A photo from an anti-abortion protest, and mainly white women are visibly protesting with signs with messages like "Pro-Life for the whole life."

Attorney General Lynn Fitch/Via Facebook

White Lady Nonsense

Attorney General Lynn Fitch/Via Facebook

“Nice White Ladies” Helped Overturn Roe

It's dangerous to assume all women want to help one another. White women have a long history of upholding the white supremacist patriarchy.

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The nice white ladies who helped overturn Roe v. Wade aren’t going to be persuaded by appeals to “all women” and we’ve got to stop pretending that they will. 

One of the more chilling aspects of the swift removal of the right to an abortion has been the trigger laws, which flipped 13 states across the U.S. into hell scapes of no-access to this basic, life-saving medical procedure, revealing the decades-long strategy of the right. In Mississippi, where the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, et.al case originated, Lt. Governor Lynn Fitch took steps to certify the Supreme Court’s decision, thus activating the state’s 2007 “trigger” law which will force the state’s only abortion clinic to completely cease providing abortions next week. After July 7, abortion will become a criminal offense in that state and others. Fitch has led efforts to criminalize abortion in her state, cheered on by scores of smiling white women. 

In the midst of this catastrophe for anyone who gets pregnant, well-meaning white feminists like former congresswoman Katie Hill appear on a cable news show saying, “We need to talk to women, they understand.” Hill, who faced an orchestrated campaign of misogyny that eventually forced her to resign from Congress, has, in her post-elected life, founded Her Time, a political action group whose aim is to “mobilize and support a generation of young women and allies to help them break through those final glass ceilings, one crack at a time—so we can once and for all claim our own power by voting, getting involved in politics, and running for office.” By this kind of glass-ceiling-logic, Lt. Governor Fitch’s position should be a victory for all women, when clearly it is not.

Make no mistake: We are in an emergency that is going to get much worse before it gets better. And white women have been key to realizing this nightmare. 

According to a New York Magazine profile by Kerry Howley, Marjorie Dannenfelser is one of the key forces behind overturning Roe v. Wade. Dannenfelser is the president of the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, whose mission it is to end abortion through electing “pro-life” leaders, particularly women. Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America is such an influential organization with the Right under her leadership that their research was cited in the Dodd decision. She also leads the affiliated super-PAC, Women Speak Out, which effectively raised money for anti-abortion candidates—helping to elect 30 new anti-abortion members of Congress, 19 of them women.

Dannenfelser wasn’t always this extreme. Raised by politically conservative, pro-choice parents in Greenville, North Carolina, Dannenfelser converted to Catholicism as an adult and became active in anti-abortion politics while working for Alan Mohollan, a pro-life Democratic congressman from West Virginia. Her record of accomplishments working in this area reveal a kind of iron will beneath her pearls-and-lipstick exterior. Because years later, she would turn on her mentor when Rep. Mohollan voted for the Affordable Care Act, which Dannenfelser saw as a betrayal of the anti-abortion agenda (because federal funds might go to pay for the procedure) and fund-raised to defeat Mohollan. This political takedown of a man who mentored her “like a father” earned Dannenfelser the nickname, “the velvet hammer,” a name she enjoys. 

In many ways, this is exactly how the power of nice white ladies works. A smooth and well-groomed exterior that conceals a brutal, even lethal force that can be turned against others. When cruel policies are crafted to serve the interests of patriarchy, it is useful to have white women champion the cause and a chorus of similarly situated women to cheer it on. 

This is how the power of Mississippi Lt Gov. Fitch works, by putting a smiling blonde woman on the poster for restricting the right to abortion and saying it “Empowers Women.” Her usefulness as a “velvet hammer” is partly how Amy Coney Barrett, a white woman with only three years of prior judicial experience, was seen as the last, crucial addition to the Supreme Court to tip away from the right to an abortion. It explains how the Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan could persist for all this time, and why she is the public face that Republicans want to go on Meet the Press this weekend and assert that the “GOP should be the party who helps women.” The white women in these roles provide a softer face to the blunt force of state power, like a velvet wrap on a ball-peen hammer. 

There is no question that every person who can get pregnant will be affected by this ruling. And, as Rebecca Traister has pointed out, there are limits to how much economic advantage and white-skin privilege will allow some to opt out of this dystopian reality. Even these currently-smiling-white-women who are celebrating this ruling are in peril in a world without access to abortion. Yet, as much as the media framing wants to cast this as an issue that affects “all women,” many struggle with what to do about these women, the white women who want to end a basic form of medical care for all other women. 

While the rhetoric from the movement has been about the “sanctity of life,” it’s always been about just some lives. This became clearer than ever this weekend when Rep. Mary Miller (R-Illinois) called the ruling a “victory for white lives” when speaking at a Trump rally.  Although Miller tried to walk this back as a “gaffe,” the crowd cheered their approval.

This is the quiet part said at maximum volume. We can’t look away from this reality if we want to win this fight.

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