This week, the House of Representatives voted for HR 3, one of the most vicious and horrendous anti-choice bills ever conceived. This bill revokes all federal tax credits for any health insurance plan that includes abortion coverage – in effect, it raises taxes on private employers who offer insurance to their employees that covers abortion, and even on individuals who purchase health insurance that covers abortion. Republicans, normally fanatic in their anti-tax stance, seem to have no problem with this tax increase. It also codifies the “conscience clause” exception which would arguably allow a doctor or a hospital to let a miscarrying woman die on the waiting room floor rather than perform a lifesaving abortion.
Like most of the other deranged bills passed by the House in this Congress, this one will be blocked in the Senate and has no realistic chance of passage. Nevertheless, it’s another chilling glimpse into how far Republicans are willing to go to strip away the rights of women – like the horrible South Dakota bill which requires women seeking abortion to reveal their identities to an evangelical Christian church and then sit through a mandatory session of proselytizing.
The Republican agenda, pursued to the point of obsession, is to load abortion down with increasingly complicated and burdensome restrictions until it’s out of the reach of nearly all women. If you ask when it will be restricted enough to satisfy them, the real answer is never, because their real goal is to outlaw abortion, and if they can’t do that, their fallback position is to pile up more and more restrictions until it’s impossible in practice even if it’s theoretically legal. For pro-choice voters, it feels like we’re fighting a constant rearguard action, always trying to prevent ground from being lost rather than making gains of our own – for instance, when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, there was no serious effort to repeal the awful Hyde Amendment.
Part of the reason, I think, is that there are too many liberals who treat this as a dispassionate political question – or worse, still assume good faith on the part of the Republicans pushing these policies – and therefore, aren’t as vehement in their opposition as they should be. For example, here’s Nicholas Kristof, who I usually find very insightful but who has a persistent blind spot of treating his ideological enemies as if they want the same things as him:
“With the best of intentions, pro-life conservatives have taken some positions in reproductive health that actually hurt those whom they are trying to help… liberals and conservatives should be able to agree on steps that prevent unwanted pregnancies and thus reduce the frequency of abortion.” [Half the Sky, p.134]
He also describes New Jersey representative Chris Smith, the lead sponsor of HR 3, as “a good man who genuinely care[s]” about women (p.133).
What Kristof doesn’t get is that Republicans don’t care about reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. For them, this isn’t about outcomes. (They’re Kantians, not utilitarians, in that respect.) What matters is to them that they use the law to set forth their vision of an ideal society, and in their ideal society, there are no abortions. What would actually happen to women – forced birth, death from complications of pregnancy, inescapable poverty – is something about which they have no concern. And what’s even more disturbing is that, in their ideal society, there’s not just no abortion but no contraception.
This isn’t widely known, because anti-choice forces are well aware that it would be electoral poison to say so outright. Instead, they’ve been trying to introduce it gradually, a little at a time, gradually getting voters used to the idea. (See this excellent column by Gail Collins.) We’ve already seen the contours of their strategy. If they succeed in making abortion unavailable, the next step will be the birth control pill and other hormonal contraception, which conservatives have always wanted to ban based on the junk-science belief that it’s equivalent to abortion because it prevents implantation of a fertilized egg (there’s no evidence to support this). If they succeed at this, the next step will be IUDs, which will undoubtedly come in for the same treatment. Even I can’t guess how they’ll demonize condoms or surgical sterilization as equivalent to abortion, but if we reach that point, there’s no doubt that they would.
The essential step in stopping this is recognizing the whole sweep of the Republican strategy, which entails recognizing that their endless assaults on choice aren’t good-faith disagreements or efforts to protect their own conscience, but attempts to impose a draconian forced-birth policy on all women. If we can see this, and get other people to see this, we’ll be able to bring the same passion to the fight that conservatives bring to it.