I’m a veteran of interesting family holidays: married to a former Planned Parenthood sex educator and the brother of a lawyer whose best-known client was an abortion-clinic blockader. To borrow from Joni Mitchell, I’ve looked at love from both sides now. And, win or lose, the Supreme Court’s coming decisions on new abortion laws in Mississippi and Texas won’t change much.
What might is the $3.5 trillion stimulus bill the House of Representatives will bring to a vote this week, replete with measures (tax credits to attack child poverty, better health insurance, subsidized childcare for working moms) that will make it easier for women to carry their pregnancies to term.
The problem “pro-lifers” don’t acknowledge is their completely wrong view of who has abortions and why. Data from the Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrate that abortion is primarily an economic problem. Most happen earlier in pregnancies than Mississippi’s law would attack, and in states that won’t narrow abortion access even if the Court overturns Roe v Wade. They are sought by poor women who can’t easily support a child, or, in most cases, another child.
With 860,000 abortions a year — Guttmacher’s estimate -- or about 620,000 in CDC’s surveys (which don’t include California or Maryland) the numbers are small enough to find patterns that defy stereotypes.
Here are five data-driven reasons (there are more) why the best “pro-life” vote — the least divisive, and most effective — is the vote for the stimulus that no Congressional Republican will cast. They are:
1. About 90 percent of abortions are done in the 13 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi’s law bars abortions after 15 weeks, and won’t stop any of these. Since Mississippians only have about 3,000 abortions a year, its law might prevent 300. Texas would bar abortions after about six weeks (the largest number of abortions happen between weeks six and eight), but more on that below.
2. Most abortions happen in pro-choice states, so letting those states bar abortion wouldn’t change anything. The 132,000 abortions in heavily Democratic California won’t be affected. Ditto the 300,000-plus in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Colorado, Virginia, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maryland and Michigan, all of which have Democratic governors. Just ain’t happening.
In fact, the only states with higher-than-average abortion numbers and GOP governors are Florida, Texas, and Georgia. All three have gubernatorial elections next year, as do swing states Ohio, North Carolina and Arizona, which account for about 60,000 abortions.
For those who oppose a woman’s right to choose, then, laws like Mississippi’s might deny 35,000 abortions a year, a 4 percent decline. That’s 85,000 nationally done late enough in pregnancy to be covered, with fewer than half in states that might pass such a law. That’s not many. Texas’ law might do more, but it’s also less likely to pass judicial muster, more likely to spark defiance and travel across state lines, and more likely to make Republicans lose 2022 elections, especially in Florida, where 70,000 women yearly terminate pregnancies.
3. The people having abortions are not who “pro-lifers” talk about. For our years of arguing about parental consent for young women’s abortions, only a tiny fraction are had by people under 18, and only 10 percent by people under 20, the CDC says.
So everything you’ve heard from anti-abortion activists about protecting the sanctity of families and parental authority over child-rearing by barring abortion? False. One has little to do with the other. These are adults, not children making childish, pleasure-seeking decisions. About half of abortion-seekers also report having used birth control when they conceived.
4. Abortion-seekers don’t hate children. Indeed, perhaps the most unexpected statistic in either Guttmacher or CDC’s data, to someone who is both pro-life and pro-autonomy, is that 59 percent of abortion seekers already have a child. The linchpin of the cultural argument against abortion is that its proponents hate children, or at least devalue them, and should be forced to love them. (Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, take a bow). It’s false, and insulting. Give or take the moment when you discover the zillionth dirty diaper, people with children don’t hate them. Any parent knows this.
Another thing that parents of all incomes know is that children cost a fortune — for food, for babysitters, for doctors, you name it. And guess who doesn’t have it? A majority of abortion patients.
Do the math. If the extra help convinced 60 percent of the abortion-seekers who are already moms that they could handle one more mouth to feed, that would mean 300,000 fewer abortions a year across the US. That’s 1,000 times what Mississippi’s law alone would do.
5. Abortion-seekers skew very poor. It’s about the money. Congress bars federal funding of abortions, and only 16 states use state Medicaid money to pay for them. Yet 24 percent of abortions are covered by Medicaid, which isn’t available to single women who make more than $17,000 in my state (your state may vary), CDC says. What does that tell you?
Abortion patients are overwhelmingly poor. Guttmacher says 75 percent are either in poverty or living just above the poverty line. Did you think the 16 states with the overwhelming reliance on Medicaid are a fluke? That all the spoiled-brat abortion-seekers go to states like Mississippi so they can pay out of pocket? Come on. Patients in Alabama and Arkansas are poor, too. They simply find the money somewhere. Because the $500 for an abortion isn’t the issue. The issue is supporting an extra child.
When a poor mother seeks to abort her second or third pregnancy, it’s probably about money. Most life decisions are, especially when you don’t have much. What works better: yelling, or solving the money problems?
That’s where the stimulus comes in. As part of a long-overdue reorientation of federal priorities from the wants of upper-income people to the needs of middle-class families and below, the bill tackles the very problems that lead to the largest numbers of abortions.
If you’re a Joe Manchin-style Democratic “moderate,” or a relatively bipartisan GOP anti-abortion stalwart like New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, and you want to tell conservative voters why you shifted about 1 percent of the economy annually from better-off people to poor and working-class folks, say you did it for the babies. It’ll technically be true.
Abortion fell during Barack Obama and Bill Clinton’s presidencies, was flat under George W. Bush, and rose slightly in 2018 and 2019 under Donald Trump. Pregnancy terminations also peaked 40 years ago and are near the lowest rates since 1973’s Roe decision, largely because Democrats ignored Republicans and expanded legal birth control. The stimulus is the new version of the same scenario. And much more. But nothing less.
In abortion, as with economics, if you want the results Republicans promise, you’ve got to vote with the Democrats.
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