Why the Old Prolife Movement Keeps Failing

Why the Old Prolife Movement Keeps Failing September 15, 2018

From a piece called “Abortion and the Left“:

After all, if one truly cares about ending abortions, the first task would be to examine the reasons women seek them. When women who abort are asked why they do not want to have a child, 74 percent say that having a child would interfere with education, work, or their ability to care for dependents, while 73 percent said they cannot afford a baby. Abortion rates are high in the developing world and low in the developed world, where they have been dropping steadily over time. We would expect pro-life conservatives, if they wanted to make it more likely that women would choose life, to strongly support family-friendly policies like paid parental leave, and universal free child care. The easier it is to raise a child, and the more support one receives, the more likely a woman is to decide she can go through with her pregnancy. When one of us (Nathan) worked in an abortion clinic, booking appointments for women, patients would often relate the circumstances of their choice, unprompted. The stories were almost always sad, and frequently related to material factors: abuse, poverty, overwork, a lack of support. One woman said she was firmly pro-life, but since her house had just burned down and she was uninsured, she simply had nowhere she could raise a child and didn’t know how she could possibly manage motherhood at such a difficult time. These are hardships that can be mitigated through compassionate public policies.

In fact, even those who are strong advocates of legalized abortion should be disturbed that so many women seek abortions for economic reasons. Even if one does not view abortion as a killing, and rejects language suggesting abortion is somehow a “tragic” choice, one can deplore the fact that economic circumstances compel so many women to choose abortions who would otherwise wish to be mothers. If one is truly “pro-choice,” then it has to actually be a choice, and it’s a fundamental tenet of left politics that choices made under conditions of economic necessity aren’t really meaningful choices at all. The aim should certainly be to reduce to zero the number of abortions that occur because women cannot afford to raise children. (And for all the conservative complaints about single mothers living on welfare, to make raising a child financially realistic the government will actually need to make sure single mothers don’t need to work full-time.)

This does mean that any compassionate and feminist left political program would result in a reduction in the number of abortions, not because of moral stigma against women, but because left social policies should make raising a child much more feasible and eliminate the possibility that anyone will have to parent in poverty. And the left ought to be concerned not just with women who can’t access abortion services, but with women who can’t access motherhood because the economy narrows their realistic options. Similarly, the parts of the pro-life movement that concern themselves with talking women out of having abortions, but do not offer to doanything to make it less difficult to raise children, are offering sanctimony rather than solutions. (Katha Pollitt has argued that reducing poverty may not actually substantially reduce the number of abortions, because while ¾ of women cite economic factors, few cite economic factors alone. But many of the other factors are also “hardship” related, e.g., not enough time to raise a child. Reduced workweeks, strong communities, and generous family leave policies will reduce the burdens that all mothers, not just poor ones, must bear.)

There is therefore a version of the “pro-life” position that can be respected, one that is actually about life rather than about law. A person could sincerely believe the fetus is a life, but advocate improving the conditions of motherhood rather than using the criminal law to punish the poor and desperate. The problem with the pro-life position is not the particular view that it takes on the moral status of an unborn child, but that it responds through advocating policies that do little to help unborn children while using the blunt instrument of police power to dissuade women through threats rather than help.

Poverty–which Christianist “pro-lifer” love to punish so much that they are now back to calling themselves “anti-abortion” instead of prolife so they can keep indulging their sadism and using the unborn as human shields to do it–is the number one abortifacient.  If the Old Prolife Movement were serious about fighting abortion instead of living in the fantasy land where Roe is overturned and abortion outlawed, it would support programs which help, instead of sadistically punish, the poor.

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