Abortion and the 2020 Elections

On March 4th the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo (formerly June Medical Services v. Gee), a case challenging Louisiana’s Act 620, a law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. It is an effort to restrict a women’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

In 2016, the Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt unconstitutional a Texas law that placed restrictions on the delivery of abortion services. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that in the wake of that decision, Act 620 was initially found unconstitutional by a federal district court, but an appeals court reversed the decision. And now the case is before Supreme Court. Many medical and other organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), have filed an amicus brief arguing hospital admitting privileges are not medically justified. The Court’s decision is not expected until later this year but will likely have implications for Roe v. Wade.

The year 2020 will mark a half-century of the culture wars – and the possible reelection of Donald Trump. Prior to Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, the culture wars had waned. Moralists still fumed over a woman’s right to an abortion and conservative state legislatures passed laws restricting abortion access, targeting Planned Parenthood and seeking to end young people’s access to birth control. But the fury seemed out of their sails.

Sadly, Trump’s victory reinvigorated the religious right and arch conservatives of every stripe, including white nationalists. His election occurred as Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress and he successfully appointed two conservatives to the Court – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – consolidating the right’s control of state power.

Equally troubling, as Vox reports, “in less than three years, Trump has named a total of 50 judges to these courts [of appeal] — compared to the 55 Obama appointed during his entire presidency.” It notes the following:

At this point in the Obama presidency, Obama had appointed only 30 court of appeals judges, meaning that Trump is appointing appellate judges 60 percent faster than Obama. At a similar point in their presidencies, President George W. Bush had filled only 34 seats on the federal appellate bench; President Clinton, 30; President George H.W. Bush, 35; and President Reagan, 25.

Making matters worse, Trump has delegated the selection of judicial appointments to the Federalist Society, a powerful conservative lawyers association.

When Trump took office, he pledged to fulfill the 2016 Republican Party’s platform that asserted:

Traditional marriage and family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, is the foundation for a free society and has for millennia been entrusted with rearing children and instilling cultural values. We condemn the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, which wrongly removed the ability of Congress to define marriage policy in federal law.

Trump reiterated his pledge in May 2018 when he gave the keynote speech for the Susan BAnthony List annual “Campaign for Life,” a gathering to support political candidates who oppose abortion.  “When I ran for office, I pledged to stand for life,” he proclaimed. “And as president, that’s exactly what I’ve done. And I have kept my promise, and I think everybody here understands that fully.”

Going further, Trump made a commitment to those in attendance: “We’re also seeking passage of the 20-week abortion bill, which would end painful, late-term abortions nationwide.” Trump’s campaign, and his support from the moralist right, has sought to fulfill the original conservative vision formulated in the early-1970s when the culture wars were launched, and the New Christian Right was in its ascendency.

In addition, it has sought to bar birth-control coverage from the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), opposed funding for Planned Parenthood and stopped funding fetal-tissue research. It has also taken international actions, including restricting Planned Parenthood support and ending support for the UN Population Fund.

The Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one of the agencies leading the anti-abortion charge, including support for the questionable anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPC). CPCs are insidious establishment, falsely branded under a variety of misleading names like “pregnancy resource centers,” “pregnancy care centers,” “pregnancy support centers” or simply “pregnancy centers.” Individual CPCs normally provide a pregnancy test and anti-abortion propaganda. In May 2018, Diane Foley, MD, an OBGYN, was appointed HHS deputy assistant secretary for population affairs where she will oversee the Title X federal family planning program. She is a staunch “anti-choice” activist, the former CEO of Life Network, a company that operates two CPCs in Colorado.

Estimates vary as to the number of CPCs – and abortion clinics – that currently operate in the country. On estimate claims that there are between 2,300 to 3,500 CPCs in the U.S. while there are only 1,800 abortion clinics; another suggests that there 2,700 CPCs and only 800 abortion clinics. In any case, as an NPR report notes, “far more low-income women will be exposed to their [CPC] deceptive practices instead of being informed of their range of reproductive health-care options.”

The 2020 election campaign is underway. When the Democrats took control of the House in January 2019, the political spotlight shifted ever-more intensely on Pres. Trump. A host of smoldering issues have been actively taken-up, including Muller’s report regarding “Russia Gate,” innumerable corruption issues (e.g., the Trump foundation, Trump hotels), questionable practices by administration officials (e.g., Ryan Zinke, Scott Pruitt), Trump’s commercial sexual relations with — and reported criminal abuse of – women and Trump’s impeachment. The outcome of these investigations may influence the 2020 election.

However the Trump saga plays out, the religious right’s culture wars helped propel him. Over the last century-and-a-half, America has been a terrain of repeated battles over moral values. These “wars” pitted secular forces pushing to modernize cultural standards, to make people’s life “freer,” against traditionalists seeking to contain unacceptable changes in American life, thus preserving established values.

Today’s culture wars are not unlike three previous eras of struggles over moral values — during the Civil War era over the utopian and “free love” movements; during the 1920s over the new woman, jazz and alcohol consumption; and during the 1950s over communism, obscenity and homosexuality. Those previous “wars” passed as will this one.

Nevertheless, the war over a woman’s right to an abortion will likely persist. Moralists have given up on many of the issues that defined the initial phase of this round of the culture wars – premarital sex, women serving in the military, homosexuality, age-appropriate teen sex and pornography, to name but five. But the right for a woman to terminate a male-induced fetus will remain a contested issue. The right to abort an unwanted fetus marks a critical boundary of patriarch, thus one of the last domains of male power in an increasing degendered world. For the foreseeable future, the war over abortion – like racism and imperialism — will remain an endemic feature of American society.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.