The “Pro-Life” Movement is Built on Christian Supremacy, and its Rhetoric is Increasingly Dangerous

| Reproaction

By: Shireen Shakouri

As I celebrated Persian New Year with family and friends recently, my heart was torn between elation for the start of spring and an exciting year ahead, and sorrow for those facing fear and loss after the massacre against the Muslim community in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Christchurch terrorist began his hateful manifesto explaining his atrocities with, “It’s the birthrates, it’s the birthrates, it’s the birthrates.” Jelani Cobb recently noted in The New Yorker that many of the other terrorists who inspired this attack have also been highly concerned with the idea of controlling reproduction to prevent white Christians being ‘replaced’ by other groups – the bitter irony being that these terrorists largely are descendants of missionaries and colonizers who replaced the populations of the lands they now inhabit, [1] oftentimes through reproductive control. Stateside, we have a sitting congressperson who while being vehemently anti-abortion once tweeted, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” [2] one of Rep. Steve King’s many racist remarks [3] illustrating that his hate for abortion seems to end at non-white people.

It’s no secret that the anti-abortion movement is deeply invested in white supremacy: I’ve written about it here, here, and here, and there’s plenty of outside resources on the topic. However, the correlation between white supremacy, American exceptionalism, and Christian supremacy is often overlooked in our discourse. It seems that pundits and political commentators shy away from the topic, fearing it will make them seem unpatriotic or critical of all Christians. Critiques of ‘Third World’ nations or of Islam rarely get that treatment, which bolsters the point: If we hold Christianity above critique, we are greenlighting its most vicious forms and perpetuating Christian supremacy.

I was raised Catholic but ultimately lost my loose grasp on faith because of hypocrisy on abortion, [4] stigmatizing of the LGBTQ community, [5] decades of child abuse and subsequent cover-ups, [6] and general insistence on patriarchy being inseparable from spirituality – I felt that the Church was more committed to fundamentalism than humanity. At the same time, my family was victimized by the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and I can understand fears of Islamic extremism and threats from an outside ‘other’ – the feeling that one group’s fundamentalism is inherently more violent than another. The familiarity of the hate leveled by many Catholic leaders and parishioners made it seem less dangerous. Even though I had experienced anti-Muslim bigotry from Christians based on my Middle Eastern name and background, it was an extremism I was more exposed to, one I could understand, at times feeling like more a nuisance I could brush off than a threat despite the fact that it had a much higher probability of impacting my life as a woman of color in America.

This became starkly apparent last fall when I found myself staring down anti-abortion extremists using their Christian beliefs to justify harassing people outside a clinic in Milwaukee. I recorded their shockingly cruel invectives in our first video released for our Stop Prosecuting Abortion campaign. Some of what you won’t see in that video is them telling my supervisor and me that we’re dirty because we menstruate and suggesting we might die later that day, and should repent for our ‘sin’ of protecting reproductive autonomy. Some of these Christian fundamentalists openly called for the imprisonment and execution of people who have abortions and of abortion providers, but their views are not at all outliers within their movement – they are simply stretching the ‘pro-life’ worldview to its logical conclusion – and ‘mainstream’ leaders are taking cues from them. The more society lets ‘pro-life’ extremists get away with advocating hate in the name of Jesus, the more the mainstream conservative movement moves increasingly toward outright fundamentalism. This accelerated with the right’s embrace of Trump despite many of its leaders being ‘Never Trumpers’ during the ’16 election. [7]

Since then, multiple prominent pro-life figures have called Trump some variation of, “The most pro-life president in our nation’s history,” while virtually none have denounced his rabid Islamophobia, [8] anti-Black racism, [9] and despicable rhetoric about South and Central Americans, [10] let alone how his policies are contributing to the deaths of children at the border. [11] And why would they? It suits a grand plan: removing Roe, forcing policy change reflecting fundamentalist Christianity, and ensuring more white babies populate the country because abortion restrictions will no longer have as outsized an impact on poor women of color. [12]

One of these pro-Trump figures who frequently spouts racially insensitive rhetoric is Brian Fisher, president of the anti-abortion fake clinic chain Human Coalition. I’ve written a lot about him and his organization, which you can read more of here. Along with his praise of Trump, Brian has made some troubling comments about Christian supremacy and American exceptionalism that need to be examined, especially in the context of recent events and with a focus on the concept of the ‘replacement theory’ I described above. [2]

