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Essay: The White Women Who Destroyed Roe v Wade
The tag team of white Christian women who helped build a theocracy
Collage by Robert E. Rutledge
This essay was first published in January 30, 2022.
When Roe v Wade is overturned, (”if” is a pipedream at this stage), convicted terrorist Raychelle “Shelly” Shannon can claim that she firebombed a path for Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who is the face of a law that looks set to end the federally protected right to an abortion, and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who will ensure a white, Christian woman deals the deadly blow to abortion rights when the Supreme Court decides on Mississippi’s law this summer.
It will mark the victory of what I call the Christian Brotherhood–an ideology that undergirds politics in white supremacist Christianity–over a fundamental tenet of feminism: the right to control one’s reproduction.
But let’s be clear: while the Brotherhood is absolutely patriarchal, this deadly blow to the federally protected right to have an abortion belongs to the “sisters”–white, Christian women who are what I call Foot Soldiers of the Patriarchy–a tag team of white, Christian terrorists, legislators, attorneys general, governors, and judges.
“We make the mistake of thinking this is a primarily male movement,” Karissa Haugeberg, author of Women Against Abortion: Inside the Largest Moral Reform Movement of the Twentieth Century, told DAME. “Really, when you get into all the different arms of the movement, women far outnumber men.”
Women, like Raychelle “Shelley” Shannon who was released in 2018 after serving 25 years of a 30 year sentence: 11 years for the 1993 attempted murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Kansas, and 20 years (to which she was sentenced a year into her other sentence) for six fire bombings and two acid attacks at abortion clinics in California, Oregon and Nevada.
In a letter to her daughter, who herself went on to terrorize abortion providers also, Shannon wrote “I’m not denying I shot Tiller. But I deny that it was wrong. It was the most holy, most righteous thing I’ve ever done. I have no regrets.”
Let’s be clear: while the Brotherhood is absolutely patriarchal, this deadly blow to the federally protected right to have an abortion belongs to the “sisters”–white, Christian women who are what I call Foot Soldiers of the Patriarchy–a tag team of white, Christian terrorists, legislators, attorneys general, governors, and judges.
So determined and unrepentant a terrorist was Shannon that she continued her militancy from behind bars, from where she inspired two men who murdered abortion providers, including Dr. Tiller, who she had only succeeded in shooting in the arms.
So determined and unrepentant a terrorist was Shannon that when she was released in November 2018, abortion providers went on high alert.
And yet too many headlines that reported her release described her as an “anti-abortion activist” or “opponent,” as if she had just joined the occasional protest or collected signatures for a petition, and not co-written the Army of God Manual, “a blueprint for using violent tactics to disrupt abortion.”
As Haugeberg explains in her book, in which she devotes the greater part of the chapter Women and Lethal Violence in the Antiabortion Movement to Shannon, “Shannon and her comrades encouraged pro-lifers to exact physical pain and suffering on abortion providers ‘by removing their hands, or at least their thumbs below the second digit.”
Just 30 years after her conviction, Shannon can gloat that her terrorism worked; that her work as the foot soldier of the white, Christian patriarchy will perhaps as soon as this year see Roe v. Wade overturned.
In its profile of Fitch, headlined “The woman who could bring down Roe v. Wade,” again we see the cowardice of U.S. media. The newspaper did not once use the words “patriarchy” or “feminism” or “white supremacy” to describe a privileged white woman who wants to ban abortion because, as she claims, if she can have a career and be a divorced mother of three, so can everyone else. Never mind that she has a network of support unavailable to most, including paid help. Never mind that she is effectively sanctioning forced-birth in a country that does not mandate paid maternity leave.
In the world’s most powerful country, the anti-abortion women of the Christian Brotherhood–be they violent or non-violent–stand on the verge of a victory that is the opposite of a social revolution–it is a social regression.
Fitch chose the surreal “Empower women. Promote life” as the slogan she is using to destroy Roe v Wade, instead of the more accurately descriptive “Kill Roe v Wade. Rich white women will always find a way” The same woman who wants to “empower women” was an ardent supporter of the sexual predator Donald J. Trump, and yet The Washington Post does not press her on that.
Her first election campaign was funded by her father, Bill Fitch, who “made his money in consumer finance” and who turned the “family farm, an 8,000-acre property…— known as the Galena Plantation — into one of the country’s premier quail hunting destinations, a favorite retreat of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.”
And notice this little tidbit: “Visitors had the option to stay in the original home of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, which Bill transported 40 miles and, according to the Fitch Farms website, restored ‘to its former glory’, ” The Washington Post said. Former glory.
Compare the tip-toeing and the reluctance to call these women what they are – enemies of feminism, foot soldiers and benefactors of the patriarchy, anything that actually describes the danger and harm of women like Fitch – to the fluency in describing the danger and harm of the women of the Muslim Brotherhood whenever they appear in U.S. media.
Mosa'ab Elshamy via Foreign Policy
This Foreign Policy interview with Azza al-Garf, one of only nine women elected to Egypt’s lower house of parliament in the first elections after the January 25, 2011 revolution, clearly lays out the danger she poses to women.
“How does one woman say to another: "Hey, are you super excited to curb women’s rights?" the interviewer writes. “From the outside, Garf appears to be a curious contradiction: a female role model who wants to make life more difficult for other women. Sure, she’s not saying anything that the Muslim Brotherhood hasn’t said for ages, but the ideas seem to be an uncomfortable fit for Garf, a working mother who took a risk, ran for office, and won. But more than anything, it’s just strange to hear the patriarchal party line coming from a woman’s mouth.” [Emphasis mine].
