What do racism and the anti-choice movement have in common? EVERYTHING. It all started with a Supreme Court decision, and not the one you’re thinking of. In our first episode, we dig down to the real roots of the movement -- another case decided 20 years earlier, Brown v. Board of Education. This is the story of the early leaders of the Radical Right who tapped into segregationist racism to transform Evangelicals into a terrifying political coalition.
We are joined by Stacey Abrams (founder of Fair Fight and Fair Count), Ilyse Hogue (President of NARAL), Ellie Langford (Director of Research at NARAL), Loretta Ross (Author, Professor, and Reproductive Justice activist), Linda Greenhouse (Senior Research Scholar, Yale Law School), and Karen Mulhauser (former president of NARAL)
This series is based on the book “The Lie that Binds,” by NARAL Pro-Choice America President, Ilyse Hogue, with Ellie Langford. To purchase the book, visit: https://theliethatbinds.com/
Loretta Ross [00:00:13] What did we miss in 2016? How can I count the ways? We missed the white supremacist backlash. The Tea Party was a white supremacist movement. And President Trump was certainly elected as a backlash against President Obama.
Ilyse Hogue [00:00:30] Part of what white women need to recognize is that we have been utilized as part of a strategy to maintain power for this radical idea for a very long time. And it's got to stop.
Loretta Ross [00:00:44] We had probably overestimated the ability of the country to embrace women in power, women in politics. We missed the depths of misogyny in this country.
Ilyse Hogue [00:00:58] At any given moment when Donald Trump was waving his misogyny flag, the sort of self-proclaimed Moral Majority could have stood up and said, hey, we don't talk that way about women. We don't speak that way about women. And they did not. Actually, they formed a circle around him and protected him. He was their guy. They were all in.
Loretta Ross [00:01:21] And I think we missed the fragility of our democracy. We often believed, quite naively, that our democratic institutions were sturdier than they actually turned out to be. And that they could be so easily corrupted from the inside. We didn't even need Russian interference for that to happen. This thing corrupted from the inside... We missed that that was even a possibility.
Jess McIntosh [00:01:53] So this is what it feels like to look back at 2016. There's this long list of all the things we missed. And while all of the pieces you just heard are true (corruption, racism, misogyny), most people continue to overlook the political infrastructure that connects them all. The anti-choice movement.
Ilyse Hogue [00:02:10] Part of the reason that political pundits missed Trump's rise to power is because they have consistently underestimated and misinterpreted the power of the anti-choice movement within the Republican Party. And we cannot have that happen again. They use abortion as a strategy to silence us in order to actually win elections. We have to answer that.
Jess McIntosh [00:02:33] Welcome to The Lie That Binds, a six-part series exploring the insidious history of how the anti-choice movement was built from scratch. I'm your host, Jess McIntosh. In each episode we will expose a key piece of the anti-choice playbook and retrace how the Radical Right has weaponized abortion in order to rig the political system in their favor.
[00:02:53] If we ever stand a chance of fighting back, we need to understand how the opposition has brought us to this moment. Only then can we stop them from taking the next step. Because of all the people who missed it (the pundits, the voters, the bloggers) there's one key person who did not underestimate the power of the anti-choice movement.
Ilyse Hogue [00:03:11] The person who knew that the barrier for entry for him was having a very out, loud, and proud anti-choice position. Trump knew that, right? Trump knew that that was the gateway to entry.
Jess McIntosh [00:03:26] That's Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. You know who didn't miss Trump's transactional love affair with the Radical Right? NARAL. They're the oldest organization solely dedicated to building political power around abortion rights.
[00:03:40] Every year, they release a report that details the state of reproductive freedom in America. But this year, they're releasing a book. And just to be clear, this is not a branded show. We're not going to do a little NARAL spiel every week. I'm not trying to sell you on anything except the book. You should read the book. OK, that's my first and last one. It's just important that you know where this research is coming from.
[00:04:01] We're taking this on because abortion is an issue, the other side is hoping we're too afraid to even talk about. And look, we know this is a complicated topic. Even people who wholeheartedly identify as progressive still have a lot of unresolved feelings around abortion. You may be one of them, but here's the thing: the anti-choice agenda is not just an anti-abortion agenda.
[00:04:23] The leaders of the Radical Right focus on abortion because they know that our unresolved feelings keep the pro-choice majority silent, which gives them space to consolidate power and build new alliances.
Ilyse Hogue [00:04:34] I think the thing that was really eye-opening for us in the process of researching the book is really understanding how these sort of disparate but ideologically aligned subcultures of the anti-choice movement, the white supremacists and the men's rights advocates converged to support Trump in a really powerfully toxic way. And that led us to the like, "well, how was there so much alignment there under this one person?" And what we figure it out is because there was always ideological alignment between racists, misogynists and anti-choice movement.
Loretta Ross [00:05:18] I don't think we could talk about the opposition to abortion without talking about the opposition to integration, gay marriage and immigrant rights all at the same time because it's all part of the same fabric of hatred.
