Thursday, January 22, 2015

Abortion and poverty

Today is the 42 anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, in which the allegedly learned justices reached into their penumbras and pulled out what they referred to as “emanations” which, to them, and in combination with the equally evanescent Doe v. Bolton decision, suddenly and magically gave every American woman the unbridled right to kill their children at any moment up to birth.

The human toll of that moment of judicial flatulence is horrifying.  Almost 57 million unborn children dead.  Women dead too, killed by legal abortion.  Women wounded and scarred, physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Men also suffering the loss of fatherhood, their children killed without their consent.

Abortion has been deadly for children, horrible for women, devastating for men.  Yet it continues. And the anger of the pro-life movement today directed against the cowards in Congress may finally force pro-life Americans to realize that the GOP, at least at the national level, is not and never has been a true friend to life.

The work of the pro-life movement goes on, in legislative efforts, in marches and protests, in education and prayer, in solid and real help to women facing crisis pregnancies and to their children.  This work will continue regardless of the legislative climate and without faltering in the face of the scorn of the media, whose members are increasingly out of touch with a rising generation of young pro-lifers from all faiths and none, from all ethic backgrounds, from all income levels and ways of life.

And there are new, creative efforts going on, not only in education and outreach, but in legislative efforts as well.  Nearly 70 percent of women who obtain abortions are low-income, and 42 percent of them live below the federal poverty level.  While the GOP continues the rhetoric of “makers vs. takers,” those of us who make saving the lives of unborn children a priority can’t help but think that women in those economic demographics may be choosing abortion because of their dire poverty and out of grave fear of not being able to support a child--or, in many cases, another child, since many of these women are single mothers already.

I have heard fellow Catholics saying that we really can’t, and shouldn’t, support public policies that would give more aid to women experiencing out-of-wedlock pregnancies.  In the viewpoints of some Catholics our economic aid to unwed mothers already encourages women to engage in casual sex, and making it even more possible for women to choose life for their unborn babies will only feed a culture of promiscuity and irresponsible sexual choices.  The most extreme members of this group even think that if a woman works for the Church in some capacity, a crisis pregnancy should get her fired.  In their minds, there is no such thing as a “crisis” pregnancy anyway, because women who are virtuous never experience such a thing.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the Pharisaical attitude on display in those kinds of discussions, there remains the reality that for Catholics to be so unconcerned for women and children in poverty is a scandal.  Yes, in a perfect world no one--male or female--would ever sin, and no out-of-wedlock pregnancies would ever occur.  Yet I don’t recall anywhere in the list of the Corporal Works of Mercy an asterisked footnote that appends to “Feed the hungry...clothe the naked...welcome the stranger...” the instruction “Except for sinners, because if you meet their material needs they won’t have any incentive to stop sinning.”

I realize that there are good, well-founded, and thoughtful debates about whether certain public policies or initiatives will actually help the people they are meant to help, or only create more poverty.  Nothing I’m saying here is intended to oppose such debates--except when they are used either to end all discussion on the one hand or as a kind of “shorthand” in favor of one’s political party on the other.  But one thing is clear: we should not use our debates and conversations as if they absolve us from action.  If we insist that private charity can do all that is necessary to help the 70% of women who choose abortion from a place of poverty, we’d better be prepared to do some massive fundraising and donate to the point of personal discomfort--and to accept, even when we do that, that some measure of publicly-funded relief for the poor may still be necessary.

No woman, regardless of the morality of her--and the child’s father’s--behavior, should have to choose between allowing her unborn child to live or being able to meet her own basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter.  In a nation of plenty, that so many women might still be in such a place is horrifying.  On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, let us, in our marches and prayers and efforts to end abortion, remember especially our sisters in poverty, and do what we can so that no woman chooses abortion solely or primarily from the pressures of economic distress.


Dan said...

I guess I should start out by saying that I agree with you on many economic issues-I would raise the minimum wage, and I generally reject the notion that multi-million dollar corporations are in dire need of protection. However, I do not think the responsible should be made to subsidize the irresponsible. I would not fire an unwed mother or anything like that, but I do not see why the consequences of her choice to have sex with a man she was not married to, probably not use protection (yes, I am OK with contraception), and keep the child rather than give it up for adoption should be subsidized by those those who did not make that choice. Those that dance should be the ones to pay the piper. And, for what its worth, I think the same of (for example) taxpayer bailouts to banks that made imprudent loans. How, if at all, do you distinguish between a "Pharisaical attitude" and not wanting to pay for other peoples' stupidity and bad behavior?

Red Cardigan said...

Dan, as the saying goes, “It takes two to tango.” Behind every unwed mother is a man who is a user, who wants his “free” fun but none of the responsibility of paying for the child he fathered.