That’s exactly what The Washington Post lacked in its profile of Lynn Fitch. Instead of repeating her nonsense about “empowering women,” The Washington Post should have said: "Hey, are you super excited to curb women’s rights?...Fitch appears to be a curious contradiction: a female role model who wants to make life more difficult for other women. But more than anything, it’s just strange to hear the patriarchal party line coming from a woman’s mouth.”
Clearly it is easier for U.S. media to say that about a visibly Muslim woman of colour than about a white, blonde Christian woman. It is harder to see Foot Soldiers of the Patriarchy when they look like you.
Not in her wildest dreams would Azza al-Garf have gained the kind of power that Lynn Fitch wields as the attorney general of Mississippi. Not in her wildest dreams could Azza al-Garf have dealt as damaging a blow to feminism as that which Lynn Fitch is positively giddy about, as “The woman who could bring down Roe v Wade.” And in case you wonder why I call them the Christian Brotherhood: Fitch is clear about her purpose in this interview replete with God, God, and more God.
Garf went on to become the women’s affairs adviser of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who narrowly won Egypt’s first post-revolution presidential election but who was overthrown after a year in office by the military after popular protests. Soon after his ouster, the Egyptian regime killed hundreds of his supporters in the worst massacre in modern Egyptian history.
In its most ambitious imaginings, the Muslim Brotherhood would never have envisioned it could wield as much as the actual power that the Christian Brotherhood wields in the United States, where the latter have helped elect more than one president in the most powerful country in the world, and influence foreign as well as domestic policy. At one point the head of the CIA held Bible readings at the headquarters of the most lethal intelligence services in the world; he later went on to become the top diplomat representing the U.S. abroad.
And there were the Christian Brotherhood of the United States on January 6, 2021, invading the Capitol flying flags for Jesus, and being called out as the antiabortion extremists that abortion providers know them to be. And still too few are calling out the theocracy that wields power in this country.
Unless the United States develops the stomach for a long-overdue reckoning with the white supremacist Christian theocracy that has been unabashed in its destruction of Roe v Wade, abortion rights will not be the only rights it destroyed.
I was shocked to discover just how pervasive religion in politics is in the United States when I moved here in 2000. I was familiar with the fact that the U.S. is the most devout of the industrialized nations. But it is stupefying to see every candidate for political office espouse a faith. That religion should play no role in politics is a truism that U.S. media and Americans in general apply only to someone else’s country (particularly countries which are not majority Christian, like my country of birth), not to our own. I believe in freedom of religion, yes, but “freedom of religion” must necessarily include freedom from religion.
It is easy to see theocracy when the theocrats don’t look like you.
But it’s imperative to understand that the theocrats who look like you and those who don’t both follow the same rule book: control desire and control our bodies. Control female sexuality whether it’s Female Genital Mutilation, purity culture, or “child marriage.” And they do so using the twinned tools of condemnation and shame.
In the world’s most powerful country, “child marriage,” (I prefer the more accurate phrase “state-sanctioned child rape”) “remains legal in 44 states and is happening…at an alarming rate” thanks to the Christian Brotherhood who vote against attempts to ban it.
In the world's most powerful country, the white zealots of the Christian Brotherhood can from one side of their mouth worship their white Jesus and from the other espouse the erosion of voting rights of fellow Americans because they are Black and yet those white zealots never question their “Christian love.”
Those same white and Christian women are rarely analysed, examined and pathologized in the way that Muslim women are, as I’ve written here and here. White and Christian are considered default – the harmless norm – in the U.S. White women are afforded an innocence that is both a reward and a leash that ensures they work diligently on behalf of a patriarchy upon which their own livelihood depends. And which they must remember will hurt them because nothing protects you from patriarchy.
QAnon--which the FBI labelled a domestic terror threat in 2019-- is driven largely by suburban white women - particularly mothers. Much as the antiabortion movement is driven largely by white, Christian women. And Haugeberg explains how they get away with it.
“Additionally, the study of female extremists makes clear that local and federal law enforcement struggled to see the primarily white, Christian women who set fire to clinics and stalked providers in their neighbourhoods as dangerous criminals who participated in a coordinated campaign to end abortion,” writes Karissa Haugeberg, in Women Against Abortion: Inside the Largest Moral Reform Movement of the Twentieth Century.
In the world’s most powerful country, the anti-abortion women of the Christian Brotherhood–be they violent or non-violent–stand on the verge of a victory that is the opposite of a social revolution–it is a social regression. And unless the United States develops the stomach for a long-overdue reckoning with the white supremacist Christian theocracy that has been unabashed in its destruction of Roe v Wade, abortion rights will not be the only rights it destroyed.
When Roe v. Wade does go down, the terrorist Raychelle “Shelley” Shannon can gloat that she cleared the path for the attorney general who brought it down, Lynn Fitch, and the Supreme Court justice who sealed its death, Amy Coney Barrett. Shannon can gloat that terrorism works. And Shannon and Fitch and Coney Barrett can march arm in arm at the front of the Christian Brotherhood’s victory parade.
Mona Eltahawy is a feminist author, commentator and disruptor of patriarchy. She is editing an anthology on menopause called Bloody Hell! And Other Stories: Adventures in Menopause from Across the Personal and Political Spectrum. Her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (2015) targeted patriarchy in the Middle East and North Africa and her second The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019) took her disruption worldwide. It is now available in Ireland and the UK. Her commentary has appeared in media around the world and she makes video essays and writes a newsletter as FEMINIST GIANT.
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