Jess McIntosh [00:05:32] That's Loretta Ross, a lifelong activist for Reproductive Justice, who you also heard up top. She's right that opposition to abortion is embedded in our nation's fabric of hatred. But let's be clear. We're not doing this podcast to say that if you're a pro-choice or with conflicted feelings, that automatically makes you a racist or an enemy of women.
[00:05:50] We are doing this because we on the left cannot defeat the Radical Right if we're not willing to unapologetically fight for abortion access. And we can't wage that fight if we're not willing to take on racism and misogyny. Most importantly, in the short term, we can't win in 2020 unless we start to understand how all of these things link together.
Ellie Langford [00:06:10] Though it sounds if you listen to them like their end-all-be-all, the primary goal, what they're fighting for isn't actually to block abortion. It's so much bigger than that.
Jess McIntosh [00:06:21] That's Ellie Langford. She's the Director of Research at NARAL, and we should clarify. When we say their primary goal is not to block abortion, that does not mean GOP lawmakers aren't doing everything in their power to impose reproductive oppression across this country. They are.
[00:06:36] But the political issue of abortion is, itself, a Trojan Horse. It's a vehicle that carries within it a vast array of hidden agendas.
Ilyse Hogue [00:06:46] We knew we needed a symbol or an analogy to help people understand this concept that the medical procedure of abortion became code for so many dangerous and regressive policies that the right pushes as they fight for control. The Trojan Horse seemed like a perfect graphic image. The horse says abortion, abortion, abortion. But when you crack it open, it's just really old toxic ideas about race and gender and women in power that come tumbling out.
Ellie Langford [00:07:14] I do think it's accurate to say that the fight that conservatives are fighting is about control and that when they use the term abortion, it's a proxy for so many other things. That piece of it is something that they have learned to talk about, that they have taught people to hear in a particular way.
Jess McIntosh [00:07:32] They've had to do that because people like the idea of reproductive freedom. Our side has the popular opinion.
Ilyse Hogue [00:07:39] When you talked specifically about how popular the legal right to abortion is, the answer is very popular. Support for Roe is at a historic high. It's at 77 percent. The consensus is clear.
Jess McIntire [00:07:55] It's popular today. It was back then. In fact, in the late 60s, it was even popular with Republicans. Before Roe, the Bible Belt provided greater access to abortion than much of the rest of the country. In 1968, it was easier to get an abortion in Alabama than New York. Here's Pulitzer Prize winning historian and writer Linda Greenhouse.
Linda Greenhouse [00:08:15] The public opinion question is very interestingly counterintuitive. There was a Gallup poll taken in the summer of 1972, and the poll asked people, "Do you believe abortion should be a question left to a woman and her doctor?".
ARCHIVE: [00:08:31] On abortion, 73% of those asked said they agreed with the statement, quote, The decision to have an abortion should be left to the woman and her physician. Only 19% disagreed.
Linda Greenhouse [00:08:41] Even a majority of American Catholics said woman and doctor. A majority of men, a majority of women, across all demographics said it was time to get rid of the criminal regime in which abortion was illegal in almost every state.
Jess McIntosh [00:08:58] So this leads to the obvious question: if access to abortion has always had majority support, how did we get to where we are today? How did abortion become the cornerstone of a major political party and the credentialling issue for every Republican candidate running in America right now?
Ellie Langford [00:09:14] There's a lot in history that explains exactly where that came from and where that switch happens. And what really happened was in this idea of tapping into the Evangelical movement as a source of potential conservative voters.
Jess McIntosh [00:09:30] You might think that the modern day anti-choice movement originated during the early 70s in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision. You might think that because it's certainly the way the other side tells the story. But it actually begins with another Supreme Court case decided nearly 20 years earlier.
ARCHIVE: [00:09:51] I draw a line in the dust and toss a gauntlet before the feet of tyranny. I say segregation now. Segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.
Jess McIntosh [00:10:00] In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that "separate but equal" state segregation laws were unconstitutional.
ARCHIVE: [00:10:09] Certainly, there are none who believe that all states would react calmly to the Supreme Court decision putting an end to segregation in the public schools. This is and has been an issue which, like it or not, we had to face eventually.
ARCHIVE: [00:10:22] White and Negro students going to the same school, the big question is... can they get along together? Some people are worried about our kids.
ARCHIVE: [00:10:33] There's another idea that integration in the schools is not a matter to be decided on a federal basis by the Supreme Court. That is a function of the states. The states, it’s argued, know their own problems best. And so here we find those who hope the court eventually will permit desegregation to be handled at local levels.
Ellie Langford [00:10:53] Around the time of the civil rights movement, there was just such obvious change happening. And the conservative movement saw opportunity in that. And a threat, as well, that opportunity and threat, how they live together, is really a core theme that carries throughout so much of this story.
Ilyse Hogue [00:11:11] There are real moments that crystallized how this movement was built. You had the evangelicals who actually, through the late 60s and early 70s, were fighting school desegregation, invoking what they called religious liberty.