Since you’re okay with contraception (I’m not, as a good Catholic) how would you feel about mandatory sterilization of unwed fathers, combined with fines and wage garnishing to pay for their children’s upkeep? If it’s a woman’s “choice” to have and raise a child out of wedlock, so is it a man’s “choice” to use women for fun and then discard them when they’re no longer of use. If we’re going to punish one, we’d darned well better punish them both.

Eric J. Doberman said...

Thanks for a terrific post.

Allow me to point something out.

It is not so much a defense of my own secular/libertarian tribe within conservatism, but rather an observation on cultural conservatism's inherent contradictions.

Much of the poverty bashing, and particularly the immigrant bashing, on the right comes from a cultural place.

There is a secular side to cultural conservatism.Palin is an easy example, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is another, Ted Nugent may be the best.

This "secular social conservatism" shares beliefs, and often practice, with religious people like yourself. It also shares limited government principles with people like me.

Where I diverge from it is in the simplistic "you can't get something for nothing" stridency on things such as workfare. As a small government guy, I feel it is better to give an indigent person 200x, no questions asked, than to spend another 200x on top of that to create "work theater" and erect bars for said person to jump over.

Ultimately, I think that we business and anti-tax conservatives are persuadable by your side. It is your fellow cultural (not necessarily religious) conservatives who pose the biggest obstacles to the right-leaning anti-poverty work you are hinting at here.

Dan said...

No, I do not think a woman should get a claim on a man's income if she was never married to him. I also do not think a man should have any enforceable rights over children to whose mother he was never married to, including his assent being required for an adoption.
I do not support mandatory sterilization of unwed fathers; I also do not support mandatory sterilization of unwed mothers.
I also fail to see how refusing to subsidize someone is "punishing" that person.

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks, Eric! You’re probably right--“my side” (which is increasingly not my side at all) gets hung up, like Dan here, over the idea that helping a woman in a crisis pregnancy is the same thing as subsidizing evil promiscuous women who pretty much rape men in order to get pregnant, or something.

Dan: so a man takes a woman on a date, and they drink, and he drives her back to his place, and they have sex, and she ends up pregnant--but you think the pro-life thing to do is cut off all possible child support from the man who is just as guilty of the act of irresponsible conception as she is, and tell her that if she loses her job and she and her child starve in the street, well, sucks to be her?

You’d fit right in in Victorian England, I’m afraid. But I hope you don’t consider yourself pro-life, because I can’t think of anything less pro-life than such ideas.

Dan said...

If a one night stand can bestow the same rights and obligations as a marriage, then what's the point of having marriage?
As of 2013, the illegitimacy rate was 40.7%. In some segments of the population, it was over 50%; the highest was blacks at 72.2% ( 57% of births to women aged 26-31 were out of wedlock ( Are you OK with these numbers? Are you OK with them getting bigger, as they surely will if we continue paying women to have children out of wedlock? If not wanting to subsidize the erosion of the nuclear family makes me Victorian, then I proudly call myself Victorian.

Clayton Hennesey said...

Red, even though I tend to approach problems as though they were mine and I actually had to solve them in real life, I do understand that you're a blogger and so problems are, instead, subjects to write about.

I did notice some things I thought I'd point out in this one, though, the main one being your trying to address the biological assymetry of pregnancy (only women get pregnant) through a symmetrical moral exhortation to both sexes. In the end, though, every time, it's going to only be the woman who gets pregnant, if not raped, voluntarily so, and, once the baby's in, it's there till it's out one way or another. This will never, ever happen to a man. The point is, all the moral exhortations in the world will never spare a man from pregnancy.

I also thought a recent George Will column spoke powerfully and directly to your interests here, so I'll leave these three paragraphs at the bottom for anyone still interested.

Causation works both ways between the rapid increase in family disintegration (from 1964 to 2012, the percentage of children born to unmarried women increased from 7 to 41) and the fact that, Eberstadt says, for many women, children and even working-age men, “the entitlement state is now the breadwinner of the household.” In the past 50 years, the fraction of civilian men ages 25 to 34 who were neither working nor looking for work approximately quadrupled.

Eberstadt believes that the entitlement state poses “character challenges” because it powerfully promotes certain habits, including habits of mind. These include corruption. Since 1970, Americans have become healthier, work has become less physically stressful, the workplace has become safer — and claims from Social Security Disability Insurance have increased almost sixfold. Such claims (including fraudulent ones) are gateways to a plethora of other payments.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a lifelong New Deal liberal and accomplished social scientist, warned that “the issue of welfare is not what it costs those who provide it but what it costs those who receive it.” As a growing portion of the population succumbs to the entitlement state’s ever-expanding menu of temptations, the costs, Eberstadt concludes, include a transformation of the nation’s “political culture, sensibilities, and tradition,” the weakening of America’s distinctive “conceptions of self-reliance, personal responsibility, and self-advancement,” and perhaps a “rending of the national fabric.” As a result, “America today does not look exceptional at all.”

The point here, which everyone already knows, is that we always get more of what we subsidize.

Red Cardigan said...

Clayton, the problem is that we’re talking about two separate issues.

