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Coercive Pronatalism and the Republican Party

Since Leta Hollingsworth coined the term in 1916, “coercive pronatalism” has referred to collections of policies and practices that constrain the choices of individuals, especially women, in matters of child-bearing such that they are virtually forced to have children.  Making contraceptives illegal and refusing abortion even in rape are examples of such policies, but so are laws that preclude women from working at paid jobs because they are then forced to become wives (and mothers) in order to survive.  At a time when population growth was thought necessary to offset the ravages of disease and war, perhaps such policies made more sense than they do now, though they were certainly no less cruel.  To have these kinds of policies being advocated in the richest country in the world during the 21st century, as the American Republican Party has been doing these past few months, is shocking in its unabashed bid to turn the clock back.  But it is even more ominous for its undisguised misogyny.

Hillary Clinton had it right when she said in a recent speech: “Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies.” Clinton went on to argue that America should be setting an example for other countries, especially the developing nations, where poverty and population growth have the future in a death grip.

Instead, like something out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale,  the Republicans continue in an increasingly ominous and utterly shameless march to imprison or destroy American women.  This video acts as summary as well as parody.


Commentators like Maureen Dowd and Soraya Chemaly have sharp and intelligent things to say about all this–and of course the internet abounds with claims that this affront to American women will be the end of the Republican Party.

But taking this controversy straight to the top avoids focusing on the more disturbing culpability nearer the grass roots.  Who are the people pushing this kind of legislation through the state legislatures?  Why do some women support these goons?  What is it that has caused so many Americans to be fearful–and made that fear turn so quickly into hatred, specifically for women?

The American press and policy community need to do better than banter:  there needs to be a sustained effort to understand what makes these people tick.  And to find out more about who is manipulating them into these clearly socially undesirable positions. We need to get a better idea of how well these concerns really do (or, I hope, do not) reflect the feelings of the majority of Americans.

I have this argument at least once a week with my husband.  He worries because these stories make it sound like the American people have suddenly turned evil and stupid.  I still think most Americans are moderate and humane, but that the media’s focus on these fanatics makes them seem bigger, and therefore more of a threat, than they actually are.  Which is it?

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