The Anti-Abortion Politics of White Women

tags: abortion, womens history, white women

Jacqueline Mercier Allain is a PhD candidate at Duke University who studies reproduction and motherhood in colonial Caribbean history. She thanks Dr. Tera Hunter for the inspiration for this piece.

Last month, the Alabama State Senate passed a piece of legislation effectively banning abortion in the state of Alabama. House Bill 314, which prohibits abortion even in cases of rape and incest, comes on the heels of Georgia House Bill 481, which prohibits abortions in cases where a fetal heartbeat is detectable—six weeks into a pregnancy, a point at which many people do not even know that they are pregnant. What these two bills have in common is that women—white women, to be precise—are some of their most fervent champions.

When Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed HB 481, he effectively made it impossible to access abortion in the state of Georgia. It would be easy to dismiss Governor Kemp as just another man trying to control women’s bodies. Yet that characterization misses something crucial: three of HB 481’s six sponsors are women—white women. Similarly, Alabama HB 314’s primary sponsor is a white woman. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, a white Republican woman, signed the bill into law.

That white women are at the forefront of the anti-abortion movement may come as a surprise to some feminists. Influenced by the abortion rights movement of second wave feminism, they may continue to view abortion through the lens of women versus men. But the reality is that women—white women in particular—are among today’s anti-choice movers and shakers. This is not to say that there are not anti-abortion women of color. There are. Indeed, one of the sponsors of Louisiana’s recent Senate Bill 184, which would ban abortion at six weeks, is a black woman. But as scholars of the anti-abortion movement have shown, the anti-abortion movement is overwhelmingly white. According to sociologist Ziad Munson, the data on anti-abortion activists suggests that they are “more often white, more often married, and have more children than the population as a whole.”1 White women are among the most devoted anti-choice activists.


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