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Democrats’ Support for Israel Is Weakening the Reproductive Rights Movement

Reproductive justice is not compatible with imperialism, militarism and colonialism.

President Joe Biden speaks during an event hosted by the Democratic National Committee at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., on October 18, 2022.

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The Democrats have made abortion rights a central focus of the 2024 presidential campaign. Reportedly, this emphasis on abortion is part of an effort to spark more enthusiasm from voters in the face of diminishing support for the Biden administration, due to its material and ideological support for Israel’s campaign of genocide in Palestine. Polling indicates that for younger, more progressive voters, abortion rights are a central issue. President Joe Biden is currently on a 30-event tour across multiple “battleground” cities like Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta to mobilize abortion rights supporters in the wake of the two-year anniversary of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. “Restore Roe” is the cornerstone of Biden’s abortion rights platform. We are being told, yet again, that investment in the U.S. imperialist machine is the price we have to pay to guarantee our reproductive rights.

Supporters of abortion rights are facing a terrible political landscape right now. On one side is Trump, the first president to ever take part in the national anti-abortion March for Life rally, who reportedly privately expressed support for a national abortion ban to his confidantes, but later adopted the more poll-friendly outward-facing position of calling for abortion rights to be stripped or granted on a state-by-state basis.

On the other hand is Biden, whose support for the genocide being inflicted by Israel has outraged and alienated many who see reproductive justice as necessarily intertwined with global struggles against settler colonialism, imperialism and capitalism — systems that all depend on reproductive control.

Trump meanwhile has also repeatedly made clear his alignment with the far right in Israel, moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, increasing U.S. support for illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and telling donors he plans to deport any international students who protest in solidarity with Palestine if he becomes president again.

Zionism is a deeply right-wing, nationalistic and reactionary movement, which has been historically bolstered by the Christian right in the United States. No matter who individuals opt to vote for in the general election this fall, it would be ill-advised at best, and cynical, femonationalist pinkwashing at worst, if in this moment grassroots reproductive justice movements were reshaped through a structural alliance with the architects of a genocide to “restore Roe.” This version of the abortion rights struggle exists only to consolidate the power of ruling class imperialists — not to liberate us. And it obscures the deep, historical connections between the anti-abortion movement and the pro-Israel lobby.

The abortion rights movement itself has gone through many internal divisions over the past decade, heightened by the disastrous Dobbs ruling in 2022. One camp includes allies of the Democratic Party, electoralists, and supporters of “Restore Roe” and the “pro-choice” framework. But many commentators and activists in the reproductive rights sphere have opined about the inefficacy of Roe v. Wade, “pro-choice,” or otherwise euphemistic framings, and a solely electoral strategy.

What does it mean to “restore Roe”? Under Roe, many people still faced significant barriers to abortion access due to onerous local restrictions and harassment by anti-abortion demonstrators at the point of care, in addition to criminalization of pregnancy outcomes. And in recent years, abortion rights advocates have embraced the “reproductive justice” platform, which urges that resources for families and childrearing are as essential as the right to obtain abortions.

Campaigns such as Shout Your Abortion and WeTestify have worked to destigmatize abortion, arguing that it should not be treated as something shameful or a “necessary evil,” but a normal and essential health care service. Others have pointed out that policing — not “coat hangers” or “back-alley abortions” — is the most significant threat facing people seeking abortions in the wake of Dobbs.

Nevertheless, many grassroots abortion rights organizations are now making strategic decisions to pour their time and limited material resources toward allying with Biden and the Democratic Party platform in order to reverse the disastrous Dobbs ruling and prevent a potential federal abortion ban. This development has caused internal divisions within abortion rights movements as leftists and feminists who reject Biden due to his support for Israel’s war machine are accused of ideological inconsistency. Some feminists who criticize the president are being told that in order to win abortion rights, we must ignore a genocidal war being waged by Israel (often praised by its adherents as the “only Democracy in the Middle East,” despite it maintaining an apartheid political system) against Palestinians, who some Western feminists seem to dismiss the humanity of due to their sweeping critiques of patriarchy and fundamentalism in “the Arab world.”

Simultaneously, we are also being told that we must reject the radical, and necessary, position of “free abortion on demand” in favor of the more conservative “Restore Roe” platform. But many activists worry that “Restore Roe” exists primarily to win another Biden term — not to guarantee abortion access for all.

In January, at the “Restore Roe” rally in Virginia commemorating the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Alexis McGill Johnson was one of several attendees at a Biden fundraiser who was recorded shouting down pro-Palestine disruptors with chants of “four more years!”

In February, at a fundraiser in New York City, Biden claimed, “I’m a practicing Catholic. I don’t believe in abortion on demand, but I thought Roe v. Wade was right.” After Biden received criticism for this remark, McGill Johnson again jumped to his defense, posting on X, “abortion on demand is right-wing language that reinforces stigma and spreads misinformation.” But in fact, “abortion on demand” was a primary slogan of the abortion rights movement before Roe v. Wade passed.