The first is: what do we do to discourage out-of-wedlock pregnancy?

The second is: how do we help the woman who is in a crisis pregnancy *today* and right now?

Private charitable help, though important, cannot help a woman who choses life to cover the total costs of giving birth in a hospital, let alone meet all of her needs and those of the child. Is that okay? Are we okay with saying, “You must choose life because abortion is murder, but after that you’re on you’re own?” Are we okay with the likelihood that the abortion rate would skyrocket if we cut off aid to single parents?

What if the best way to discourage out-of-wedlock pregnancy was to incarcerate any and all men who impregnate a woman out of wedlock (as proved through a paternity test)? Men would have to choose between a ten-year jail sentence and marrying the child’s mother; if the man was already married to someone else, the jail term would be automatic. That would probably take care of the problem of out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but the rate of domestic violence and abortion both voluntary and coerced would skyrocket.

If the goal is “Fewer babies killed by abortion,” we’re going to have to help unwed mothers. If the goal is, “Fewer unwed mothers,” then we have to accept that in a world where abortion is legal, widely available, and cheap the babies will be the ones to pay the price.

I would rather save the mother and her child than pit the mother against her child in a desperate struggle for survival while the man who impregnated her gets to keep pretending to be a pillar of society. But then, I am not male, and I have never understood why so many male Christians appear to believe that the problem of unwed motherhood has nothing to do with men.

Clayton Hennesey said...

Red, as the Will article points out, I believe you've achieved your wish. Many more millions of women and children have now become wards of the U. S. government. Or if I've misunderstood you, please elaborate.

But I'm not seeing any female-dominant electorate to speak of eager to put child-siring males in jail, and males are unlikely to vote to do that to themselves.

You still seem to be missing some sort of power in your algorithm, either a biological one that visits the same consequences of pregnancy on males as it does females, or a political one that does something comparable.

The former is impossible short of genetically re-engineering the species into hermaphrodites, the latter impossible short of either an overwhelmingly female majority electorate or a social situation where human breeding is far more strictly, even physically controlled by the state.

Clayton Hennesey said...

Lest I appear to be nothing more than a selfish crank, let me see if I can be more helpful.

We're pretty much in agreement that only women can have babies. The whole world with some exceptions also pretty much runs by the custom that it's up to the woman whose penis she puts inside here and when. The rape taboo is fairly universal.

So, like it or not, there's your Thermopylae Pass, if you will, there's where you hold the line against unwanted pregnancy and any associated burdens: woman allowing penis into her, period.

May sound foolishly simplistic, but every other field of action is infinitely more complex and difficult if not impossible to control.

Even splitting female sexuality up morally to put a greater sanction against PIV sex would help by giving women something other than an all or nothing choice. History is full of self-described moral women who decided that if they were to be immorally in for a penny for a night, they'd might as well be in for a pound.

Elizabeth said...

There is no way that men should escape supporting children they create in casual hook-ups. But if the men involved are also poor, their contribution may no amount to enough to make a difference in quality of life.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

If we value babies as human beings, then something is wrong when we inflict the baby on an unmarried mother as the punishment for her sin. Perhaps out of wedlock babies should all be named Scarlet, with a letter appended after the root: Scarlet A, Scarlet B, Scarlet C...

Another approach would be to set a policy that all babies born out of wedlock are so illegitimate that they should be killed at birth. Then, there will be no babies born out of wedlock, or at least none growing up to be burdens to society.

Setting aside these draconian efforts at moral consistency, we are left with no easy answer. I am personally familiar with a family headed by a single mother who has had six babies by three different men (the first a high school sweetheart), who has ALWAYS worked, except for two years when the social workers decided that the best way to care for her congenitally ill fourth child was to put her on public assistance to stay home with the child and her oxygen tanks. (The child died at age two, and within days all assistance was cut off, cold.)

I don't think anyone could say that the mother hasn't suffered a good deal or carried a tremendous weight of responsibility, albeit her children have state-funded medical cards, and she does rely heavily on food stamps.

It takes a certain abstract distance to intone lofty theorems about personal responsibility in such a cold and absolute manner.

As Erin knows, I am constitutionally pro-choice, meaning I don't believe it is either consistent with the letter of the constitution or common sense for the police powers of the state to intervene in decisions about what a woman is carrying inside her own body, at least up to twenty weeks, when there are such signs of independent life as rudimentary cognition,self-awareness (whether articulate or not), and ability to survive independently if "from its mother's womb untimely torn."

But this doesn't answer the question, what is the morally correct choice for the pregnant woman to make? Since it is her choice, whatever can be done to make it easier to "choose life" is the correct pro-life response. If there are effective ways to reduce extra-marital sex and pregnancy, there will have to be something more inspirational than "you're going to pay for this." Oh, they will, and without the rest of us doing anything to make it more painful and burdensome, but that has never seemed, from the dawn of history, to be what stopped people going to bed with each other.