In 2023, a year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the opposition to abortion rights is more strategic, better funded and more harmful than at any point in history. Despite a growing global trend toward less restrictive access to abortion care, the opposition continues to have significant impact on the right to choose.
There are many factors contributing to their impact over the past decade, Conservative politicians have found abortion to be a mobilizing issue that can be used to “get out the vote.” They merge anti-choice sentiment with anti-LGBTQI+ and anti- gender-equality movements, to appeal to conservative audiences more comfortable with traditional patriarchal systems where women have fewer rights. Social media and cable television opinion programs provide opportunities to amplify their narratives in environments unchallenged by different opinions. The momentum they gained during the Trump administration when he expanded the global gag rule, continues to arouse anti-choice sentiment and cultivate opposition to choice activity around the world.
Their sophisticated tactics reach audiences of all ages, economic status and religious affiliation. Tactics include well-produced online films and petitions and mobilization of young people as advocates. They use demonstrations and rallies to gather support. Perhaps most alarming and ironic, they have infiltrated spaces traditionally used to advance human rights such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
The Pro-Life Activist’s Encyclopedia trains followers in debate tactics and instructs them on the right language to persuade others to join them. Starting with the ingenuous moniker “pro-life,” the opposition uses vocabulary that refers to pro-choice as the “anti-life” movement. They declare supporters of choice “anti-family.” Stories built on concepts of “the natural family” and “natural sovereignty” also undermine pro-choice values.
Who is driving the anti-choice movement?
Groups such as the World Congress of Families, C-Fam, Citizen Go and Culture of Life use sophisticated data mining techniques. These tactics help them find the audiences they are most likely to convince. They know exactly what message will resonate. They have expansive connections and networks, charismatic female leaders and are collaborating and sharing intelligence and tactics of what works.
Their influence is global. Citizen Go, for example, is a Spanish-based entity directed by all American and European boards. It mobilizes in East Africa to condemn a range of LGBTQI+ issues. Heartbeat International, based in the US funds a network of pregnancy crisis centers in Uganda. These actively target vulnerable young pregnant women seeking abortion with misleading promises of help. Once in the center, activists lie to these women about abortion and even blame sexually abused women for the abuse they experienced.
Where does the money come from?
Between 2009 and 2018, anti-gender equality groups raised at least $702 million in funding. These funds originate from 54 organizations, and most estimates say the true number is much higher. The organizations are mostly non-governmental organizations but include U.S political groups and oligarchs from the Russian Federation. Donations from wealthy individuals from the private sector and religious extremists tapping into public funding are two significant new trends. Open Democracy estimates that right-wing Christian organizations located in the US spend more than $280 million overseas to promote anti-choice activities.
What is the impact?
As one of the world’s largest providers of reproductive health services, MSI Reproductive Choices, is a target for anti-choice activists. Harassment and intimidation of our team members and clients is common. Online attacks that shut down our Facebook or WhatsApp pages are on the rise. Mystery shoppers who pose as women seeking help but are really anti-choice activists pester our clinics in Kenya weekly. These visits waste time and resources that could be used to serve women truly in need. Negative media coverage forces us into a defense position aimed at restricting services to our clients.
The constant buzz and irritation of these tactics is one factor that makes providing choice more difficult. Together with the increased numbers of anti-choice individuals being appointed to key positions and all the restrictive policies and stigma that already existed, women’s access to reproductive healthcare is under threat.
Despite the efforts of a vocal minority that wants to limit women’s rights, MSI Reproductive Choices sees growing support for our services. We see advocates removing unnecessary barriers and a new generation of young women inspired to protect reproductive choice. The opposition may be getting more strategic, but that just motivates us to strengthen our resolve and work even harder to change laws and policies and find new sustainable ways to make choice available to women everywhere.
MSI Reproductive Choices is an international NGO working in 37 countries on six continents. MSI believes reproductive choice is fundamental to gender equality, girls’ education, women’s political and economic participation, climate resilience, poverty alleviation, health and wellbeing and many other interrelated issues. We deliver on our commitment to helping women make their own life decisions by making reproductive choice possible. As one of the world’s largest providers of contraception, safe abortion services and post-abortion care, MSI served more than 21.1 million people in 2022 through our 300 centers, hundreds of outreach teams, 1,000+ nurses and midwives. partnerships with government health ministries, and network of pharmacies and private providers.
MSI United States is a US 501(c)3 non-profit that supports the international NGO and has a perfect 100 score from Charity Navigator and a platinum rating from Candid, so US donors can make tax-deductible gifts with confidence.