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The Origin Story of the Pro-Death Movement


Two weeks ago, I excoriated the New York Times for its heavy hand in election coverage, for compulsively favoring the horserace over the survival of the American Experiment.

Of course, no sooner had I done that then they published the sort of eye-opening exposé that few journalistic organizations have the resources to pull off anymore. Which only served to underscore what we’ve been missing from the Times in this year of hair-raising silliness.

It was a long and depressing article about the behind-the-scenes machinations that led to the fall of Roe v. Wade. It tells of a loose but vast movement of religious zealots, reactionary lawyers, and red-state legislators who saw the election of Donald Trump as the moment they’d been waiting for. Think of them as the pro-death movement:

[T]hey had built an elite legal and ideological ecosystem of activists, organizations, lawmakers and pro bono lawyers around their cause. Their policy arms churned out legal arguments and medical studies. Their lawyers argued their cases, and their judges ruled on them, all fostered by the bench that [Leonard] Leo built. And their allied lawmakers pushed their agenda in statehouses and Congress.

They’d already been chipping away at Roe for years — little by little, state by state — enacting laws that slowly strangled access to abortion. In some states, they’d successfully narrowed the time window for legal abortions from 24 weeks to 20, and they had their sights on 15 weeks.

By the time of Trump’s inauguration, Christo-fascist Leonard Leo, with the help of Mitch McConnell, already had a stolen Supreme Court seat in the bag. Out of that bag slithered Neil Gorsuch.

Back then, the movement’s lawyers had every reason to believe they could get Justice Anthony Kennedy — the supposed swing vote on the Court — to support their 15-week ban. They weren’t trying to overturn Roe — that was still only a distant dream — but they regarded 15 weeks as a good step in that direction.

First, they needed a state law that could serve as a test case for this new-look SCOTUS. The law had to restrict abortion in just the right way, so as to attract just the right kind of lawsuit. They started by imagining the SCOTUS decision they wanted, then reverse-engineered that into a law they thought might get them there.

Such a law could only be passed in a deep red state, and they settled on Mississippi — imagine that — where the legislature dutifully enacted what became the most restrictive abortion law in the country.

This was never about family policy, women’s health, or the public good. All they cared about was getting sued in such a way that SCOTUS would take an interest in the case. Within minutes of the governor’s signature, Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the only abortion facility left in the state — had no choice but to sue or go out of business. Game on.

But even then, the movement’s ambitions were modest. They were still looking to make 15 weeks the cutoff for allowing abortion. Not that they thought this would save many babies — the unborn are less important to them than the subjugation of women — but they were committed to the incremental approach, to gradually reducing the cut-off period until they could get it close to zero.

As the case — Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health — climbed up the court system, the movement was still honing legal arguments with Kennedy in mind, and their lawyers were feeling good about ultimately getting him to swing their way.

Then, out of the blue, Kennedy retired, an act that still carries the stink of Trump-ish treachery. Brett Kavanaugh emerged from the ooze and took his place, and suddenly the 15-week ban was looking better than ever.

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the coup de grace for Roe. Amy Coney Barrett lied her way onto the court in the waning months of the Trump administration, and the pro-death movement was off and running.

Suddenly, it had real teeth, and its more adventurous lawyers now saw an opportunity to blow right past the 15-week ban and go all-in for the grand prize. Maybe, just maybe, they could get rid of Roe once and for all.

The Dobbs decision was the movement’s crowning achievement, but they didn’t just take a victory lap and go away. They now had all the machinery in place to take aim at contraception, IVF, and anything else that stands in the way of regulated sex and forced birth.

But they still have much more work to do on the abortion front, and their red-state lawmakers have been cranking out one creepy bill after another.

Thanks to Jessica Valenti’s blog, Abortion Every Day, we now have a good window on their activities, including the way they use language to distort and euphemize their ghoulish ambitions.

Texas remains ground zero for such ambitions. The Texas GOP’s lengthy party platform — traditionally an encyclopedia of batshit — has just been written for the coming election. One of its planks calls for laws that confer “equal protection for the preborn,” which is code for legally equating the abortion of a fetus with the murder of a child.

Under such a law, women who undergo abortion could be prosecuted for homicide, and would be subject to the death penalty. You’ll notice that death is a recurring theme.

Valenti keeps tabs on the model bills that are either making their way through red-state legislatures, or being challenged in federal courts. She also tracks the terminology being invented, deployed, and shared from bill to bill.

Most of these bills revolve around the idea of “fetal personhood,” which is being invoked to criminalize all sorts of human behavior. Once you accept that the “preborn” are really children, you already have all the statutes you need to make criminals out of everyday people.

Under these statutes, if a woman takes drugs during pregnancy, even prescription medicines, she can be charged with “child endangerment.” If she drinks or smokes weed, she can be arrested for “chemical endangerment.”

“Life-limiting” is deathspeak for a fetal condition that is guaranteed to end badly. A fetus that a responsible doctor might call “nonviable” or “lethal” would be rebranded as a “child with a life-limiting disability,” and must continue to be carried by the mother. Aborting such a fetus would be considered “disability discrimination,” and a woman who survives such a harrowing event in her life might still face arrest.

The pro-death movement is in a hurry. They want to get these laws in place while SCOTUS is still giving them cover. They’re excited about the constraints they’re placing on women, and they’re totally comfortable with the fatal consequences of those constraints. Their operatives are smart, clever, well-funded, legally astute, and adept at bending the language.

But they wouldn’t be bending the language if they didn’t understand that most people — specifically people living in the real world — hate everything they stand for.

And that’s their weak spot. To do what they do, they need to hide who they are. Because what they do is ugly, and they know it.



  1. I find it sadly ironic that the neoliberals who support Hamas, are mostly opposed to these abortion laws, and Hamas strives for the same control over their women. Call me officially confused.


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