America’s class struggle over abortion
The respected elite pride themselves on their willingness to sacrifice anything that stands in the way of a career.
On Thursday, the state of Mississippi asked the Supreme Court to repent Roe versus Wade. “Roe and Casey are terribly wrong,” said the state in a brief submitted to the court. “The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history or tradition.”
Mississippi put its arguments in Women’s health organization Dobbs v. Jackson, a case that has offered the best opportunity since then Planned parenting against Casey (1992) to untangle America’s abortion regime. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch could have stopped repealing the roe. But she did what was right.
Anti-abortionists have had modest but real success for many years through a strategy of “incrementalism”. Rather than passing a constitutional amendment to protect the unborn (as the movement unsuccessfully did in its early years), it has sought marginal restrictions on abortion that save a real but limited number of lives.
In many cases, incremental approaches have been the best means available to save the unborn child. Unfortunately, some preferred them not out of concern for the unborn life but out of fear that bolder measures could harm the political fate of the Republican Party.
However, for those who are genuinely committed to the rights of the unborn, Dobbs versus Jackson shows the limits of the incremental strategy. As Sherif Girgis has argued, this is far from being a reverse of that roe will lead to a new anchoring of legal abortion and not to its gradual erosion.
Even in the coldest political terms, it is far from clear that incremental action always really makes sense. Any restriction on abortion law, however slight, is portrayed as a sign that America is becoming a new Gilead, complete with hoods and red capes. When every movement is an inversion of roe, the political calculation is clear. It will be far easier to repent roe once than to reverse it a hundred times.
For moral and legal reasons, the court should overturn roe. But powerful considerations can get in the way. In any event, the Supreme Court justices are members of the American ruling class. Regardless of their background, they have advanced degrees from the country’s leading schools and are now part of what is perhaps the most exclusive club in the country. You are in a world where education and professional success are highly valued.
All of this tends to put her on one side of the abortion divide. Because with abortion, our culture war, as with other issues, is a class war. As the New York Times Recently it was found that there is only a five point gender difference in abortion (smaller than some other controversial issues) but there is a 20 point class difference. 47 percent of Americans with high school degrees or less believe abortion should be illegal. Only 27 percent of the graduates agree.
America’s dominant class values educational attainment and career advancement, even at the expense of good things like closeness to friends and family. Abortion is a powerful symbol of the willingness of this class to sacrifice anything that stands in the way of a career.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the rights of the most vulnerable are now being defended by the State of Mississippi. Mississippi is the nation’s poorest state, with an average household income less than half that of Washington, D.C. In some ways, it is also the least educated. Mississippi is as removed as possible from the centers of wealth and power in America. Neighboring Alabama is home to one Fortune 500 company, while Louisiana claims two and Arkansas claims five. Mississippi doesn’t have any.
The abortion battle is not just a culture war. It is also a class struggle. In order to achieve their goals, anti-abortionists must take this fact to heart. To the extent that our country continues to be dominated by the professional class, the rights of the unborn are likely to be ignored.
Matthew Schmitz is managing editor of First things Magazine and a contributing editor The American Conservative.