I remember having a conversation with a postdoc while I was researching in Germany about the “right to abortion.” She gave me an amused smile, and asserted that in Germany there was no “right to abortion.” Abortion in Germany is illegal, although it is permitted provided certain circumstances are met during the first trimester. But I understand the nature of our misunderstanding now to have been a cultural one: as an American citizen, where we have had the right to both privacy and abortion for nearly fifty years, I was unable to comprehend how a highly industrialized country such as the Federal Republic had also not protected this right for their citizens.
The leaked Alito/Coney Barrett Supreme Court draft opinion is now a constant topic on our media landscape. As commentators continue to remind us, the right to privacy in a variety of situations, from interethnic/interracial relationships to the legality of queer sex and fundamental rights of bodily autonomy, is linked to the particulars of Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center (MS), the current case about which the draft opinion was leaked. Memes are also asserting the connection of criminalization of abortion and miscarriage as essentially an attempt to eliminate the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Here’s the logic. If abortion is criminalized as a felony, and felons are not permitted to vote, by extension, women’s bodies and their uncontrollability becomes the subtextual logic that would strip women caught in this tangle of legislation of a basic right of citizenship: the right to vote and participate in democratic processes. (Women also tend to vote Democratic, even if that margin is slim, primarily due to a subset of white women who determine the needs of their husbands to be more important than their own.)
Although queers, transpeople and families with transgender kids have long been aware of the maniacal importance of gender for right-wing politics, I get the sense that some people are just waking up to the expansive attempts by right-wing politicians and actors to limit gender expression for all bodies. There is perhaps no issue more important to authoritarian actors than gender, because gender serves as a foundation for so many other rights that are deeply related to family life and the performance of gender and reproductivity. Freedom of movement is often regulated through migration regimes that extend rights through family connections that permit resettlement, residency permits and access to citizenship. Tax law is based on benefits provided for married couples; health insurance access – especially before ACA – was provided through either employment or marriage. Schools are funded through property taxes, benefitting communities in which families purchase houses – and who can afford houses? Primarily families with double incomes – or patriarchal families with substantial means from one income, typically a domain of men.
There are two posts coming on this blog: the first will compare two of the primary introductory texts about populism, Cas Mudde and Christobal Rovira Kaltwasser’s Populism: A Very Short Introduction and Jan-Werner Müller’s What is Populism?
The second will review Agnieska Graff and Elzbieta Korolczuk’s Anti-Gender Politics in the Populist Moment. Politics in Poland is not so different from American politics in some of its recent events: the Black Protests of 2016 – when the Polish courts tried to tighten an already limited abortion policy – were founded in a gendered critique of care work and ultimately successful in preventing those changes from taking effect.
Doctors can still be imprisoned for providing “illegal” abortions, however, and persuading a woman to get an abortion in Poland is a criminal act.