Ellie Langford [00:11:27] That religious freedom narrative has become something that is extremely flexible and has been used to justify all different types of discrimination. And that was something that was really pioneered during those kind of segregation fights.
Ilyse Hogue [00:11:43] I can't say that it was the first invocation in the political sphere of religious liberty, but I think for my generation, religious liberty is mostly synonymous now with like Hobby Lobby not wanting to give their employees contraception or, you know, a baker not wanting to bake a cake for gay weddings. And it really did strike me how little we know about their history. Therefore, our own history. Right. And so they literally said it was impinging on their religious freedom to have to send their kids to desegregated schools.
Jess McIntosh [00:12:17] So what do you do when you're forced to desegregate your schools? You make new ones. Evangelicals like Jerry Falwell opened their own segregation academies. Falwell's was called Lynchburg Christian School. And eventually the IRS started asking questions about these schools’ policy on race. Because Evangelicals didn't just want to use the idea of religious liberty to maintain segregation, they also wanted those schools to be tax exempt.
[00:12:42] In 1971, Nixon directed the IRS to start revoking tax exemptions for segregated schools. One of them, Bob Jones University, took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, where they lost. Badly.
[00:12:55] And this is the time that Evangelicals, who had long been reluctant to engage in politics, felt a threat that they were willing to mobilize around. And the Republican Party was ready with a strategy.
Ellie Langford [00:13:05] The Southern Strategy. Goldwater's initial idea of using race to tap into this southern white religious group that hadn't been reliable voters.
Jess McIntosh [00:13:20] The conservative Southern Strategy that evolved around the 1968 Barry Goldwater campaign is a key part of the story. It's when the definition of Republicans and Democrats starts to look more familiar to what we see today.
[00:13:32] When the Democratic Party aligned itself with the civil rights movement, segregationist Democrats fled straight into the arms of the Republican Party, who was willing to trade its dwindling support among liberal business oriented types for a new base that was white, southern and culturally conservative. When it was time to apply these tactics to a new cause, Jerry Falwell found himself again at the center of the action.
ARCHIVE: [00:13:54] Jerry Falwell is the best known of the TV preachers. From his church in Lynchburg, Virginia, he reaches an estimated 20 million viewers and raises over one million dollars every week.
ARCHIVE: [00:14:04] We have a three fold primary responsibility. Number one, get people saved. Number two, get them baptized. Number three, get them registered to vote.
Jess McIntosh [00:14:12] But this time, Falwell had a new ally: Paul Weyrich.
Ellie Langford [00:14:16] Weyrich and Falwell came from very different worlds. And Falwell had a huge following within the Christian movement. I wouldn't even call it the Christian Right at that point because it was their work together that really helped build the coalition we know today.
Jess McIntosh [00:14:31] They proposed a new religious conservative coalition that they dubbed the Moral Majority.
Ellie Langford [00:14:37] This idea of the Moral Majority was something Weyrich with kicking around. He was thinking about ways to build conservative power. He was thinking about ways to solidify a far right voting bloc. And he was thinking about people like Jerry Falwell, who he could court for those goals.
[00:14:55] The Moral Majority wasn't founded as an organization until 1979, but that didn't mean that these pieces weren't already coming together then.
[00:15:04] Weyrich really believed that if they were successful, they could build this majority that would exceed their wildest dreams and that would recreate the nation.
Jess McIntosh [00:15:18] So this is where we're going to leave the right for now, Falwell and Weirich are building their new coalition, even though they lost on segregation.
[00:15:25] They learned they could harness resentments within their evangelical base that could potentially be used to mobilize votes with the right issue. Meanwhile, the country overall is getting more liberal.
[00:15:34] And this brings us to Karen Mullhauser, former president of NARAL from 1973 to 1981, before she was an activist. She was teaching high school science. In the 60s. American culture shifted dramatically and the trajectory of her life shifted with it.
Karen Muhlhauser [00:15:51] After I stopped teaching high school, I did problem pregnancy counseling in Boston with a group that saw... You know, 20 or so girls and women a day who had unintended pregnancies and needed help.
Jess McIntosh [00:16:07] It's important to remember the idea of abortion access may have been popular, but the procedure was still very much illegal.
Karen Muhlhauser [00:16:14] I mean, I I know stories of people who did abortions in their basements.
Jess McIntosh [00:16:20] Covert organizations were starting to crop up all over the country to help women who were dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Of course, the resources available varied widely depending on the woman's income level.
Karen Muhlhauser [00:16:31] If they could afford it, I referred them to a chartered flight to London where abortion was legal. If they couldn't afford it, I referred them to an underground group called Clergy Counseling Service. These were ministers, rabbis and priests who would talk with the women and girls and make an illegal referral to a place where they had visited to know that it would be safe.
Jess McIntosh [00:16:57] If Republicans voting pro-choice as surprising, clergy members referring women for abortions is unimaginable. But these religious leaders knew that thousands of women were dying from unsafe abortions and that this was disproportionately impacting poor women.
[00:17:11] If you were a woman with money and connections, you could get a legal procedure performed by a doctor who deemed the pregnancy life-threatening, which was the only circumstance in which abortion was legal in some states.
