Social safety net? Heck no! Women must pay for sex!

Some responses to my post on losing faith in the pro-life movement have been thoughtful. Others have not. “No, Pro-Lifers Are Not Making Children Too Expensive to Let Live,” written by Calvin Freiburger and published on Life Action News, is one of the latter.

I’ll be addressing Anne’s argument that pro-lifers actually encourage abortion because the other policies of pro-life politicians make it more expensive to have children.

That’s not actually a bad summary of what I said in my post. My point was that since raising children is extremely expensive today, putting programs in place to help people afford children has the potential to cut the abortion rate. However, pro-lifers are generally politically conservative and thus in opposition to those exact programs. For full clarity, let me quote myself:

I realized, then, that if the goal is to cut the abortion rate, the pro-life movement should be working to make sure that women can afford to have and care for children. After all, a full three quarters of women who have abortions say they could not afford a child. If we found a way to offer more aid to parents, if we mandated things like paid maternity leave, subsidized childcare, and universal health insurance for pregnant women and for children, some women who would otherwise abort would almost certainly decide to carry their pregnancies to term. But the odd thing is, those who identify as “pro-life” are most adamant in opposing these kind of reforms. I knew this back in 2007, because I grew up in one of those families. I grew up believing that welfare should be abolished, that Head Start needed to be eliminated, that medicaid just enabled people to be lazy. I grew up in a family that wanted to abolish some of the very programs with the potential to decrease the number of abortions. When I shifted my position on this issue, I was in many ways simply becoming consistent.

Okay, so back to the post on Life Action News:

(Naturally, left unmentioned is the ghoulishness of deciding whether to kill a child based on finances, making abortion the only area of life where liberals aren’t instinctively repulsed by the thought of putting money above basic human compassion. But I digress.)

Okay, wow. See, I’m the one saying that we need more social and financial support for raising children so that women aren’t forced to terminate pregnancies due to lack of a funds. How in the world is that “putting money above basic human compassion”? And beyond that, many women who abort for financial reasons are doing so because of compassion – they don’t think it would be right or fair to a child to bring him or her up in their situation or environment. Sure, that argument only works if you don’t consider a zygote, embryo, or fetus a person, but it’s important to remember that women who abort for financial reasons aren’t necessarily thinking “I want to be able to afford that new coach purse” but rather something more along the lines of “I don’t want bring a child into this world who will have to worry where his next meal will come from.”

The Effects of a Social Safety Net

Freiburger challenges the idea that a greater social safety net would lead to a decrease in abortion. He argues that abortion rates for poor women differ between ethnic groups (as though I said that poverty were the only factor) and that state to state the abortion rates don’t universally bear out that conservative states with lower social safety nets have more abortions while liberal states with higher social safety nets have fewer (as though I said that the strength of a social safety net were the only factor). Freiberger also turns to conservative political talking points, arguing that conservative policies actually make life less expensive by cutting taxes, that welfare is fraught with abuse, and that we need to differentiate between a “hand out” and a “hand up.”

So. Let’s move from from the abstract to the concrete for a moment. I have two children and am in graduate school. If I were to become pregnant now, without substantial savings to live off of I literally could not afford a third child. Let’s walk down the expenses involved here. First, there is maternity leave. While the U.S. requires that women be given six weeks of leave, it does not require that it be paid, so I could potentially be talking about six weeks without pay. Second comes the medical costs. Maternity care and birth runs $6000 to $10,000, with no complications, and many types of insurance coverage don’t cover maternity. Similarly, adding a child to your healthcare plan generally means an increase in costs, and that has to be considered as well. Third is daycare. Depending on where you live, daycare for a baby runs from $200 a week to $400 a week (I wish I were kidding).

Now, fortunately, my work would give me six weeks of paid maternity leave. If I worked at Walmart I would not be so lucky. Similarly, state medicaid (part of that social safety network I was talking about) would cover my maternity costs and, because my income is low enough, it would cover the baby’s healthcare costs as well. What would really be a problem for me is daycare. And simply quitting to be a stay at home mom isn’t an answer either, as we couldn’t afford to live on what my husband makes. If I were to have an unintended pregnancy, I don’t know for 100% sure what I would decide. But I do know that if I didn’t have paid maternity leave and medicaid, I would likely – indeed, almost certainly – have an abortion. I really wouldn’t have any other option. I also know that if I didn’t have to worry about daycare costs, I likely would not have an abortion. However, in reality I would have to worry about daycare costs, and those are exorbitant.

I suppose Freiburger would say that in making considerations like that I would be “putting money above basic human compassion.” But I’m not really sure the alternative Freiburger would have. Would he want me to carry the pregnancy to term and then find myself unable to make rent or feed the children I already have? Freiburger also speaks against maternity leave in his piece, because, he says, it would just make employers cut benefits elsewhere, and indicates that programs like medicaid just enable people to make irresponsible decisions. When I look at what Freiburger’s world would look like for me, I see a spiral that leads to me dropping out of school, my family going into debt, and me worrying about keeping the heat on. I see the potential of my children growing up in grinding poverty.

What is my point here? My point is that it’s all fine and well for Freiburger to argue in the abstract that whether or not things like maternity coverage, paid maternity leave, medicaid, or subsidized daycare would reduce the abortion rate, but when it comes to real women in real situations, whether or not these programs exist matter a great deal. And don’t think women with unexpected pregnancies don’t think about these things. They do.

Sometime last year there was a comment left on my blog by a woman who told about becoming pregnant in grad school, while single. She initially thought of abortion, but looked around to see what programs were available to potentially help her raise a child on her own, and on a low income. She found that her state offered subsidized daycare as well as medicaid, and therefore choose to carry the pregnancy to term. If she had found otherwise, she said, she would have aborted. In her case, her state’s decision to offer subsidized daycare to low income families prevented an abortion that would otherwise have taken place. I’m really not so sure why this sort of thing is so hard to grasp.

