Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Ghost of Margaret Sanger

Religious conservatives see “anti-eugenic” state laws as the most promising avenue for establishing a federal ban on abortion. Much of the feminist left is ill-equipped to deal with this threat.

Margaret Sanger in Los Angeles in 1928 (Los Angeles Times/Wikimedia Commons)

After half a century of unremitting assaults—years spent defunding abortion care, restricting abortion access, and terrorizing women and their doctors—the religious right has achieved its first major judicial breakthrough: the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Among a volley of first-term decisions by the ultraconservative Supreme Court supermajority installed by President Donald Trump, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization must be seen as part of an unfolding judicial counterrevolution.

The electoral pushback against the decision has been impressive, and no doubt stronger than Republicans had anticipated. In ballot initiatives in Kansas, Kentucky, California, Michigan, and Vermont, voters have either rejected proposed abortion bans or reaffirmed existing protections. Yet the Dobbs decision is unlikely to be the Supreme Court’s last word on the matter.

For decades, religious conservatives have wanted to overturn Roe and return abortion laws to state legislatures. But they have never seen this as the be-all and end-all of their struggle. For the right-to-life movement that emerged in the 1970s, the reversion of authority to states is a stepping stone on the road to a higher goal: a federal prohibition on abortion that would overrule the ability of any state to legalize the practice. The recognition of fetal personhood is a key plank in this agenda.


Leave a Reply