Karen Muhlhauser [00:17:22] That sort of woke me up to an incredible need for education and also for advocacy. So I joined a group in Massachusetts that was called MORAL: the Massachusetts Organization for the Repeal of Abortion Laws. And there's a picture of me on the front page of the Boston Globe with my five month old child lobbying for abortion rights with the Massachusetts legislature.
Jess McIntosh [00:17:47] Women like Karen were challenging the stereotype that you could either be a mother or you could be a pro-choice feminist. There were suddenly more options than ever before, which was thrilling for some and terrifying for others.
Ilyse Hogue [00:17:59] The anxiety around what we now call reproductive rights and what that meant was really high. A lot of it was around the fact that 1972 birth control had become legal for unmarried women, and that meant that unmarried women were engaging overtly. They had always engaged in sex outside of procreation, but overtly right. Sexual liberation was happening. But people don't talk as much about the economic ramifications of that.
[00:18:29] When women were able to plan their families, they were able to think about long term careers, enter the workplace, not leave when they got pregnant and they were challenging men in the workplace in ways they never had before. And that was deeply concerning.
Jess McIntosh [00:18:44] A year after the pill was legalized, Roe v. Wade arrived at the Supreme Court. If you're listening to this podcast, you probably know this case. But here's something you might not know. Even though Roe v. Wade was a big step towards women's equality, the actual Supreme Court decision had nothing to do with equal rights.
[00:19:02] The Supreme Court held that a woman's right to an abortion was implicit in her right to privacy, which was protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Here's Linda Greenhouse again.
Linda Greenhouse [00:19:11] There was a lot of equal protection talk going on, by that time around, the abortion rights community, especially the feminist community, that criminalizing abortion was a violation of equal protection. The court just couldn't hear that. There's nothing of equal protection in Roe. The court didn't at that time really have a jurisprudence of equal protection that had anything to do with women. But Roe came early. It came before the nine middle aged to elderly men who then settled on the Supreme Court, really had their hands fully around the question of the role of women in society.
[00:19:53] What happened after Roe is really very fascinating and contingent on something that was going on on a completely different track. Second wave feminism, of course, and the Equal Rights Amendment. Again.
Jess McIntosh [00:20:14] The Equal Rights Amendment, commonly referred to as the ERA, was first introduced in Congress in 1923, but it never gained enough traction to pass. The rise of second wave feminism saw renewed support for the ERA in the 60s, and it was reintroduced in 1971 as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Its primary purpose: to end the legal distinctions between men and women. That equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Ellie Langford [00:20:45] The Equal Rights Amendment was supposed to be the first time that women were actually recognized in the Constitution, where equal rights for women were recognized, enshrined and forever more indisputable.
Jess McIntosh [00:21:02] So what happens to the ERA after it was brought to Congress? Well, you may be surprised to find out. It passed. The House of Representatives and the Senate approved it at a federal level in 1972. After that, they needed 38 states to ratify the amendment to make it valid nationwide.
Linda Greenhouse [00:21:19] The pendency of the ERA mobilized conservative Christians, many of them women, who really saw it as an opening wedge to revising the meaning of the structure of family life.
ARCHIVE: [00:21:35] The feminist women's movement evolved out of the civil rights and anti Vietnam War movements of the 60s. The new rights women's movement has emerged as a backlash against feminism and as a response to the economic stresses of the 70s. One of the best known anti feminists is Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, an organization dedicated to the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment. She is married to a millionaire and she has six children.
Linda Greenhouse [00:22:02] Was a very brilliant strategic conservative woman named Phyllis Schlafly, herself Catholic and politically conservative, who made the connection, found a connection, articulated a connection between the ERA and the right to abortion. And in doing that, she was really the founder of the pro family movement.
ARCHIVE: [00:22:24] I get fed up with the women's liberation is running down motherhood and saying that it's a menial, degrading career and that the home is a prison for which women should be liberated and brought out into this wonderful workforce. Now, the home is the most fulfilling place for most women.
[00:22:40] Are you comfortable in the fairness of your characterization of the women's movement?
[00:22:45] Have you ever read MS magazine?
[00:22:48] They invite women to sisterhood instead of marriage in the family. And I think it's very aptly named. You know, they call it Mizz. And if you read it, the only thing you can come to the conclusion is that it's a motivating, unifying force is the old adage misery loves company.
[00:23:05] Ms. is for Misery?
[00:23:06] Ms. is for Misery loves company, yes. It's a love of sort of unhappy complaints about unhappy women with problems. Everybody's got problems, but you don't have to look to the Constitution to solve it.
Ellie Langford [00:23:19] Phyllis Schlafly, she really wrote the playbook and really made her mark during the ERA debates.
Ilyse Hogue [00:23:28] They really centered most of their efforts early on on defeating the ERA, which they made outlandish claims about. Right. Like it was just going to be the end of, like, family as we knew it if the ERA passed.
