By Emily Holland and Hadas Aron
“You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb on the ninth month on the final day.” Donald Trump’s visceral characterization of abortion during the most recent presidential debate elicited strong emotions from both pro-life and pro-choice supporters. Since the 1970s the American religious right has strategically mobilized political support around abortion. Evangelical leaders discovered the potential political power of abortion as salient issue after Roe v. Wade in 1973 and turned it into their central message. The issue quickly became extremely divisive, eliciting strong reactions from Christians who believe that life begins at conception and those, mostly women, who believe in a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.
The latest phase of abortion mobilization has again been getting strong reactions across the globe. In Poland, tens of thousands of women took to the streets of Warsaw to protest against a proposed law that would entirely criminalize and penalize abortion at any stage, for any reason. The right wing populist government was forced to pull back the legislation. Poland is a highly Catholic country and already has the strictest laws on abortion in Europe. Mobilization on religious issues has a long record of success in Poland, but this last attempt was a step too far for women. A popular rallying cry at the protests called, “Save women, not a step further.”
Poland is a country that is torn between the liberal project and long-standing religious traditions promoted by populist politicians. Sound familiar? There is no comparison between Poland’s short democratic experience and America’s 240 years of peaceful transition of power, so far. But the strong reactions against the politicization of abortion are not that different. After Trump’s horrific remarks, women, young and old, felt personally attacked and offended. For younger women, many who have taken for granted the right to choose, Trump’s words diminished personal experiences and those of friends and family who had to go through difficult and often traumatic experiences. Late term abortion is a choice made for medical reasons, when the life of the fetus or the mother is in danger. It is the most difficult and personal decision leading to prolonged grief. Presenting it as frivolous or even murderous was shocking and enraging to many women familiar with the situation. For older women who remember the time before Roe v. Wade, Trump’s words were a threat to turn back the clock on all the achievements they have seen for women throughout their lives. Hillary Clinton’s response was spot on: “Well, that is not what happens in these cases and using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate.”
This issue has been a salient one in politics since 1973 for both sides. But it seems that in today’s current political climate, populists are advocating a “nasty” rollback of women’s rights. This has not gone unnoticed by women voters. The hatred toward women coming from populist leaders is not only political. It shows that when feeling threatened, hegemonic men would do and say anything to preserve the dominant role of masculinity in western societies. It is difficult in modern western society to find overt discrimination against women, which is why the tangible wage gap has become such a salient issue even though there are many others. The populist rhetoric is making inequality politically tangible for women voters and that is probably its only silver lining. In the interest of being bi-partisan, we leave you with the words of Dr. Condoleeza Rice, “Can’t wait until November 9!”