wrote, “should not require extensive apologies.”

Ingrassia’s characterization of policies aimed at racial equity as “suicidal” sound much like the language of policymakers of the late-19th and early 20th centuries who argued that white Americans – Protestants, especially – needed to do their part to prevent “race suicide.” With the end of slavery and increasing immigration from China and poor, predominantly Catholic European countries, “white elites encouraged pro-natalist policies and outlawed abortion in order to expand the community of people like themselves (upper-class white Anglo-Saxon Protestants),” according to Leslie Reagan, a historian of abortion and reproductive care.

Banning abortion was one tool for carrying out this racist and classist project. By 1880, abortion was criminalized in every state. Laws made exceptions for lifesaving therapeutic abortions, though these procedures were, in practice, extremely limited even for the middle- and upper-class white women who were far more likely to be granted this care than poor women and women of color. By the early 20th century, white elites were actively encouraged to have large families in order to preserve white supremacy. Students in Ivy League university “anti-race suicide clubs” were pledging to have five or more children while Ku Klux Klan chapters marched through American towns with banners that read “Race Purity” and “Abortionists, Beware!” The country also robbed many women of color of their ability to bear children. Thirty-two states adopted laws allowing the forcible sterilization of women deemed “feebleminded” or “mentally deficient,” a disproportionate number of whom were Black and Hispanic. The practice of coercively or forcefully sterilizing Black women in the South was so common that civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who herself underwent an involuntary hysterectomy, termed it a “Mississippi appendectomy.”

Promotion block to next essay: The Landscape of Today's Anti-Abortion Movement.

Today, it’s not uncommon to see politicians and activists on the right pointing to anti-abortion policies as a solution to the so-called “great replacement.” Nebraska state Sen. Steve Erdman (R), for example, argued in 2023 that the state needed an abortion ban so that Americans, rather than immigrants, could fill jobs in Nebraska. “Our state population has not grown except by those foreigners who have moved here or refugees who have been placed here. Why is that? It’s because we’ve killed 200,000 people,” he said.

Matt Schlapp, the head of the Conservative Political Action Conference, made a similar point, arguing before the release of the Dobbs decision that “for people that believe that we somehow need to replace populations or bring in new workers, I think [the adjudication of Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court] is an appropriate first step to give the…enshrinement in law the right to life for our own unborn children.” “If you’re worried about this quote-unquote replacement, why don’t we start there?” he asked, “Start with allowing our own people to live.” At a Trump rally after the day after Roe was overturned, in what her campaign spokesperson later characterized as a “misstep,” U.S. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) thanked the former president “on behalf of all the MAGA patriots in America…for the historic victory for white life in the Supreme Court yesterday.”

Just as it has become more common to hear even mainstream segments of the right using white supremacist rhetoric, including warnings about the “great replacement,” it is now easier to find white power activists attending anti-abortion events and demonstrations. The white power movement specifically wants to stop white women from having abortions, often claiming that abortion is part of a Jewish plot to encourage the destruction of the white race. “150,000 white kids per year: Abortion is genocide,” read a banner carried by a group white supremacist at a 2023 San Francisco anti-abortion protest.

According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), during the first half of 2022, militias and extremist groups appeared at 27 events related to abortion – a 160% increase over 2021. Hate groups are often drawn to politically charged debates because they offer a way to enter mainstream politics and make the news. While their attendance at abortion-related events has declined from the highpoint of 2022, the year Roe was overturned, their attention to the issue has remained. Since 2022, members of the antisemitic Goyim Defense League have protested outside a Modesto, California, Planned Parenthood, the hate groups Rose City Nationalists and the Proud Boys have attended a demonstration in Salem, Oregon, and the white nationalist group Patriot Front has participated in a Washington, D.C., anti-abortion March for Life demonstration, in addition to many other events that hate groups have attended across the country.

One recent case made clear how indelibly linked anti-abortion politics are to the broader white power movement. In April 2024, Chance Brannon, a 24-year-old former Marine from San Juan Capistrano, California, was sentenced to 9 years in federal prison for firebombing a Planned Parenthood clinic in Costa Mesa, California, on March 13, 2022. It was an act he carried out “to scare pregnant women, deter doctors and staff from providing abortion services, and encourage similar violent acts,” according to a Department of Justice press release. The abortion clinic was just one of Brannon’s intended targets. Along with his co-defendants, he discussed attacking an electrical substation to throw society into chaos and start a race war, as well as an LGBTQ+ Pride night at Dodgers Stadium and the homes of Jewish residents in Los Angeles. Brannon’s actions were motivated by his neo-Nazi ideology and, according to prosecutors, he intended and planned “to take overt action that would at the very least scare and intimidate women, racial minorities, and the Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities, and would at worst harm or even kill real victims.” In other words, his attack on the abortion clinic was conceived as part of a broader attempt to suppress and harm people he believed inferior to white men like himself.

There have long been ties between the white power and anti-abortion movements. Brannon is not the first white supremacist to have bombed an abortion clinic. What is notable now is the degree that they have converged – at real-world events, in their rhetoric and in their goal of strictly limiting abortion care to maintain the country’s racial hierarchy and to force women into submission.

There seem to be few steps the right will not take, or allies they will not welcome, in their efforts to strip women of their reproductive autonomy.

The Right’s Increasingly Authoritarian Turn

The right’s approach to abortion and immigration have taken similar hardline turns in recent years, becoming more authoritarian, forceful and even violent. Stephen Miller, Trump’s top immigration adviser, recently outlined a plan for a second Trump administration to remove up to 10 million migrants, whom he characterized as “foreign-national invaders.” In an interview with Charlie Kirk in late 2023, Miller said, “You go to the red-state governors, and you say, ‘Give us your National Guard,’” who would be deputized “as immigration-enforcement officers.” These forces would “go around the country arresting illegal immigrants in large-scale raids,” and place migrants in internment camps before deportation. New and proposed abortion laws mirror the right’s anti-immigration scheme in the increasing role they carve out for the state and even law enforcement – including bans on “aiding and abetting” abortion, attempts to criminalize traveling out of abortion-restricting states to receive care, and creating confusing laws that leave people, in some cases, on the verge of death before doctors will perform lifesaving abortions. Some proposed bills would allow women who have had abortions to be charged with murder. Like the right’s planned anti-immigration measures, these policies still involve governance by force, as well as targeting and demeaning some of society’s most marginalized.

They also are an attempt to return to a time when women and people of color were, in essentially every way, rendered second-class citizens. The Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled the state could enforce an 1864 abortion law, one put in place long before women had the ability to vote or Black people were even granted the rights of citizenship by the 14th Amendment (the governor has since signed a bill to repeal the 19th century law). As journalist Jill Filipovic pointed out, the code that the Arizona abortion can comes from also outlawed interracial marriage. These are reactionary maneuvers designed to erase more than a century of legal, social and political progress toward greater racial and gender equity, and the rate at which these reversals are happening is astounding. The far right has made its goals clear: society should return to a time when laws were created by and for the benefit of white men.

Illustration at top by Cristiana Couceiro.