An economic analysis of the anti-abortion movement
There is no greater blessing than a child. I can say this as a father and grandfather. That is exactly the sentiment upon which the anti-abortion movement relies.
And indeed, many anti-abortion crusaders are sincere individuals who really believe in the sanctity of life. Consider the position of the Catholic Church, which opposes abortion, but also opposes the death penalty and attacks upon abortion clinics, while it supports immigration and advocates social assistance for families. That is a principled pro-life position. These are the people who would not support a relative getting an abortion. I know a number of people who take that position, and I respect them for it.
Unfortunately, there is also a cynicism and hypocrisy within the anti-abortion movement.
Consider Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Jones, a rabid pro-lifer who urged his mistress to get an abortion.
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Or Scott Lloyd, the Republican head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who argued against a 17-year old rape victim getting an abortion because “the child — the one who is destroyed — is not an aggressor.” Perhaps that’s true, but it didn’t stop Lloyd from driving a girlfriend to have an abortion and help pay for it.
Or Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais, who pressured both his wife, before they were married, and a a 24-year-old patient he was having an affair with, to get abortions. Yes, all these leading Republicans are proud of their strong pro-life records.
So how has the anti-abortion position become so closely associated with the Republican brand? It has to be more than simply winning elections. Obviously that is in the interest of the elected officials, coopting the energy and passion of true pro-lifers in support of their campaigns. Consider that on every issue other than abortion, pro-lifers would likely support the Democratic position. But because of abortion, these activists put their energy into electing Republicans.
This is, in fact, a relatively recent development. As recently as the 1970s, Gerald Ford was pro-choice, and Jimmy Carter, who defeated him, won the evangelical vote. It was Ronald Reagan who associated Republicanism with anti-abortionism, using it to pull enough evangelicals over to his side to help win the 1980 election.
Reagan was a great example of the cynical tack the economic conservatives took to garner evangelical support. As California governor, Reagan in 1967 signed one of the most liberal abortion laws in the country. But Reagan recognized the political potential for this issue, flip-flopping on the issue to get elected.
Reagan’s election, of course, was the start of the conservatives’ efforts to defeat unions and increase income inequality.
Income inequality, however, is a funny thing. For there to be a “top ten percent,” there needs to be a bottom ninety percent for the very wealthy to take the income growth from. Accomplishing that goal required the United States to undo its fluid class system with its large middle class and meritocracy.
How to do that? That’s where abortion comes in.
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An unwanted pregnancy does economic violence to families.
Research shows that poorer women suffer when they have unintended births — as do their children. For example, women with unplanned pregnancies are more likely to smoke, drink, and go without prenatal care. Their births are more likely to be premature. Their children are less likely to be breastfed, and more likely to be neglected and to have various physical and mental health effects. Then, reinforcing the cycle, the very fact of having a child increases a woman’s chances of being poor.
So if a large group of Americans can be kept at the bottom of the economic ladder through unwanted pregnancies, and these pregnancies will stop the children of these families from moving into a higher economic class, it is in the interests of those at the top to keep these poorer families “barefoot and pregnant.”
How to do that from a policy perspective? Cut funding for family planning and get sex education out of schools. By keeping poor children ignorant and away from birth control, they are more likely to become pregnant at a young age. Then, deny them abortions.
This is exactly the approach our country has taken. Consider the fact that 60% of women who needed publicly funded family planning services between 2000 and 2008 didn’t get them. This is during a period when the need for such services was increasing due to the recession and lower health insurance coverage.
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At the same time, red states have been passing laws eliminating or severely restricting sex education. And of course, we know what has been going on with abortion.
It is worth noting that this is not the only policy approach the right has taken to increase inequality, harden class identities, and attack the meritocracy. Their attacks on unions have been very effective in this regard, as has their pro-wealthy tax policy.
Nevertheless, the hypocritical assault on abortion and family planning is a part of this multi-front attack. The shame is that many of the true pro-lifers are being taken advantage of in a cynical effort to increase the wealth and privilege of the most powerful.
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