Voices: Republicans are attempting to rebrand the anti-abortion movement – and it’s even more terrifying

Pro-life supporters at a rally in Washington DC, June 2023 (AFP via Getty Images)
Pro-life supporters at a rally in Washington DC, June 2023 (AFP via Getty Images)

First, the good news. A poll by The Economist and YouGov last month found that 77 percent of respondents rank abortion rights as very or somewhat important to them, while Pew found earlier this year that 61 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. This, unsurprisingly, translated into GOP electoral defeats over abortion in states as crimson as Kansas, Kentucky, and most recently Ohio.

Such stinging rebukes are forcing something of a reckoning in the party, with Republicans finally recognizing what the rest of us knew all along: the American people are not with them in their campaign to erase women’s bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. The bad news is, however, that rather than listening to the American people, Republicans have decided to trick us into supporting their misogynistic and authoritarian policies.

NBC News reported that Republican strategists and even sitting US Senators are considering rebranding the “pro-life” movement – which has always more accurately been an anti-choice movement – so that it appeals to voters turned off by their nanny state abortion policies. Senator Todd Young, an anti-choice Republican from Indiana, used the term “pro-baby,” while anti-choice GOP Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota noted that ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ [mean] something different now” that Roe v Wade has been overturned, meaning “people see being pro-life as being against all abortion… at all levels.”

That is, of course, because that’s exactly what pro-life has meant since the Supreme Court overturned abortion rights in last year’s Dobbs decision. Axios reports that 22 states have banned or restricted abortion access, all of them red or purple states and all of them with the braying support of Republican elected officials. Even when voters tell them otherwise – as they did in Wisconsin earlier this year by electing an explicitly pro-choice justice to the state’s Supreme Court – Republicans don’t care; they are currently floating plans to impeach said justice to avoid her ruling on abortion rights and undoing the state’s ban.

It is deeply insulting that Republicans show utter contempt for voters by blatantly ignoring what they choose, or refusing to budge on an issue of such importance to so many Americans. It is not, however, surprising. The party is led by a demagogue set to stand trial for attempting to steal the last election. Democracy, to them, is a hurdle to be overcome rather than a sacrosanct cornerstone of the American experiment. Voters are a nuisance – wretched subjects to be gaslit or, failing that, ignored.

This is not the first time Republicans have attempted to rebrand anti-choice policies as something more palatable than “abortion bans”. My own state of Tennessee has enacted a so-called “heartbeat law” which, according to Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, makes it “illegal in Tennessee to abort an unborn child who has a heartbeat” even as early as six weeks, a time when many women will not have even realized they are pregnant.

This law punishes women and serves as an effective ban on abortion. Writing in January for Scientific American, Christina Han and Cara . Heuser – both maternal-fetal medicine physicians – warned that these laws “are not only scientifically inaccurate, but they are also morally unsound.” They continue: “It’s these weeks of early development that are the target of antiabortion ‘heartbeat’ laws, legislation that misses a critical concept:a beating heart is not the only factor that determines legal status, moral status and personhood. But this doesn’t matter to antiabortion legislators, who place more value on the outcome of a pregnancy than the person experiencing it.”

In a paper for the scientific journal Prenatal Diagnosis, three international experts found that the Texas “heartbeat law” is not only unethical but is scientifically unsound. Despite the Texas legislature asserting that “fetal heartbeat has become a key medical predictor that an unborn child will reach live birth,” the embryo does not even have a developed heart at six weeks, and the pulsation emitting from it “is not equivalent to the presence of a functioning heart or heartbeat,” they write.

This callous disregard for women’s rights – nay, women’s lives – has serious consequences. Here in Tennessee, Mayron Hollis, a 32-year-old woman, found out she was pregnant only a few months after giving birth in February 2022. Complications with the second pregnancy resulting from the C-section she’d recently had led to Hollis fighting for her life, but because of the abortion ban the state had enacted, physicians refused to perform the abortion care Hollis needed out of fear they would be held criminally liable.

"They really had no answer for me the whole time I was pregnant. It was the scariest thing I ever did. [Doctors were] telling me that my pregnancy wasn’t viable, but we can’t send you anywhere and we can’t do anything to help you,” Hollis told ABC News. The pregnancy, as doctors expected, eventually got to the point where it threatened Hollis’ life. She had another cesarean section to deliver the fetus followed immediately by an emergency hysterectomy; reports said that Hollis was asked to “write a will and tell doctors whose life to prioritize if they could only save her or the baby.”

No one can seriously argue this law is “pro-life” when it nearly resulted in the death of a young woman. You can’t even argue it is “pro-baby,” to borrow Senator Young’s phrase; there is nothing “pro-baby” about robbing one child (let alone two) of their mother because Republicans are so insistent on controlling her womb.

Whatever Republicans call their policies, the result is the same: women’s freedom and liberty to choose what happens to their bodies is eliminated, possibly at the cost of their lives. It is no surprise that women in states with abortion bans are nearly three times more likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth, or shortly after giving birth than women in states with abortion access. Republican duplicity and authoritarianism, played out in abortion policy, comes with a body count.

Voters should not fall for this. Rebranding “pro-life” policies as “pro-baby” or anything else is like rebranding arsenic as a “miracle birth control formula.” It may sound nice, but the result is just the same: it will make you sick, and it may well kill you.