ARCHIVE: [00:23:41] Laws of our country have given a very wonderful status to the married woman and the wife has a great deal of many rights. For example, she has the legal right to be supported by her husband. And these are the laws which will be invalidated, by the Equal Rights Amendment. It's part of the marriage contract that the husband knows when he gets married, he assumes the obligation to support his wife and children.
ARCHIVE: [00:24:05] It's absolutely incorrect, Phyllis. There is no law whatsoever in any state that requires a husband to support his wife.
Ellie Langford [00:24:11] She was able to stir up a lot of traditionalist fundamentalist outrage over potential changes in society. And she got a lot of mostly white, very conservative women to jump in behind that and to fight for what they cast as their privileges. Their privilege to be protected, their privilege to not be drafted, to inherit their husband's Social Security benefits, and to convince women, again, mostly privileged, mostly white women, that it was in their interest to stand up for patriarchy.
ARCHIVE: [00:24:56] The right has fairly successfully substantively spoken to some very real fears.
ARCHIVE: [00:25:03] The place where I feel myself able to connect with the women that have lobbied against the issues that I cared very much about is there fear. I'm also a middle aged woman coming out of the 28 year marriage and I really understand the fear of losing status.
Jess McIntosh [00:25:24] And this is where all the disparate conservative movements start to come together. GOP operatives like Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell saw how successfully Phyllis Schlafly had mobilized white conservative women in opposition to second wave feminism. They understood that these tactics could resuscitate the GOP strategy.
Ellie Langford [00:25:41] That momentum that they were able to build around segregation looked like it was going to peter out. And I think Phyllis Schlafly was the answer to their prayers. And it wasn't until she burst onto the scene that the ERA started to lose momentum. Up until that point, both parties were fully backing it. It was moving quickly through the states and it was looking like it was going to be ratified.
Jess McIntosh [00:26:08] With broad bipartisan support through 1977, the amendment received 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications. The ERA just needed three more states. But the outlandish claims by Phyllis Schlafly and the Eagle Forum had poisoned the conversation. Feeling the mounting conservative pressure, five state legislatures voted to revoke their ERA ratifications.
ARCHIVE: [00:26:31] The legislature in Nebraska was not reacting to opposition to ERA mobilized by sexist males, but by women, many of whom on second blush are discovering in the amendment implications they regard as inimical to the best interests of American women. The national chairman of the movement to Stop ERA is Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly.
Linda Greenhouse [00:26:57] Of course, it succeeded in defeating the ERA and she brought together, in coalition, Catholics and Evangelicals who historically had been quite suspicious of one another and had not joined forces on any social policy before then.
Jess McIntosh [00:27:14] The battle for the NRA isn't over. In early 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Its future is still unknown, but the course of the original fight had major political implications for the GOP strategy.
Linda Greenhouse [00:27:29] And with respect to abortion it showed the way for Republicans to realign themselves as the anti-abortion party in the hope of roping in conservative but DemocraticCatholic voters in the Northeast in much the same way that the Republicans have the Southern Strategy.
Jess McIntosh [00:27:54] Conservative leaders paid close attention to the rise and fall of the ERA. The 60s and 70s had revealed some powerful elements that could be used to activate a new base. They found they could mobilize people by harnessing fear, tapping into racism and misogyny and wrapping it all in fundamentalism. Through their battle over segregation academies, they learned that Evangelicals could become a reliable voting bloc if they were given an issue they could get behind.
[00:28:18] By looking over Phyllis Schlafly's shoulder, they discovered that misogyny is an ingrained value for both men and women. Through both fights, they played on white Americans’ fear of losing status, and religious fundamentalism gave them a respectable reason to wage a fight. Now they just needed to build infrastructure to implement these ideas. This brings us back to Paul Weyrich.
ARCHIVE: [00:28:40] I suppose the more important thing that I did was to try to bring together the--what is now known as--the religious right. Those people were not active in politics. And I served as sort of a coach to get them active in the political process. And today, as you know, they're an important element in electing even the president of the United States.
Ilyse Hogue [00:29:15] So, Paul Weyrich is this fascinating character. He’s probably the least well known and most significant person in this entire story. He was as radical as radical could be. He actually ascribed to this idea of dominionism, which is this sort of variant like Old Testament idea that white men were gifted this earth from God and that in order to, like, live by God's will, white men had to stay in power. He was a primary architect of almost every institution we now recognize as part of the conservative movement.
Ellie Langford [00:29:55] Paul Weyrich was the founder of the Heritage Foundation. It was a new organization in 1973, the same year that Roe was passed and it was this think tank that became a juggernaut within the conservative movement, mostly because of its focus on message discipline and its emphasis on framing things in a carefully tested and highly strategic way.
Jess McIntosh [00:30:14] The birth of the Heritage Foundation is really a turning point. It's when the scaffolding of the Radical Right takes shape.
