Cara Davies, Stereotyping and the New Women-protective Antiabortion Movement

John and Mary Yaremko Forum in Multiculturalism and Human Rights:Student Symposium on Women's Human Rights: March 6, 2009

Cara Davies

Stereotyping and the New Women-protective Antiabortion Movement


The anti-abortion movement has started to shift from fetal-focused to women-protective justifications for the regulation of abortion. Both justifications depend on the stereotype that pregnant women are mothers, but the stereotype in the new women-protective antiabortion movement operates in a new and harmful way. In the old fetal-focused antiabortion movement, the stereotype is prescriptive: pregnant women are stereotyped as mothers who should protect their unborn children. The hostile enforcement of this stereotype restricts women’s access to the public sphere and preserves the traditional patriarchal power structure in society. In the new women-protective antiabortion movement, the stereotype is descriptive: pregnant women are stereotyped as mothers who will always protect their unborn children. The benevolent enforcement of this stereotype undermines women’s competence as decision makers and restricts women’s agency before the law. The new women-protective antiabortion movement results in discrimination against women under articles 12 and 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but the novel women-protective element of the new antiabortion movement renders articles 12 and 16 inapplicable. Under article 5(a) of CEDAW, however, the women-protective antiabortion argument can be dismantled by naming the stereotype operating in the new movement and identifying how discrimination flows from that stereotype. The Canadian example of Bill C-484, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, is used to illustrate the value of naming gender stereotypes when advocating for women’s equality. By exposing the stereotype operating in Bill C-484, it is shown that non-abortion initiatives can indirectly supports the new antiabortion movement through the perpetuation of the descriptive motherhood stereotype. 


The Women’s Human Rights Resources Programme thanks John and Mary Yaremko for generously funding this Symposium