Social Issues Are Economic Issues

One chilling moment from the Republican National Convention was the point in Mitt Romney’s speech when he said:

“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans — [pauses for audience laughter(!)] — and to heal the planet. MY promise is to help you and your family.”

They laughed.  The entire arena erupted!  What nonsense … slowing the rise of the oceans, doing anything to heal the planet’s ecosystem … silly President.  In fact, the scientists studying climate change and activists on the issue can explain the many ways that slowing the rise of the oceans WILL in fact help all of our families.  To me, that moment highlights one of many ways that the GOP in 2012 is trying to talk about the economy and families while simultaneously promoting social policies that harm both.

Both New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (he of the mandated transvaginal ultrasound) this year have insisted that attention being paid to social issues (read:  abortion, contraception, gay marriage) are distractions from talking about economic issues.

Bryce Covert over at The Nation back on March 15 pointed out how social issues are in fact economic:

“The knife also cuts the other way: social issues have economic impacts. The debate around contraception is a perfect example. Not only does access to contraception boost economic productivity and save us money, it has huge fiscal implications for the women who seek it. The typical woman uses contraceptives for about thirty years to control her reproduction, which means that if she starts at age 18 she’ll end up shilling out over $66,000 over her lifetime with insurance—and almost $12,000 without. And four in ten women of reproductive age don’t have insurance. This is why over 7 million women get contraception from publicly funded family planning clinics. These women will have nowhere to turn if we cut that funding the way “fiscally conservative” Republicans would like.”

Both in terms of how much we spend on it, and how much it boosts our ability to be educated and to contribute to the workforce, access to contraception is a major economic issue affecting women’s lives and the families of which they are a part.  Too many Republican politicians, when asked about this, try to dismiss it, insisting that “oh, no one’s debating contraception here folks ….”  But don’t look the other way.  Because they absolutely are.

Covert goes on to discuss a 2011 report on the economics of abortion (a follow-up to a similar study in the 1980s), and how “abortion rates, particularly among poor women, have been on the rise during the recession due to high unemployment and lowered incomes.”  And despite the fact that abortion rates overall have declined over the past twenty years, “they’ve increased among low-income women.”

The report also makes clear that contraception and abortion are in no way separate issues: 

“As the economy worsens, women are more likely to want to prevent pregnancy, yet face far more challenges accessing safe and affordable birth control.  This, in turn, increases the likelihood of unintended pregnancy.  As funding for social services decline, more women may be expected to determine that economic constraints make abortion the only viable option in this situation.  Many women state this assessment, regardless of whether the procedure is legal.

The emphasis in the above quotation is mine.  This should have a chilling effect on anyone who assumes that limiting access to abortion will somehow make every pregnancy wanted or possible or healthy.  Making it illegal doesn’t make it unnecessary.  The disproportionate impact of declining social services on poor women and women of color highlight how economic issues are central to these social issues.  They are not separate things.  To talk about justice means that we have to pay attention to all aspects of a person’s life.

This is also why the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurance cover preventative health care for women, including contraception, is such a step forward.  The problem remains, though, for women without insurance.

And let’s go ahead and consider the economic impact of same-sex marriage, that other social issue that Christie sees as a distraction.  From New York and Massachusetts to Iowa and Washington state, the tax revenue from and money spent on and around weddings has demonstrable positive impact:  $12 million in the first year same sex marriage was legal in Iowa, $88 million estimated for Washington’s first three years, $111 million in Massachusetts’ first five years, and $259 million in New York’s first year. 

So it makes complete sense that:

“Same-sex marriage could generate an estimated $1 billion per year for the Federal budget if it were legalized nationwide, according to a 2004 report by the Congressional Budget Office.”

Let me be very clear:  Access to safe and legal contraception and abortion is a matter of justice.  Marriage equality is a matter of justice.  In no way do I think that we should make these decisions based solely on economic expediency.  Too many decisions, in fact, are made on the basis of what makes or saves the most money the fastest.

But don’t let anyone tell you that debate and discussion about social issues in a year seeing alarming levels of infringement on women’s humanity are a distraction from the real economic issues facing families. 

These ARE economic issues to the core.

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • http://www.pocketables.com John Freml

    Thank you, Caryn! You put to words everything I was thinking when I heard Romney said that. I don’t know what’s more shocking – the fact that everyone applauded that, or the fact that more people in the media didn’t pick up on that. Despicable.


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