What can I, a cisgender man, say about abortion? I don’t really have an answer to that. But I do think it is vital that cis men do pick up some of the emotional labour. Recently, I have been talking to myself about Roe and hopefully this blog at the very least provokes questions. Increasingly, I have been made aware of the silence of cisgender men on Roe v. Wade while people from marginalised genders continue to pick up the emotional labour. Here, I aim to create what the late US senator John Lewis referred to as “good trouble … necessary trouble” to poke holes in the status quo.
Also, what could Roe v. Wade mean for us in Britain? The overturning of Roe situates the continued upholding of white supremacy through racial and gendered violence. First of all, in America there sits a racist enterprise that did not start with Trump (as convenient that would be to claim) but is centuries in the making. In his 1987 book The Birth Dearth, presidential advisor and author Ben Wattenberg wrote:
At the time he wrote this, he was criticised as a white supremacist, as in the 1980s, the majority of immigrants moving into the United States were Black and Brown. In the book, he also claims 60% of the fetuses being aborted where white and if they could be kept alive, it would solve what he called “the birth dearth.” And what he was talking about is exactly as it sounds … eugenics.
In their 2021 essay ‘The Birth Dearth: The Sad but True Reason Why What’s Happening in Texas Right Now Shouldn’t Surprise You’, Ajah Hales writes
“Wattenberg peddled soft eugenics dressed up as concern for the economy and democracy across the globe. Becoming the world’s most powerful nation was, to Wattenberg, due to the efforts, values and contributions of white men, particularly Western Europeans.
Now the battle for control of white women’s uteri moved from a moralistic argument to a nationalistic one. I say white women because the reproductive organs of Black and other women of color were being policed in a totally different way.
While white women were encouraged to have babies, women of color were being forcibly sterilized and having dangerous forms of birth control pushed on them, sometimes through the use of financial incentives or time off of prison sentences.”
Over the past few days since the overturning of the Roe precedent, I have seen numbers of people (especially cisgender white women) posting memes and images of that ilk from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to depict a “new” dystopian present. It comes in the thinking of a “new” needed “feminist” reply to the overturning of Roe, as if the policing of people’s bodies only started now. Where was that support when Black women were asking in 2020 in response to the Murder of Breonna Taylor, and prior with the further murders of Black women by police? #SayHerName. Long story short, state violence that has always discriminated against the Global Majority, many white women are now seeing that what has frequently occurred in the long reach of colonial history, can also happen to them!
The use of The Handmaid’s Tale is offensive because the novel is basically, a study in whitewashing what happened to Black and Brown women historically in the United States, only then adapting it to white women’s lives in a fictional context. Only by applying it to white women, did a number of white people understand Black and Brown trauma, even more concerning that in a 2020 exit poll 55% of white women voters reportedly voted Trump. Furthermore, in America today it is also a crime for most ex-convicts to vote where this overturning of Roe will further disenfranchise many. Not just cis women but also transgender men, as well as many nonbinary and and intersex people. So, in many states now, access to safe abortions have now been criminalised. As Katie Halper said in a Double Down News broadcast,
The prevalence around guns and the policing of bodies (particlarly marginalised genders) takes me back to the ethos America was founded on – violence, violence, and more violence – where guns have more rights than sentient life. White terrorism continues in the 21st century just as it did 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. In 2022 at a Save America Rally, GOP congresswoman Mary Miller told an audience the overturning of Roe was “a historic victory for white life” bringing us back to The Great Replacement theory and a white fear of being outnumbered by Black and Brown people (that same fear could be argued to have been present in Enoch Powel’s 1968 River of Blood speech, further to changes to 1970s UK policing, as well as the implementation of the Nationality and Borders Act which could impact up to 6m people).
There is also a further Christian supremacy in the politicising of abortion to gain votes, and Christianity was historically the trojan horse for white supremacy. Intertwined with male supremacy (patriarchy … emphasis on white men here, but clearly not exclusively … i.e Black / Brown Conservatives and “nice white women“) this revisits what I like to call the Mad Men Thesis after the 2007 drama series set in the 1960s – discussing a patriarchy that asserted a woman’s place was to “serve” men, be it at work (doing the labour while men took credit) or home making house and raising children (while the husband took credit). These sorts of men also pushed values that protected their status (see phalluscentrism and what Laura Mulvey writes on the Male Gaze … misogyny in film), further to obsessions with holding power of over women.
