The Court's Abortion Decision is Based in White Nationalist MythRoundup
tags: racism, abortion, Supreme Court, eugenics, White Nationalism
Samira K. Mehta is associate professor of women and gender studies and of Jewish studies. She is the author of Beyond Chrismukkah: The Christian-Jewish Interfaith Family in the United States (UNC Press 2018) and The Racism of People Who Love You (Beacon Press, forthcoming).
Lauren MacIvor Thompson is a historian of early-20th-century women’s rights, medicine, law and public health. She is an assistant professor of history and interdisciplinary studies at Kennesaw State University and serves as the faculty fellow at the Georgia State University College of Law’s Center for Law, Health & Society.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization argues that rights not mentioned in the Constitution are guaranteed only if they are “deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and tradition.” Abortion, he claims, is not such a right — despite historians arguing otherwise in amicus briefs submitted to the court. Instead, Alito dismisses their analysis and points to his own historical evidence to argue that abortion has always been unpopular and criminalized.
Because a draft of Alito’s opinion leaked in May, historians already have pointed out the untruths, cherry-picked facts and deliberate omissions in his opinion. They have noted that abortion was a common and accepted part of life throughout much of American history. In fact, it was so common that no one saw the need for men to comment on what was a ubiquitous feature of women’s private reproductive lives in documents like the Constitution.
But these historical facts don’t matter to Alito and the antiabortion movement because they undermine the version of American history they subscribe to — what sociologist Philip Gorski calls “white Christian nationalism.” The basic idea, Gorski writes, is that “America was founded as a Christian nation, by (white) Christians; and its laws and institutions are based on “Biblical” (that is, Protestant) Christianity.” This, as he describes the viewpoint, has made America “divinely favored,” and the nation’s accumulation of wealth and power comes with a mission to maintain, enforce and spread its laws and institutions.
This mythic status is tied to the maintenance of strict gender roles, with America’s strength embedded in the White, traditional family headed by a patriarch.
Put simply, for a subset of the population, America’s core beliefs and morals are rooted in, as the common saying goes, “motherhood and apple pie.” This myth is as durable and powerful as it is flawed — and now it is responsible for taking a constitutional right away from American women in the name of maintaining the power of the family and the nation.
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