Photo: Quinn Dombrowski, CC BY-SA 2.0
For the most part I’ve been trying to ignore the DNC about as much as I ignore the RNC. Not so much because the DNC folks say the same crazy stuff as the RNC folks (though really, can’t we all just get along?) but because I find the constant picking over of talking points exhausting, and because I’m very certain that conservative reactions to most of what is said will just make me sad for humanity. (If you are startled/upset/angry/clutching your pearls because someone pointed out that slaves helped build an important building in the slavery-happy post-Revolutionary South… just… sit down. You’re making me tired. Maybe listen to the Hamilton soundtrack and think quietly for a minute.) But one story about the DNC did raise my interest; a discussion of pro-life Democrats.
Now, as you know, I’ve been upset before about the term “pro-life” because I think it’s a creative way to mislabel “anti-abortion,” and downright false in most cases, as most people who employ “pro-life” rhetoric are really “pro-forcing-women-to-incubate-a-fetus-and-then-conveniently-forgetting-to-care-about-the-child-once-it’s-born-not-to-mention-criticizing-the-mother-for-having-a-child-she-can’t-afford.” But in the case of these Democrats, I think that to a certain extent they actually deserve the term “pro-life.” (They don’t totally deserve it, as you’ll see later. But they get closer than most.)
The group is called Democrats for Life of America, (and I will keep calling them that because I think the acronym DFLA is stupid and their awkward name amuses me) and at the DNC they honored the Governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, for his pro-life stances. At the DNC meeting, Bel Edwards pointed out the ways that “pro-life” and “anti-abortion” are not synonymous, and the ways in which improving social services can likely decrease abortions:
“There is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life, because the two are not synonymous… Now, I don’t think you can be pro-life without being anti-abortion, but being anti-abortion does not make you pro-life, because there are so many other issues that affect people, whether it’s access to healthcare, to housing, to nutrition, you name it.”
This focus on assistance in care and providing basic health and housing needs lines up fairly well with the reasons many women give for actually having abortions. Financial concerns or worries over single-motherhood are among the most prevalent reasons that women give for having an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute: “The reasons most frequently cited were that having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%).”
It’s clear that financial concerns and desires to avoid social stigma or hardship are major factors for many women in their choice to have an abortion, and that addressing these concerns could help decrease the number of abortions. And as Joanna Rothkopf points out, the goals of the Democrats for Life of America and the goals of the Democratic party neatly align in their mutual desire for “providing healthcare, child care, and educational resources.” So you know… good job guys. Way to care about good stuff.
But after that… things get murky. The Democrats for Life of America are upset by the language in the current Democratic platform that advocates repealing any laws that obstruct access to abortion, such as the Hyde Amendment. Presumably they are now super happy with Tim Kaine, who backtracked statements from his spokespeople that said he was dedicated to repealing the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal money being used for abortion services. I’m not super happy right now. The Democrats for Life of America are worried that Democratic party is losing votes from pro-life Democrats who don’t want to see things like the Hyde Amendment go away. I’m worried that we’re inviting people who support the Hyde Amendment to our parties.
Some of the goals of the Democrats for Life of America are laudable. But they also conveniently overlook a major aspect of the issue: not all women who get abortions do so because of financial or support reasons. Again, as Rothkopf writes, “The unspoken counterargument would discuss women who don’t seek abortions for financial reasons, but for reasons more emotionally difficult, and unsolvable by after-school care.”
Notice that none of the numbers I reprinted from the Guttmacher institute were that nice triple digit number, “100.” Financial and support concerns do not make up all reasons for women to get abortions, and the reasons for getting abortions are often complex. You can even have, like, two reasons at once. (I know. Math is hard for me too guys, but stay focused.) In the Guttmacher report, one third of women reported that they simply weren’t ready to have a child, a number that must overlap at least somewhat with the number of women who said they couldn’t financially support a child or thought the child would interfere with their ability to work, go to school, or care for other dependents. 13% of women were concerned about fetal health issues, and 12% of women were concerned with maternal health issues. 25% of women didn’t want anyone to know they had sex or had gotten pregnant, 14% felt pressured by a husband or partner to get the abortion, 6% felt pressured by their parents to get an abortion, and 1% of women reported they were getting an abortion because they were the victim of rape. The Guttmacher questionnaire didn’t have an option for “I just don’t wanna have kids,” but I’m pretty sure that option would overlap with a lot of the others.
The point is, abortion is not a binary choice between “not having the financial and support resources necessary to have a child and thus having an abortion” and “having the financial and support resources necessary to have a child and thus not having an abortion.” I’m certain that increasing housing, education, childcare, and healthcare options would, in fact, drastically reduce abortions, and I’m all for that. Women should have as many resources as possible in order to make choices that are truly what they want, and not simply the end result of dire circumstances. But having all of those resources is not going to prevent all abortions, and the women who do decide to have an abortion, whether for health reasons, family reasons, or just because they don’t flipping want children, also need resources. They need abortion to receive federal funding. They need abortion to be accessible. They need abortion to be seen as a normal medical procedure. They need abortion to be seen as a perfectly fine choice. They need their choices, their needs, their desires, and their lives to be seen as more important than the potential for life that exists in a cluster of cells. (Just so you know, people often look very horrified when I say this, but I’m gonna double down. The life of an existing, breathing human woman is more important than a fetus. Come at me, bro.)
You can’t truly call yourselves “pro-life” if you are only concerned for the life of the mother in very constrained circumstances that fit your worldview. That just makes you a slightly nicer version of anti-abortion advocates.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not coming to terms with the flaws even in her own feminism, she studies gender in popular culture.
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