Ilyse Hogue [00:30:21] When you look at the network of institutions that have their roots on the right in the post civil rights era. They all sort of emanated from this common place. And that was this idea that there was a war on white Christian culture and that it was going to require or just substantial infrastructure to fight it and maintain power. And so if you think about that, the groups that came out of that, whether it's Heritage Foundation or Council for National Policy or ALEC or the Federalist Society, that we actually sort of think of as just establishment organizations at this point. They all were the brainchild of the Falwells and the Weyrichs who were actually trying to do this thing, which is stay in control, economic control, cultural control, political control. They all came from the same place.
Jess McIntosh [00:31:26] The tangled roots structure of these establishment organizations makes it difficult to even classify them without inadvertently playing into their agenda.
Ilyse Hogue [00:31:34] The reason that I think people get tied up in knots about whether things like Federalist Society or Heritage are anti-choice or Radical Right or religious right is because there is no distinction between them. They are actually all one thing. We just actually think that they are the Radical Right. We sort of give them an advantage and do ourselves a disservice if we start to sub categorize them by tactic rather than recognizing the wholeness of their ideology.
Jess McIntosh [00:32:07] The blurred lines between authoritarianism and religiosity were built into the architecture of the radical right. Weyrich and his allies had a keen understanding that in order to have maximum impact, they had to package their fundamentalist values in non-religious language. As an eventual president of the foundation put it, they set out to not just make their conservative ideas respectable, but mainstream. And to set the terms of the national policy debate.
Loretta Ross [00:32:34] When they decided in the 70s to become openly political and openly dictate religious politics into the secular realm, I don't think that we understood how they weren't just trying to control sex or sexuality and morality. They were trying to protect democracy from diversity. Protect democracy from equity and equality.
Jess McIntosh [00:33:01] If that sounds like a shocking claim, it’s because the control agenda inside of the Trojan horse is shocking. Here's Paul Weyrich in his own words.
ARCHIVE: [00:33:10] Many of our Christians have what I call the Goo Goo Syndrome, good government. They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country. And they are not. Now, as a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.
Ilyse Hogue [00:33:35] You know, I always say a couple different things happen. They lost the school desegregation fight not because we solved structural racism in the schools, but because the Civil Rights Act became law in the country, sort of moved on. And then Phyllis Schlafly and Anita Bryant actually won the ERA. Right.
[00:33:51] Like the Eagle Forum, defeated the ERA and they needed something new to organize around. And when you think about like, what did that look like? There is this moment that is well documented of these groups getting together in the late 70s saying we need something new to organize around.
ARCHIVE: [00:34:09] According to Weyrich and by the way, he told me this directly. Once these Evangelical leaders had mobilized in defense of Bob Jones University, they held a conference call to discuss the prospect of other political activities.
Jess McIntosh [00:34:24] That's Dr. Randall Balmer. He's written extensively about evangelicalism in America and the real origins of the radical right. This conference call between conservative leaders is well-documented, but Balmer heard about it from Weyrich himself.
ARCHIVE: [00:34:36] Several people suggested possible issues. And finally, a voice on the end of one of the lines said, how about abortion? And that, according to Weyrich, was how abortion was cobbled into the agenda of the religious right in the late 1970s, not as a direct response to the January 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Ilyse Hogue [00:35:00] Paul Weyrich, the sort of founding father of the Trojan Horse itself, recognized that there was no sort of innate resistance to the idea of terminating a pregnancy. In fact, natural sort of compassion was with a woman facing a situation that she didn't feel like she could handle. And so he knew that he had to build essentially a propaganda machine that was grounded in disinformation, lies, in order to catalyze the resistance that he wanted.
[00:35:32] He gambled very effectively that he could use abortion as the exterior to at least silence people, if not win them over.
Jess McIntosh [00:35:42] Evangelicals batted around a bunch of issues on that conference call, prayer in schools, pornography, gay marriage, and while they have definitely fought against those things, making abortion, their key issue made a lot of sense tactically. It plays on all the stigmas Americans still hold about empowered women, sex and gender roles. So it totally distracts from their true agenda.
Ilyse Hogue [00:36:03] To me, it's been really important to look at what they don't speak up on. The far right infrastructure that has promoted reproductive oppression and built this Trojan horse doesn't actually advocate for widespread health insurance for children. It does not actually advocate for policies that support working moms, because it doesn't really think moms should be working.
[00:36:27] And so it's not trying to level the playing field and create a healthy environment for all families and all kids. It's actually trying to use the law and policy to enforce a perception of what families should look like and everyone has to fit within it.
Jess McIntosh [00:36:48] The only policies they do advocate for are punitive laws designed to regulate pregnancies. They claim these laws are in the name of protecting children. Yet they are completely divorced from the reality of what it's like to actually birth and raise a child.
Loretta Ross [00:37:03] Any person at the time that they decided that they want to become a parent is probably going to be asking themselves questions about the conditions under which they will raise these children.
Jess McIntosh [00:37:19] This brings us back to Loretta Ross and an important term you're going to be hearing a lot throughout this series. Reproductive Justice.
Loretta Ross [00:37:27] I'm one of twelve black women who created the term Reproductive Justice in 1994, and then we expanded it to base it on the human rights framework, meaning that every human being has the right to have a child, to not have a child and to parent the children that they have in safe and healthy communities.
