If We Oppose Abortion *and* Social Safety Nets

we don’t really oppose abortion:

Women with incomes at less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level accounted for 42.4 percent of abortions between 2000 and 2008, while only roughly 15 percent of people total live under the federal poverty line.

It is challenging to say how many of these women would not have elected to have abortions had their financial circumstances been different, but a 2011 Gallup poll suggests pro-life sentiment is far more common among poorer people, with a majority of both Republicans and Democrats making under $30,000 a year identifying as “pro-life.” Couple the data with anecdotal reports like those cited in “The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion,” and it seems fair to conclude that financial privation pushes a considerable number of women into electing abortion who would, in different economic arrangements, decide instead to give birth.

With this in mind, it’s unclear why so much of pro-life policy seems to center on bans and fines and scans and threats. If a woman considers herself too destitute to care for a child, there is no transvaginal ultrasound demoralizing enough and no accompanying narration excoriating enough to make her decision seem any less plausible. The specter of criminalization in some pro-life discourse is equally disturbing: surely the penal carceral system is the very last structure we would relegate poor mothers to. Even pro-life picketers seem to recognize as much. Fortunately, if the goal really is reducing abortion and supporting the ability of mothers to care for their infants, the data directs us to a very intuitive solution: give would-be moms, especially the poorest, the financial boost they need to give birth while maintaining financial security. A child allowance program fits the bill neatly.

It’s good to see an essay like this showing up in The American Conservative–and to see it coming from the rising generation.  The strange disconnect between being opposed to abortion and the urge to punish the poor that often accompanies conservative rhetoric (see, for instance, this), like the weirdness of listening to Catholics talk about being “open to life” (under pain of mortal sin) and then complaining (I have heard it myself) that poor families that are large have “too many kids” and are trying to “game the system” has to end. So too does the absurdity of dollar-in-the-plate Catholics pretending that when the state helps poor people, it is somehow robbing us of the chance to be generous.  It’s not all about us.  Nobody’s stopping us from being generous.  Usually we stop ourselves just fine. Here, for example, is a letter from a committed, prolife Catholic who has tried to be as obedient as she knows how to the Church’s teaching, but has (in the view of other Catholics under the spell of libertarian ideology) committed the unforgivable crime of being poor and disabled while making the attempt:

I’ve been running into the writings of some “conservative and traditional” Catholics that proudly display their utter hatred of anything government related by attacking the poor. 

A few months ago, I was reading the blog of a fairly popular Catholic mom homeschooling blogger. I’d rather not say her name. She put up a post where she said, in effect, the poor shouldn’t have children, unless they reject and quit any and all government programs, even if they’re being used temporarily. She doesn’t want to use her tax dollars to pay for the children of “irresponsible” parents. 

So I emailed her and told her I’m permanently disabled and unable to work, without some government help, I would not be able to afford treatment. My husband is my caretaker, and can’t work outside the home. We are poor. We are Catholic and we take the “open to children” thing very seriously. What’s her solution, then?

She told me I SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO MARRY IN THE FIRST PLACE, my marriage is probably invalid, and I should have been unselfish and lived a celibate life. Now, all my husband and I can do is live in complete continence until I hit menopause. 

I was stunned. This is a woman who’s prayed in front of abortion clinics. She’s done volunteer work for CPCs and counseled women in crisis pregnancies. She talks about children being a blessing – but apparently, only for the worthy. 

What do you think about what she says? Is she right? Should I have never have married and never had my son? Should we never have sex again?

The most terrible part of that letter, for me, is that last paragraph. It makes me want to weep. The traditional vows of marriage said “For richer, for poorer”.  But many American Catholics under the influence of libertarian ideology have so internalized the vinegar of our post-Calvinist sense of the person as only having value when he is productive that  even the victims of such an outrageous assault have to be re-assured that they are precious in the eyes of God and that poverty is no bar to their right to marry and have children.  For the truth, of course, is that my correspondent and her husband are the profoundly generous people and the “prolife” woman spewing the Margaret Sanger eugenics garbage at her is the deeply selfish one.  Exactly like Francis Galton, the founder of the Eugenics movement, this mommy blogger, for the sake of her commitment to some theory about the destruction of all state aid to the poor, is saying we must make it our goal to better the race by selective breeding and the weeding out of the “unfit.” Inferiors, Galton thought (just like this “prolife” woman), should be treated “with all kindness” so long as they complied with the demand of their betters for celibacy. But if they dared to breed, “such persons would be considered as enemies to the State, and to have forfeited all claims to kindness.”

A short while  ago, I argued that all of Catholic social teaching snaps into focus when we forget about categories of left and right and realize that it is focused and founded on the good of the family, and that our worship of individualism, the state, the corporation, society, mammon, etc. must take a back seat to that since the family is the icon of the Holy Trinity.  This mommy blogger is, as much as any communist, an enemy of the family.  She and those like her have exalted some semi-anarchist theory of the abolition of the state and the primacy of private property over the good of the family just as much as communists have exalted  the primacy of the state over the good of the family and corporatists have exalted their great money machines over the good of the family.  But the family, the icon of the Blessed Trinity, remains prior.  The state, the law, our money were made for man, not man for the state, the law, and our money.  This courageous woman who wrote me, her brave husband, and the child they have loved into being under the blessing of God Almighty are what is right and any theory, communist or libertarian or corporatist, that stands against them is evil.  Chesterton saw this:

I begin with a little girl’s hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization.

Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution.

That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict’s; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

– What’s Wrong with the World (1910).


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