Joe Biden and his administration have been criticized by reproductive care workers for demurring about their position on abortion beyond facile support for Roe v. Wade as the most politically “safe” position, instead of vocally defending abortion as a right. Until 2019, when he reversed his position on the Hyde Amendment, Biden had consistently voted against federal funding for abortion; in 1994, he bragged in a letter to a constituent, “As you may know, I have consistently — on no fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortions … the government should not tell those with strong convictions against abortion, such as you and I, that we must pay for them.”

Meanwhile Biden has been an ardent, full-throated supporter of Israel throughout his career. He has received the most money from pro-Israel lobbying groups of any other politician, totaling almost $6 million from 1990-2024. In a clip from June 1986 that has been widely circulated on social media, Biden stated, “Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interest in the region. The United States would have to go out and invent an Israel.”

What does it mean to “invent an Israel?” On April 25, far right anti-abortion Christian nationalist Sean Feucht organized a “United for Israel” march on Columbia University to counterprotest the Gaza solidarity encampment. The Family Research Council, a stridently anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ evangelical think tank, launched the “Pray and Stand with Israel” coalition in May. In January, Al Jazeera reported on American Christian “cowboys” flocking to Israel with a Christian Zionist volunteer organization called HaYovel, which recruits Americans to build Israeli settlements that displace Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank.

Christian Zionism is a political and religious ideology, which holds that the 1948 founding of the state of Israel — and subsequent ethnic cleansing and displacement of Palestinians — fulfilled a biblical prophecy; that the return of Jewish people to Israel is a condition for the second coming of Jesus Christ (and this event will precipitate the conversion of masses of Jewish people to Christianity). In fact, support for the Israeli state and particularly the Israeli occupation of Palestine is higher among white evangelicals than it is among Jewish Americans.

Christian Zionist belief was deeply embedded within the New Christian Right, which mobilized after Roe v. Wade to strip women of their reproductive rights and forcibly return them to the home. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority — the far right, anti-abortion evangelical coalition that operated throughout the 1970s and ’80s and propelled Ronald Reagan into office — was a staunch supporter of Israel, particularly following Israel’s 1967 victory in the Six-Day War.

Many American evangelicals, including Falwell, saw this moment as proof not only of biblical prophecy, but of Western (particularly American) superiority over Arab people. Falwell traveled extensively to Israel. He was a close friend of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and was given the Jabotinsky Medal in 1980 for “distinguished service to the state of Israel.” The Israeli government even gave him a LearJet. Falwell also founded Liberty University, a breeding ground for successive generations of far right anti-abortion organizations like Love Life. The anti-abortion project, similarly, was not merely a theological exercise, but a nationalist undertaking, viewing childbirth as essential for maintaining the American empire.

Christians United for Israel, or CUFI, is an umbrella organization of pro-Israel churches in the United States, numbering over 10 million members, who variously advocate or lobby for Israeli interests in the U.S. In 2017, at a CUFI conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked CUFI and American Christians: “When I say we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel, I know you’ve always stood with us. … America has no better friend than Israel and Israel has no better friend than America. And Israel has no better friend in America than you.” In March 2023, Netanyahu walked back legislative attempts to punish Christian proselytizing in Israel after pressure from Christian Zionist groups.

Even as Zionist propaganda attempts to equate support for liberal secularism with support for Israel as a beacon of progressivism, the base of American support for Israel consists of the most extreme, misogynistic and queerphobic of the Christian evangelical right. And yet even these right-wingers are willing to compromise on their deeply held belief on abortion in order to maintain the Israeli settler-colonial project. When asked to comment on Israel’s liberalized abortion policy in 2014, CUFI spokesman Ari Morgenstern responded, “CUFI is a single-issue organization that supports the democratically elected government of Israel regardless of whether or not we agree with the decisions taken by that government.”

Virtually no Christian Zionist or anti-abortion politician has commented on the murders of babies, children and pregnant women in Palestine; the destruction of maternity wards, or indeed, the destruction of some of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The anti-abortion right fixates on “the womb” not out of love for humanity but as the guarantor of the West’s future; more children must be born so there are more workers and consumers to maintain U.S. hegemony despite increasing austerity and skyrocketing wealth inequality.

An abortion rights movement that can endure sustained attacks by the right and achieve true liberation for all women cannot pour its energy into structural alliances with the same imperialist and capitalist projects that oppress women around the world.

To strengthen the reproductive justice movement, we should be urging all reproductive rights organizations to see how the struggle for reproductive self-determination is intertwined with struggles worldwide against imperialism, war and colonial violence, all of which produce massive reproductive injustice in the world.

We need our leftist grassroots movements to resist subsuming themselves to mainstream political formations — to refuse to pour their energy and resources toward the defense of American empire and capital.

In the same way that “return Roe” would only reinstate a status quo that still blocked abortion access for millions of people, continued “feminist” support for the U.S. imperialist project will only ensure liberation for a select few. Rather, our abortion rights movement must exist in solidarity with the movement for Palestinian liberation; in opposition to the capitalist war machine, not in tandem with it. Our tactics must prioritize disruption, not appeasement. “Free abortion on demand” must remain the horizon, not “restore Roe.”

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