It is estimated that nearly one in three American women will have an abortion by age 45. But the debate over a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy still rages on in the United States, decades after the Supreme Court’s contentious Roe v. Wade ruling.
Research in the feminist journal Affilia suggests that opposition to abortion is driven in part by sexist attitudes towards women.
The study examines the relationship between sexism and abortion through the lens of the Ambivalent Sexism Theory. The psychological theory holds that sexist attitudes about women come in two main forms: a hostile version and a benevolent version.
Benevolent sexism describes the belief that women are nurturing, caring and gentle, but cannot function properly without protection from a strong male partner. Kathleen Connelly of the University of Florida has summarized benevolent sexism as the belief that “women are wonderful, but weak.”
Hostile sexism, on the other hand, represents overt antipathy or dislike of women. Both forms of sexism maintain that women should be subordinate to men.
“While women have been shown to endorse forms of hostile sexism somewhat infrequently, women’s endorsements of benevolent sexist beliefs are quite common,” the researchers noted.
In their study of 627 male and female students from six universities, the researchers found African American and Asian American respondents were significantly less likely to be against abortion than were white respondents. Unsurprisingly, students who were more religious tended to have the strongest anti-abortion views.
The study also confirmed its main hypothesis: that sexist attitudes were correlated to anti-abortion views. As individuals increasingly endorsed either hostile or benevolent forms of sexism, they also tended to increasingly endorse anti-abortion views.
“This suggests that sexism, regardless of whether it is justified through traditional, old-fashioned misogynistic rhetoric or through a ‘kinder’ or ‘more gentle’ rhetoric, plays a continued and significant role in the opposition to abortion rights for women,” the researchers said.