Jess McIntosh [00:37:52] With the right hyper focused on controlling and legislating women's bodies, the left can get serious about defending children and mothers. Too often we cede the ground of family values to the opposition, but here's the reality.
Loretta Ross [00:38:00] I mean, we do care about the quality of life of the children that we choose to bring into the world. It's just human to be concerned about, what are the conditions under which I'm going to have to parent, whether or not I have access to health care, whether or not I'll get fired from my job if I tell them I'm pregnant, are beaten by my partner, if I tell them I'm pregnant.
[00:38:23] I mean, all of these are legitimate reproductive health concerns that people consider when deciding whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy. And because we enfold all of those into Reproductive Justice, I think it makes it attractive for people to talk about it as a container for all these apparently disconnected issues that are really part of the same decision-making process.
Jess McIntosh [00:38:51] The anti-choice movement isn't just about abortion and neither is reproductive justice. It's about all the policy concerns that grant people the ability and freedom to make empowered decisions. Loretta has seen a lot of success, but our progress is on shaky ground.
Loretta Ross [00:39:06] Well, it is distressing to see how far we get push back every time we try to take a step forward. Obviously, when I became an activist in the 1970s, I had no idea that 50 years later I would still be fighting for the same things. I had no idea how crazy it would get.
Jess McIntosh [00:39:27] Let's face it, we're here because none of us had any idea how crazy it would get. Which brings us back to where we started this story, in 2016 with Donald Trump riding a wave of racism all the way to the White House.
Ilyse Hogue [00:39:39] Donald Trump's election and what it ushered in in terms of overt misogyny, overt white supremacy, along with the sort of traditional Radical Right, what we talk about as anti-choice movements, was such a startling illustration of the efficacy, the toxic efficacy of this Trojan Horse that they built so many years ago around abortion.
Jess McIntosh [00:40:10] That last detail is important. The Radical Right started building Trump's coalition decades ago.
Ilyse Hogue [00:40:16] Look, there is ample evidence of the convergence of these movements from legislators in Florida to Governor LePage to our favorite racist Steve King in Iowa actually using what the white supremacist movement calls replacement theory.
Jess McIntosh [00:40:36] Quick note, that racist lost his primary in June 2020
Ilyse Hogue [00:40:39] Right. The idea that white people are being replaced in our country by people of color to outlaw abortion because white women need to have more babies, they just say that overtly.
[00:40:46] Right, like they're they're just literally carrying themes straight out of the KKK, into the halls of state legislatures and Congress. If you look at the way that anti-choice movement has built its own media life news, LifeSite news that carries a lot of white supremacist propaganda,.
ARCHIVE: [00:41:09] The birth rate is going back up for pro-life people. At least that's true in North America. Europe is dying. Wait another 20 or 30 years and it'll be a Muslim continent. We in North America have a real burden for maintaining civilization as we've known it.
Jess McIntosh [00:41:27] That's Dr. John Willke speaking on LifeSite News. He is commonly known as the father of the pro-life movement. We'll meet him properly in episode two. But that little tidbit should give you a sense of how the Radical Right uses anti-choice language to amplify white supremacist ideas.
Loretta Ross [00:41:45] Now, whether or not they'll be ultimately successful, I don't think so. I believe that they're demographically doomed to a very short period of time. The white population is going to be a minority in the United States, and that's what they're afraid of. I think that they're trying to hold back time, which is impossible.
[00:42:04] They're trying to reverse us all back to the 19th century. Which is impossible. So I don't think that they're going to succeed overall. Now, whether or not they will be vicious in the short term goes without saying. They're going to do a lot of damage in their last grasp on power.
Ilyse Hogue [00:42:23] When you don't have a popular agenda, you have to pursue other ways of maintaining power. Some of that looks like voter suppression. Some of that looks like gerrymandering so that you’re disproportionately advantaging a minority of the population in representative government.
Loretta Ross [00:42:41] Words like gerrymandering and voter suppression might start to sound theoretical the more you repeat them. But these are the tactics the radical right uses to rig the system. If you need a concrete example, look no further than Georgia's 2018 governor race between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams. The race was held five years after the Supreme Court's 2013 decision to invalidate key pieces of the Voting Rights Act, which opened the floodgates for targeted voter I.D. laws and voter purchase in states that had previously had necessary protections.
Stacey Abrams [00:43:11] After the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, suddenly you saw this raft of new laws that made it harder and harder to vote. As a legislator, that was important to me because I believe in the right to vote. And as someone who speaks for the people, I need to hear what they say. And then as a candidate for governor myself, in 2018, I watched voter suppression steal the votes and the voices from tens of thousands of Georgians.
Jess McIntosh [00:43:38] That's Stacey Abrams. Since that election, leader, Abrams has become a powerhouse on the left. Her loss in Georgia embodies the most aggressive tactics the radical right uses to maintain control. You see, her opponent, Brian Kemp, was wildly flagrant about gaming the system. He didn't just disenfranchise voters. But as secretary of state, he was also the person in charge of guaranteeing a fair election process for the election in which he was a candidate.
