The Corner

Law & the Courts

This Is Your Brain on Identity Politics: Abortion Edition

A woman holds a sign during a pro-life march in Queens, New York, October 20, 2012. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Identity politics doesn’t just make people annoying. It makes them stupid. If everything is ultimately about race, then, well, everything is ultimately about race. Tax cuts? Race. The Constitution? Race. Crime? Race. All of politics, with its nuances and its undulations, becomes nothing more than an investigation into skin.

There’s an oddball sketch from the British comedy troupe Big Train that mocks this sort of monomaniacal thinking. A new man is introduced to a couple of friends in a pub, and he responds to literally everything by contending that it must be a veiled reference to his not being married:

Person A: Yeah. Yeah, we were on the train. Um . . . Yeah, we were in the carriage and there were a couple of kids kicking a can of Coke about…
Person B: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I know how this story ends.
Person A: Yeah?
Person B: Ends with me not being married, doesn’t it?
Person A: What?
Person B: You think I don’t know what you’re saying? Coke cans. Not Tango, Coke cans. You’re talking about me not being married again.

Shockingly enough, the poor guy in the sketch who is trying to tell a story is not, in fact, talking about the man he has never met before not being married.

Enter Politico, which has a piece up today titled, The Real Origins of the Religious Right, the purpose of which is to suggest that the tens of millions of Americans who care deeply about abortion do not actually care about abortion, but are just good old-fashioned racists:

But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.

It would be worth addressing the historical argument being made here at greater length. But, for now, I want to push back against the broader implication of the piece, which was summed up well by the editor-at-large of Newsweek, MSNBC’s Naveed Jamali, who argued this morning that “the pro-life movement has always been about white supremacy.”

This is the sort of nonsense that one begins to spout when one has turned off one’s brain, and, instead of thinking questions through, decided that there can be only two sort of people in America: Good People and White Supremacist People. It is also a ridiculous non sequitur. It is not true that the pro-life movement came out of “white supremacy.” But even if it were — as is true of, say, the gun control movement, which until 1970 really was inextricable from racism — that would in no way imply that modern pro-lifers were motivated by animus toward people who aren’t white.

They’re not. Indeed, the argument doesn’t even make sense. Per a research paper put together by the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, and presented to Congress:

According to the 2011 Abortion Surveillance Report issued by the Center for Disease Control, black women make up 14 percent of the childbearing population, yet obtained 36.2 percent of reported abortions. Black women have the highest abortion ratio in the country, with 474 abortions per 1,000 live births. Percentages at these levels illustrate that more than 19 million black babies have been aborted since 1973.

Moreover:

According to the Departments of Public Health of every state that reports abortion by ethnicity; black women disproportionately lead in the numbers. For example, in Mississippi, 79 percent of abortions are obtained by black women; in Washington, D.C., more than 60 percent; in Georgia, 59.4 percent; in Alabama, 58.4 percent.

Clearly, there is no white supremacist in the world who would look at these numbers and say, “boy, we’d better stop that.” The idea is self-evidently absurd, which is why real-life white supremacists tend to be militantly pro-choice. When one adds to this that, per polling from last year, white people seem to have almost identical views on abortion to Hispanic people, the claim becomes sillier still.

All told, the core position held by pro-lifers is simple: That an unborn child is alive, and that it is wrong to take innocent life. They may disagree on a few details or on the most appropriate set of government policies, and they may have arrived at their beliefs for different reasons or at different times (despite being an atheist, I have always been pro-life — even in England, where that is an unusual position). But the root contention is pretty elementary: That there are two bodies involved in a pregnancy, and that deliberately killing one of them is morally wrong. Jimmy Carter, as with almost everything else at stake in our modern politics, simply doesn’t enter into the equation.

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