The Anti-Choice Movement’s Embrace of Authoritarianism
To: Interested Parties
From: NARAL Pro-Choice America Research
Date: December 4, 2020
AT A GLANCE: Throughout his presidency, the anti-choice movement and the rest of the Radical Right echoed and embraced Donald Trump’s attacks on our electoral system, parroting baseless claims of fraud to aid Trump in his anti-democratic power grab that hit at the very heart of our democracy. This would not surprise anyone who has been paying attention to the anti-choice movement in the past. They have always embraced anti-democratic tactics to push policies they know are extremely unpopular with voters, so it only makes sense that they would disingenuously attack the democratic process when they found themselves on the losing side of the 2020 election. As Trump’s presidency ends in January, these bad actors will surely try to fade back into the woodwork of the conservative movement. We should not and cannot let them.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris won the 2020 presidential election in a historic and decisive victory. A critical mass of voters turned out in record numbers, overcoming Trump’s voter intimidation and suppression efforts, an uncontrolled pandemic, and massive foreign and domestic disinformation campaigns to make Trump a one-term president. Though the will of voters is clear, in keeping with its open embrace of anti-democratic tactics, the anti-choice movement stood by Trump’s failed power grab, falsely claiming what experts called “the most secure [election] in American history” is “illegitimate.”
ANTI-CHOICE ACTIVISTS PARROTED FALSE CLAIMS AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES ABOUT THE ELECTION
In the days after every major media outlet declared Biden the victor of the 2020 presidential election, Republicans jumped to cast doubt on the results. According to Georgia’s secretary of state, key party figures like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) even suggested that state legislatures should invalidate the will of their voters and privately pressured public officials to throw out legally cast ballots—blatantly authoritarian actions aimed at keeping Trump in office against the will of the people. In lockstep, anti-choice activists began elevating false claims about the election to try to baselessly sow doubts about the results after it was clear that Trump was not the victor:
- Conservative pundit Michael Knowles and Students for Life’s Kristan Hawkins speculated, without any evidence, that local elections officials and cities with Democratic leadership tampered with ballots.
- Hawkins amplified Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) false claim that states accepted millions of ballots from deceased voters and also promoted the “Sharpiegate” conspiracy to explain Biden’s win in Arizona.
- Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser and LifeNews sought to baselessly cast doubt on results from mail-in ballots that overwhelmingly favored Biden—an expected outcome.
- Dannenfelser promoted the false claim that Wisconsin tallied more votes than registered voters.
- Sidewalk Advocates for Life’s Lauren Muzyka amplified Trump’s disproven allegation that Dominion voting systems switched votes in Pennsylvania.
These claims are not mere political spin—they are blatantly partisan lies that harm U.S. democracy and have the potential to incite violence from domestic terrorists. International observers characterized Trump’s baseless attempt to cast doubt on the election results as “unprecedented attempts to undermine public trust,” paving the way for authoritarian power grabs and further disenfranchisement of BIPOC voters. By attacking high voter turnout, particularly in Black communities, despite no evidence, the anti-choice movement has once again illustrated its disdain for the democratic process.
ANTI-CHOICE ADVOCATES PROMOTE DISTRUST IN MEDIA TO ENABLE THEIR LIES
Attacks on the media are a hallmark of authoritarianism that the Trump administration has wholeheartedly embraced. Similarly, the anti-choice movement has long promoted distrust in the media, particularly because fact-checks have limited its ability to spread lies about abortion and reproductive healthcare. Lila Rose, president of Live Action, erroneously claimed that the “most profound reason that many serious-minded people [didn’t] trust the media” was because it supposedly “lied” about abortion. So it’s no surprise that anti-choice advocates cast inaccurate polls showing Biden winning by a wider margin than he did as not just mistakes, but as purposeful attempts to “shap[e] the outcome” in Democrats’ favor. As a result, they refused to accept election results called by mainstream media outlets.
They do, however, trust one source on who won the election: Trump. Multiple prominent anti-choice activists retweeted Trump’s premature claim of victory, a blatantly authoritarian move with profound implications. Anti-choice conservative commentator Michael Knowles even went so far as to state that Trump was the “only official source to call the election,” embracing a reality where Trump and other authoritarians could appoint themselves winners of elections regardless of the actual vote tallies.
Of course, anti-choice figures didn’t assert that all races were “corrupted” by voter fraud and premature calls by the media. They happily announced that Decision Desk HQ called North Carolina for Trump and congratulated their endorsed candidates in accordance with the Associated Press’ race calls. The same ballots they baselessly claimed were fraudulent in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia delivered them victories they were more than happy to claim down the ballot. For the anti-choice movement, the only time media is “trustworthy” is when it promotes their dangerous agenda.
THE ANTI-CHOICE MOVEMENT IS ACTIVELY WORKING TO DISMANTLE DEMOCRACY
Some may believe this open embrace of authoritarianism was spurred by the Trump era and its erosion of democratic norms. The reality is that the anti-choice movement is anti-democratic at its core. Just as it rallies against people being able to make decisions about their own bodies, it works towards a rule by the minority because the majority of people do not support its dangerous attacks on reproductive freedom. Anti-choice activists:
- Encourage deceptive political practices such as passing sweeping abortion bans in the middle of the night, exploiting a public health crisis to restrict access to abortion, and propagating disinformation about abortion because they can’t win voters by telling the truth.
- Cheer as Senate Republicans stack the courts with extremist judges like Amy Barrett, who they can count on to do their bidding as they attempt to end abortion access through the courts.
- Actively campaign to make it harder to vote by proposing the elimination of same-day voter registration, voting-by-mail, voting rights for young people, and early voting—all of which increase voter participation among marginalized communities.
- Brush off calls to end—or even acknowledge—voter suppression.
- Rationalize Trump’s attempt to convince state legislatures to select electors in his favor, against the will of their constituents.
Unable to fairly convince the American people to continue the status quo, anti-choice activists and others on the Right embraced full-on conspiracy theories to explain away Trump’s clear defeat and attempts to get legally cast votes thrown out. As they’ve attempted to steal people’s right to vote and endangered our democracy, they’ve continued to present themselves as paragons of virtue and morality.
And after the election, they aren’t even pretending that their extreme agenda of making abortion “unthinkable” could ever be achieved democratically. Lila Rose outrageously argued that abortion “was never the courts’ right to decide or the legislators’ or voters’ right to decide” and said it was not an issue “for a democracy to vote on. The anti-choice movement’s original argument that abortion was an issue for states and courts to decide has gone by the wayside in favor of undermining democracy itself to achieve its goals.
Anti-choice activists are counting on the public having a short memory of their actions throughout Trump’s attempted power grab. We must hold them accountable for their disinformation campaign and push back on the anti-choice movement’s efforts to impose their unpopular agenda on others under the guise of morality. After all, its blatant attacks on democracy and reproductive freedom are anything but moral, ethical, or just.