Stacey Abrams [00:44:04] We had one point 4 million voters purged over his tenure. We had 53,000 registrations held hostage under his misuse of the law known as exact match. And we saw in the state of Georgia more than 200 polling places shut down under his watch. And each of those had the effect of blocking people from their right to vote. But I think the most obscene part was the fact that he did so, claiming to be a protector of democracy. And the problem was he only wanted to protect democracy for those who said what he wanted to hear.
Jess McIntosh [00:44:43] So what does any of this have to do with reproductive rights?
Stacey Abrams [00:44:46] Voter suppression and reproductive oppression exist in tandem because what it says is that not only do not have the right to control your body, you don't have the right to be heard about what you should be allowed to do. Reproductive rights have long been used as a weapon against women and against communities that need access to resources and services.
[00:45:09] We know that the issue of abortion rights did not become a political issue until Republicans saw that they couldn't win elections any other way. And it became one of the markers they used to separate communities that had common cause on so many issues. And in Georgia, for example, the very person who won the election in 2018 by suppressing votes then went against the will of Georgians to pass a forced pregnancy bill.
Jess McIntosh [00:45:44] We'll go into this bill more in the next episode. But voters in Georgia had a clear choice between Brian Kemp, who is making deals with the Radical Right, and Stacey Abrams, who was not afraid to talk about reproductive freedom.
Stacey Abrams [00:45:56] I talked about the challenges facing the reproductive choice communities, because if you are a woman of color, reproductive justice has multiple facets to it. And I understood that. And so you have to be able to not only talk about what is, you've got to be able to understand what barriers exist and the barriers differ from community to community.
Jess McIntosh [00:46:18] The less we talk about the real concerns of these communities, the more we cede power to the opposition.
Ilyse Hogue [00:46:23] That is my biggest fear, is that we play into their plan to keep this narrowly focused on abortion, which keeps us silent, but also doesn't allow us to tell the broader picture, that this is a moment to define about control versus freedom.
Stacey Abrams [00:46:44] And then you have to trust that people should be able to speak that aloud by ensuring that they have the right to vote. And so we not only did the work of engaging communities talking to them, but then also trying to create pathways for their voices to be heard and but for voter suppression, I believe we would've been successful. And so I've watched a Fair Fight Action in Georgia and that has been focused on the 20 states where voter suppression has the strongest hold on our electorate.
Jess McIntosh [00:47:11] The work she is doing is making a difference, and it's getting the attention of fellow activists like Loretta Ross.
Loretta Ross [00:47:16] Well, I think that what Stacey Abrams was doing down in Georgia with their fight is one of those examples of how you do it. I mean, she has demonstrated that you can win elections and animate and energize people to come to the polls.
[00:47:32] And the only thing really standing in our way is the fact that they have to rig the system in order to illegally steal elections. And so we don't need a blue wave. We need a blue tsunami.
Ilyse Hogue [00:47:48] We have to recognize that things that are even deeply unpopular are being effective under Trump. And they will go as far as they can and they are putting in place as many institutional pieces of power to allow the legacy of this administration to live on well beyond its years.
Loretta Ross [00:48:11] I mean, there are so many fronts on which they're deconstructing democracy that we need to be really concerned about because it's going to take a long time and a lot of effort to even restore the very partially realized democracy we had before they began this version 50 years ago.
[00:48:33] It's going to take a lot of patience, a lot of lawsuits, a lot of overwhelming organizing. But you're talking about a descendant of slaves, so you're talking about someone who'd never thought that America was what it should be, but never gave up on the hope that America can be something better.
Ilyse Hogue [00:48:56] 2020 is the tipping point. We will look back and see this as the moment whether we made a decision to actually stand up and fight back or where we surrendered future generations’ rights. This is a fight about freedom versus control, about dignity vs. oppression. And we must center it as such within every conversation we have, with every candidate, within every decision we make, about how we vote and how we tell the story of the 2020 election.
[00:49:40] If we do, we can pave the way for a much, much more just future. And if we don't, we will deeply regret it.
Jess McIntosh [00:49:50] This isn't about women's issues. This isn't about identity politics. This is about a nation fighting for its soul. This is about us: a citizenry who is being systematically cut off from our ability to shape the direction of our democracy.
[00:50:04] It has been less than half a century since anti-choice ideology was created out of thin air by a small group of bigoted political operatives hoping to exploit religious Americans for political gain.
[00:50:16] For all their talk about faith and morality, people of faith weren't the inspiration for this movement. If anything, they were the easy marks.
[00:50:24] But today they can claim the lion's share of credit for electing the president, and the Radical Right is inches away from achieving their ultimate goal of erasing the progress made by women since the 1960s, thanks to reproductive freedom.
[00:50:35] Over the next five episodes, we'll continue to explore how the anti-choice playbook has been perfected over time. From Phyllis Schlafly to Kellyanne Conway, from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump. Most importantly, we'll share some of the ways that you can actually fight back.