‘Radicalized’ anti-abortion movement poses increased threat, US warned

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Mary F Calvert/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Mary F Calvert/Reuters

The president and chief executive of an international reproductive rights non-profit has warned that the American anti-abortion movement has significantly radicalized and is working to spread its ideology around the world.

The comments came as pro-gun anti-abortion theocratic militant groups who seek to prosecute women who have abortions under murder statutes have gained increasing legislative influence in the US.

Related: ‘It shakes you to your core’: the anti-abortion extremists gaining ground on the right

“In the 90s we saw groups like Operation Rescue and Operation Save America, and they were quite violent,” said Anu Kumar of Ipas, an international non-governmental organization that works to expand access to contraception and abortion.

“This recent uptick is really an even more radicalized version of what we saw back then, and in some ways it’s not your mother’s anti-choice groups.”

Operation Save America denies condoning violence, though leaders of affiliated groups such as Defy Tyrants, led by Matt Trewhella, were signatories to a statement which described murdering abortion providers as “justifiable homicide”.

Since Donald Trump left office, and as the US suffered among the worst Covid outbreaks in the world, Republican legislatures have worked to make 2021 the most hostile year for abortion since the procedure was legalized nationally in 1973.

States enacted 90 abortion restrictions in 2021, breaking the previous record of 89 in 2011. These restrictions stand in contrast to the “unmistakable trend toward the liberalization of abortion laws” globally, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Since 2000, more than 28 nations have liberalized their abortion laws. Only one, Nicaragua, expanded legal grounds for abortion.

At the same time, the constitutional right to abortion has never been so perilously close to being removed since 1973, when the supreme court decided the landmark case Roe v Wade.

Late this year the supreme court is expected to hear a case out of Mississippi called Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which will consider whether a 15-week abortion ban is constitutional. Because Roe allows pregnant people to have an abortion up to the point of viability, roughly understood to be 24 weeks, scholars speculate the court could substantially redefine people’s right to abortion.

“The reason they’re different, and it’s important, is they are not interested in incremental change. They’re not interested in using regulations. They’re not even that interested in Roe,” said Kumar.

“What they’re militant about is defying the courts, defying the constitution and defying the rule of law,” she said. “And they use scripture to justify their violence. Yes they are definitely anti-abortion, they are misogynist, they are anti-immigrant as well.

“But fundamentally they are about democracy – they are anti-democratic zealots, this is not just about abortion at all.”

Mainstream anti-abortion groups have placed multimillion-dollar bets on restricting voting rights, while militant groups have openly advocated for theocracy, while also experiencing newfound success in conservative legislatures. In Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona, state lawmakers have all introduced legislation to make abortion a crime punishable under murder statutes.

“White supremacy is the thread that ties everything together,” said Kumar. “From the insurrection we saw on 6 January to the racial uprisings to the uptick in anti-abortion legislation [in the US],” she said.

Kumar added that, while the most militant groups have small direct memberships, their ideology has proved sufficiently appealing to attract legislators and new followers.

“This is the bright shining light that needs to be put on this issue, that all people should be concerned about these groups,” said Kumar. “Because their agenda is really big and far-reaching.”

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