Faith, gender and abortion at the center of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation
At first glance, US policy seems full of paradoxes. In 2016, many women – and especially white Christian women – voted for Donald trumpDonald Trump Maria Bartiromo defends report: “Keep trashing me, I will keep telling the truth” The Memo: Center strikes back Republicans see Nashville crack to win House seat MORE on the first woman nominated as President of the United States by a major party. Now, in 2020, confirmation hearings are taking place for a woman, named by Trump, who opposes a woman’s right to choose abortion. What might the women who voted for Trump think about these hearings reopening questions about women’s autonomy over their own bodies?
Another apparent paradox may provide context for the role of faith, gender, and abortion in these audiences. People often assume that it is men who are most likely to oppose women’s right to choose what to do with their bodies. But, as we see vividly, men do not have a monopoly on opposing the right to abortion. Indeed, in a recent studyI have found that it is actually men who are more inclined to support abortion in the United States.
At first glance, this may seem paradoxical: why would women be more opposed to a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body?
Sometimes we forget that women (and men) are complex people with multiple aspects of who they are, a range of things that concern them, and a diversity of life experiences. And these factors interact with each other in complex ways. Women are not just women: they also have a racial identity, a region in which they live, a sexual orientation, etc. And each of them can be accompanied by values and interests.
Importantly for reproductive policy issues, women – like other structurally disadvantaged groups in the United States – are significantly more religious than their more privileged counterparts. Although they have a more liberal policy as a whole, their greater religiosity promotes greater support for traditional politics on specific issues, such as abortion, where their religious beliefs are particularly important. In fact, I have found that it is precisely because of their greater religiosity that women are less likely to support abortion than men. Without this greater religiosity, women would be much more likely to support abortion than men.
Religion trumps gender for many female politicians in general, which may help explain why so many women, especially white Christian women, voted for Trump in 2016.
Rather than being disappointed that Trump names a woman who opposes abortion, many women who voted for Trump get exactly what they wanted when they voted for him. Trump may not always live up to what conservative religious women (and men) want, but he does talk about the rhetoric. In fact, while one might wonder whether Trump’s personal beliefs and actions conform to traditional religious values, research shows that he knows what his support base wants to hear: he talks about religion and refers to God far more than other presidents. In fact, in his speeches Trump uses religious words at a rate almost twice that of Ronald Reagan, a favorite figure of religious American conservatives.
And in these hearings, conservative nuns hear what they want to hear: that a judge will promote their values.
Beyond the issue of abortion, conservative religious women want politicians and judges who will defend Christian values - and the position of Christians – in a country they perceive to be in moral decay and hostile to Christians ( who, by the way, still make up the vast majority of American society). In fact, query data suggests that white Christians, who continue to be a dominant segment (both in terms of size and political power) of American society, believe they face more discrimination than Muslims (who represent about one for percent of the population).
These hearings underscore how equally important political divisions over reproductive policy and other issues can be between women with different visions of America’s past, present and future as between women. women and men.
Barrett, rather than a paradox, is typical of what we see in many very religious American women. Their religious identity takes precedence over their gender identity in their reproduction policy.