After victory in the US, now the far right is coming for abortion laws in Europe | Sian Norris
For those of us who have been watching the assault against abortion in the US for years, this week’s leaked supreme court draft opinion – which could pave the way for an overturning of Roe v Wade – came as no surprise.
Roe v Wade protects the right to an abortion in the US up to the point a foetus can survive outside the womb, and the religious and far-right have been gunning for it since it was introduced in 1973. Evangelical ideologues, far-right actors and radical-right billionaires have organised to undermine women’s right to safe, legal abortions through a combination of violence against clinics and doctors, dark money and political influence.
So, how did the US get here?
After years of legal assaults that restricted abortion access and targeted clinics in Republican states; years of disinformation spread by “crisis pregnancy centres”, where women are persuaded to not have abortions; and years of burdensome demands on women to endure ultrasounds, gain parental consent and put up with counselling in order to have a termination, Trump’s election opened the door for abortion rights to end in the US.
Ultimately, it required courts, not politicians, to end abortion. That’s where the Federalist Society comes in. Headed by Leonard Leo, the legal organisation supported anti-abortion lawmakers across the US into positions of influence where they could draft laws to ban abortion after 15 weeks … 12 weeks … six weeks … and completely. The end goal was for anti-abortion states to try to implement one of these laws, where it would be challenged again and again until it reached the supreme court.
To do that, the anti-abortion movement needed supreme court justices who would enact its agenda. They got their way with the help of the leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who blocked President Obama from nominating a supreme court judge, leaving the field open for Trump to promote the anti-abortion Neil Gorsuch. After that came two more Trump-appointed justices: Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
That was the judicial assault on abortion rights. But that assault could only happen with the help of money … and lots of it. Luckily for the anti-abortion movement, there are plenty of wealthy foundations keen to fund the cause. They include the DeVos, Prince, and the Templeton Foundation, which have helped to support organisations such as the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family.
Backed by billionaire funding, organisations such as the ADF took the fight against abortion rights to the courts – helping to secure a ban on buffer zones and so-called “partial birth abortion”, and supporting the notorious Hobby Lobby case, which stated that employers should not have to cover birth control on employees’ healthcare plans if it was against the owner’s religious beliefs.
These organisations and their billionaire backers have transatlantic reach. Take the DeVos and Koch Foundation-supported Heritage Foundation, which has welcomed a range of Conservative MPs to discuss free speech – including Oliver Dowden, Priti Patel and Liam Fox. It was announced on the day of the supreme court leak that Lord David Frost would soon be addressing the organisation.
Then there’s the ADF, which spent $23.3m in Europe between 2008 and 2019, when its European arm’s youth conference played host to the Conservative MP Fiona Bruce.
ADF International intervened in Belfast’s notorious “gay cake” case and is allied with organisations that lobbied to further restrict abortion in Poland. The US anti-abortion legal organisation, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a second religious freedom organisation that takes on legal cases to challenge abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, has also operated in Europe. Set up by the Republican Pat Robertson, who famously accused feminism of turning women into lesbians, ACLJ’s chief counsel is a former Trump defence attorney, Jay Sekulow. ACLJ spent $15.7m in Europe from 2008-2019.
So far you can see how big money, the judiciary and religious freedom movements have come together in the US and Europe. But there’s another active force that has pushed us towards the end of Roe: the far right.
Across the far-right infosphere, men discuss the need to ban abortion in order to reverse what they term the “great replacement” – a conspiracy theory that posits white people are being “replaced” by migration from the global south, and that, in the US in particular, this replacement is aided by feminists repressing the white birthrate via abortion.
Conspiracy theories such as the “great replacement” sound extreme. But when it comes to the US abortion row, such views are mainstream. Take this quote from the former Republican congressman Steve King, who represented Iowa between 2003-2021. He claimed “the US subtracts from its population a million of our babies in the form of abortion. We add to our population approximately 1.8 million of ‘somebody else’s babies’ who are raised in another culture before they get to us.”
Far-right theories circulate globally – that’s why people outside the US shouldn’t just act in solidarity with American women at this time, but prepare to stand up against the possible erosion of their own hard-won rights.
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