This is in essence the boomerang movement of patriarchal white supremacy, as what frequently occurred in the domicile and / or global in/external elsewhere to Black and Brown people can happen to white people too if the state chooses! What’s been frequently said is that this sort of violence starts with us, but what gets missed is that it doesn’t end with us. For example, the Sarah Everard vigil was a stark reminder that police brutality that has long haunted Black and Brown people’s lives, can also impact the lives of cis white women even within their bubble of whiteness. Everyone who lives under the state is at risk of state violence depending on proximity (we have more in common than not).
However, in a UK context, it is interesting but not surprising to see many Britons othering the overturning of Roe v. Wade as an exclusively American issue when as we know all too well, where America leads Britain all too often follows. Whilst we most definitely should be in solidarity with our friends and colleagues in the United States, we must not get complacent in that textbook British exceptionalism. The overturning of Roe is fascism and fascism is also happening on British soil too. Since as of now, both the Nationality and Borders Bill (known as the Borders Act) and the Crime, Policing and Sentencing Bill (Courts Act) are etched into law. It doesn’t take much thought to see how a Roe v Wade situation could easily happen here.
In October 2019, Northern Ireland decriminalised abortion, but access to abortion is still precarious and abortion services have not yet been commissioned. And as Rachel Connolly writes “… the health minister Robin Swann, has refused to comply.” Amid the British state’s actions in criminalising asylum seekers and fostering a culture that seeks to normalise anti-trans violence (#RowlingGate) as the Tories continue to attack the rights of trans people as well, I hear a lot of this could never happen in Britain rhetoric. But it could happen in Britain and it is happening in Britain: anti-abortion laws are not only a gender issue but a human rights issue, where anti-abortion discourse harms on numerous grounds.
For example trans men and intersex people will also be impacted, further to working-class, the disabled and Black and Brown people. If what happened in America comes to Britain, the Tory horror show will grow darker while the National Health Service is auctioned off to the highest bidder … many of them American corporations where profits will be put ahead of people’s lives and wellbeing, as the NHS is victim of a forty-year stealth attack that started under Margaret Thatcher. With the NHS being sold off, how will those who rely on it be able to afford abortions, let alone access one, should they become criminalised too? And further plans to make “reforms” to the Human Rights Act, leave us in a vulnerable state of affairs. Britain is not America, but that “special relationship” appears in more ways than one.
Like the Borders Act as well as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, Roe v Wade didn’t just happen at random – and it also implicates far-right fantasies lead by Black and Brown conservatives as Nel Abbey tweeted: “The unspeakably dark side of having to work twice as hard and be twice as good to stand out” where Black judge Clarence Thomas revisits how white supremacy can come with a Black face.
During his confirmation hearing, he accused people of a “high-tech lynching” when he was accused of sexually harrassing Anita Hill. And as Katie Halper states, “one could argue without Joe Biden, Clarence Thomas would not be on the Supreme Courts today.” Yet, the Dems had ample chances to codify Roe into law but didn’t because … no backbone. As Obama stated in 2009, that an abortion rights law wasn’t a top priority. And really to sit at the table, you need (to varying degrees) emulate the master. As whiteness is as much exclusively about “being white” as patriarchy is as much exclusively about “being a man.”
America was a British colony for years and the US was founded on social discourses of industrialised rape via enslavement to create labour; kidnap of Indigenous children via white supremacist boarding schools; the enslavement of African children co-opted into the plantation economy, and restrictive immigration policies (such as the Chinese Exclusion Act 1882). Also, consider recently with anti-trans legislation being pushed through on multiple fronts, as well as sodomy laws that still existed in sixteen states as of 2020.
With the rolling back of human rights in Britain including on immigration and protest, we may then see future far-right attacks against reproductive freedoms that will hurt the marginalised worst of all. Just like in America, here in Britain we can’t vote our way out of this and we must make it “politically painful” (as Katie Halper says) for politicians to continue their middle-of-the-road politics. Call them Labour or Conservative, they will not save us and will leave us to rot in the gutter. More recently, unionists like Mike Lynch have proved a better opposition to the Tories than Kier Starmer (let alone Labour) symbolic of the power of working-class resistance in bringing political pain to a media class in cahoots with Government.
In the long reach of American history following and predating Reagan, social murder is commonpractice in the daily drumbeat we call structural violence. We lay naked in the synapse of crime and punishment, and the overturning of Roe is the latest iteration where what has been long-known by many Black and Brown people, many white people are now taking notice as it now impacts them where they sleep.
Under the rhetoric of anti-abortion, these people are pro-life until the child is born. But these same people will then support easy access to lethal weapons, where an AR-15 whose sole purpose is to kill has more rights than life itself. British exceptionalism has no place in this discussion because if a Roe comes to Britain and passes like in America, many of us are going to die. And you will never see the murderer.