On his podcast, “The Human Element with Brian Fisher,” Brian frequently discusses his belief that Christianity is superior to other religions and thus, that America is superior to all other nations because, “America’s founding was based on God as the giver of life.” [13] Though the Founding Fathers shunned the idea of America being a Christian nation, were influenced by Islam, and some believed more in Deism than Christianity, [14, 15] there is a clearly articulated view among conservatives that America is great – the greatest, even – because America is Christian. That worldview is at odds with non-Christian Americans participating in public life. Brian doesn’t even want them in his movement, having commented on his podcast, “A non-Christian pro-lifer is always going to run into challenges […] No world religion has the pro-life Christian foundation that Christianity does.” In the same episode titled, “America: Defend Life,” Brian said:

It is undeniable that America’s legacy of intervening on behalf of the oppressed is unprecedented. Just contrast us with China, just contrast us with Iran, and it’s because of our Judeo-Christian foundation. I-I know, it’s politically unpopular to talk about America’s Christian heritage anymore because the Left has so successfully made us afraid to talk about our foundings and those moorings that hold our country together. But the reality is that our desire to protect life, that our desire to defend life is based on the Bible.” [13]

Despite being incorrect for reasons I mentioned above, his view of America’s ‘moorings’ in Christianity being irrevocably good as a counterweight to China and Iran is clearly a racist dog-whistle. Not just because at the time of the recording, Trump’s bellicose rhetoric towards Iran and trade war with China were percolating in the news, but because Iran is a predominantly Muslim nation and China is frequently associated with reproductive coercion and abuse stemming from the ‘one child policy,’ which is no longer in effect. [16] However, it’s important to remember that in both countries, many of their contemporary human rights struggles can be traced to American intervention in those nations within the last century. [17, 18] Additionally, it’s pretty hard to see America as a supreme defender of life when we incarcerate at the highest levels in the world, [19] use the death penalty on par with nations Trump and friends deride [20], denies basic healthcare, denies refugee and asylee status, and commits a host of other life-ending atrocities within our borders and worldwide.

The truth is, authoritarianism can be both Christian and deeply American, and it is imperative that we name it when we see it, and act to fight it. Groups like Catholics for Choice and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice are working within their communities to fight anti-abortion stigma and hate, but it will take all of us to dismantle the violence that spreads under the guise of Christianity. America bears deep wounds of injustice, leveled against marginalized populations and those of other countries both despite and because of the predominant Judeo-Christian ethic. Anyone who says otherwise is ignoring the history of abuses this country has levied against people of color and minority religions, and we can no longer ignore the impact that has on enabling the radicalization [21] of mostly-white men to commit racist, sexist, Islamophobic violence.

Please join us to take action in getting Human Coalition off North Carolina’s payroll.

Sources:

  1. https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-new-zealand-shooting-and-the-great-man-theory-of-misery?utm_social-type=owned&utm_source=twitter&mbid=social_twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_brand=tny
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/18/technology/replacement-theory.html
  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/01/13/brief-guide-steve-kings-long-history-racist-statements/?utm_term=.807cca30de4f
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/06/world/europe/pope-francis-sexual-abuse-nuns.html
  5. https://cruxnow.com/faith/2015/05/06/anti-gay-bias-is-this-really-where-the-church-wants-to-be/
  6. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/catholic-child-sex-abuse-pennsylvania-church-vatican-pope-francis-josh-shapiro-a8511251.html
  7. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-marjorie-dannenfelser_us_57dc2b15e4b0071a6e072f6d
  8. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/03/15/short-history-president-trumps-anti-muslim-bigotry/?utm_term=.80dff9d900a9
  9. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/8-reasons-donald-trump-would-not-be-great-for-the-blacks_us_56e0729fe4b065e2e3d47e82
  10. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/9-outrageous-things-donald-trump-has-said-about-latinos_us_55e483a1e4b0c818f618904bZA
  11. https://www.businessinsider.com/why-migrant-children-dying-border-patrol-custody-2018-12
  12. https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2008/08/abortion-and-women-color-bigger-picture
  13. https://thehumanelementshow.com/portfolio-items/america-defend-life/
  14. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-schweitzer/founding-fathers-we-are-n_b_6761840.html
  15. https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Founding-Fathers-Deism-and-Christianity-1272214
  16. https://www.thoughtco.com/chinas-one-child-policy-1435466
  17. https://www.npr.org/2019/01/31/690363402/how-the-cia-overthrew-irans-democracy-in-four-days
  18. https://www.bevinalexander.com/books/us-intervention-in-china.htm
  19. https://www.statista.com/statistics/262962/countries-with-the-most-prisoners-per-100-000-inhabitants/
  20. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/04/death-penalty-2016-facts-and-figures/
  21. https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/8/18/16151924/radicalization-white-supremacists-nazis


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