Women Must Pay for Their Decisions

After all of that, though, Freiburger’s final section reveals that he doesn’t really care so much whether or not a social safety net decreases the abortion rate. In this section, he first quotes from my post and then responds in what is his final paragraph:

I want to say I’m surprised, but I’m really not, because I’m remembering rumblings underneath the polished surface of the things I was taught. This idea that women shouldn’t “spread their legs” if they’re not ready to raise the results of their promiscuity, that the government shouldn’t be expected to pick up the tab for some slut’s inability to say no.

Actually, Anne has just alluded to the ultimate refutation of her point: pregnancy doesn’t just happen. The women she’s talking about presumably know they can’t financially handle parenthood, yet have chosen to bring the possibility of pregnancy into their lives. All of them could have chosen to say “not tonight,” and it wouldn’t have cost them a cent. Why isn’t it reasonable to expect people to factor basic responsibility into their decision-making? Why isn’t your preparedness for children something you should consider before having sex? And once you’ve brought about a situation you’re not ready for, why should the burden for alleviating it automatically shift to the rest of us? Most importantly, why should your child pay the ultimate price for costs you’ve incurred?

The weird thing is that I’ve seen other pro-lifers argue that my characterization in that quoted paragraph is a strawman, an imagined stereotype that doesn’t exist. But that’s not what Freiburger does here. Instead, he steps right into that supposed strawman like it’s a suit made just for him. Freiburger argues that women should have to foot the full financial bill for children they bring into this world because, well, if they couldn’t afford children they shouldn’t have had sex, and if they couldn’t refrain, well, then they have to pay for their decision.

But my whole point was that if it’s really about saving babies and not about making sure women face the full consequences of having sex, then the focus should be on finding a way to bring down the number of abortions that occur, not on forcing women to bear the entire “burden” of their choice to have sex. Perhaps the most astounding thing about the comments on my post on losing faith in the pro-life movement is the number of people who stepped in to confirm exactly what I said – that the pro-life movement is about ensuring that women face consequences for choosing to have sex.

Freiberger argues earlier in his piece that a greater social safety net for parenting, including things like maternity leave, subsidized daycare, and medicaid for pregnant mothers and children, does not decrease the abortion rate, and now I’m wondering why he even bothered to make that argument, because it appears that whether or not a social safety net brings down the abortion rate does not matter to him. What matters to Freiburger is that requiring others to pay for the consequence incurred by a person who can’t afford children having sex is wrong. Subsidized daycare? Pregnancy medicaid? Paid maternity leave? No, nope, and nada. Women who have sex when they can’t afford children have to pay the full price for that decision. Asking anyone else to share those costs would be wrong.

What was that about “putting money above basic human compassion”?

Some commenters on my original post argued that I was wrong, that pro-lifers did care about the women, and that that’s why there are crisis pregnancy centers and that’s why pro-lifers set up funds to help poor women afford to keep their pregnancies. I’d like to believe them, but the more things I read like this one, the more I realize that I can’t. You can’t show compassion to women while condemning them like this. You just can’t. And besides that, Freiburger seems to think that showing compassion just enables irresponsible choices.

But it’s not just that. Pro-choicers often accuse pro-lifers of being pro-fetus but anti-child. As a pro-lifer I thought the accusation was ludicrous, but I understand it now. You see, by requiring a poor woman to bear the full consequences of having sex and refusing to support any programs that might help her handle those costs, pro-lifers doom her child to a life of utter poverty. Programs like medicaid or Head Start aren’t about enabling lifestyle choices pro-lifers find abhorrent. Rather, they’re about helping poor children. And yet, Freiburger seems to see these very children as simply a form of punishment meted out to poor women for having sex when they couldn’t afford children. The statement that pro-lifers value children until they are born may seem inflammatory  but then I read things like this:

Most importantly, why should your child pay the ultimate price for costs you’ve incurred?

Freiburger is talking about a fetus. Once he starts talking about a child – and the costs involved in raising a child – he absolutely thinks that that child should have to pay for her mother’s decision to have sex when she couldn’t afford children. Because, you know, programs to give that child a better life than grinding poverty would be shifting “the burden for alleviating” the situation the mother wasn’t ready for “to the rest of us.” Fetuses shouldn’t have to pay, but children should.

Conclusion

But now that we’ve finished the piece, let’s review what Freiburger would suggest for my situation – married, two kids, and graduate school.

Actually, Anne has just alluded to the ultimate refutation of her point: pregnancy doesn’t just happen. The women she’s talking about presumably know they can’t financially handle parenthood, yet have chosen to bring the possibility of pregnancy into their lives. All of them could have chosen to say “not tonight,” and it wouldn’t have cost them a cent.

Ah, yes. I see. Freiburger would have me simply say “not tonight” to my husband, tonight, tomorrow night, the next night, and so on for the next three to five years until we’re in a position where we can financially handle having another child. I should have figured.

Why isn’t it reasonable to expect people to factor basic responsibility into their decision-making? Why isn’t your preparedness for children something you should consider before having sex? And once you’ve brought about a situation you’re not ready for, why should the burden for alleviating it automatically shift to the rest of us? Most importantly, why should your child pay the ultimate price for costs you’ve incurred?

And then, if I have sex with my husband even though we’re not financially prepared to have a third child and we end up pregnant, well, it would be wrong to ask for any public aid to help in raising that child (or even the associated medical costs) since we, you know, chose to have sex, so, say hello to poverty. I sure hope Sally, Bobby, and little imaginary baby Gene are ready for the ride.

For more on what I’ve written on abortion, click here

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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