I’m radically pro-life, and not only when it’s on the cheap (COMMENTARY)

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march for life

Margaret Davis of Reston, Va. holds a sign during March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Friday Jan. 25, 2013. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks.

(RNS) I am emphatically pro-life — which is why I think the 2013 Texas abortion regulations are hokum. They’re up for review by the Supreme Court this term, but if Texas wins, they’re still hokum.

My standard for whether an approach to abortion is or isn’t hokum is blunt: Does it reduce abortion or not? The Texas regulations won’t. They might drive poor women, facing clinic closures, to try aborting at home, risking both fetus and themselves — a tragic outcome for regulations aimed at protecting women’s health.

I don’t mean to single Texas out. Its regulations require clinics that provide abortions to have (costly) hospital-grade facilities and the physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Six other states have similar facilities requirements, and 10 states have passed similar admitting-privilege laws (courts have blocked six). Twelve additional states have tried passing admitting-privilege bills, which did not succeed in state legislatures, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research institution cited by both pro-choice and pro-life advocates.


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It’s not only the recent efforts of these states that are beside the point, however well-meaning they may be. All the legal endeavors of the last 40 years are hokum. Laws limiting abortion don’t pay for sonograms or day care, and they don’t feed or educate children.

If we want to stop abortion — as people on both sides of the debate do — we have to make it possible for women to have their babies. Everything else is a quick fix that makes us feel righteous while evading the issue.

Seventy-five percent of American women who seek abortion do so because they cannot afford a child or another child, according to Guttmacher. Most are in their 20s; women under 18 account for only 6.4 percent of abortions. Sixty-one percent have children and 69 percent are “economically disadvantaged,” meaning 42 percent earn less than $10,830 annually (100 percent of the federal poverty line) and 27 percent earn between 100-199 percent of the poverty line annually.


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Between 2000 and 2008, while the abortion rate decreased by 28 percent among higher income women, it rose by 18 percent among poor females.  Today, the abortion rate among poor women is five times as high as the rate among higher income women. Women with family incomes below the federal poverty level ($18,530 for a family of three) have among the highest abortion rates (52 per 1,000 women) and account for more than 40% of all abortions. Higher-income women (family incomes at or above 200% of the poverty line) have a rate of nine abortions per 1,000.

Addressing this doesn’t happen in the courts. It happens by providing women with the resources not only to bear but to raise their children. Both legislative campaigns and court cases are expensive but not nearly as expensive as what’s needed to make this possible. If we’re not willing to spend the time and money, then we’re pro-life and pro-choice (meaning also the choice to have the child) only when it doesn’t cost us anything. Last time I checked my Bible or code of human rights, that isn’t a moral position.

Fortunately, small groups around the country, often faith-based, have been developing programs to give women just these resources. Here are a few things I’ve learned from them (Charles Camosy’s “Beyond the Abortion Wars” has a few more.)


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The best program I’ve seen is an “adopt a relative” matching system that puts together women who don’t have families close by with families willing to become their “cousins.” The aim is the all-important emotional support during pregnancy and a long-term relationship where the “cousins” form close bonds with mother and child and do whatever cousins do — from getting a few things at the store and after-school pick-up (so the child and “cousin” children do homework together) to driving the children to school when mom has to wait for a tow truck.

During early pregnancy, women need close-by, accessible community centers where they can get comprehensive, coordinated assistance about medical aid during pregnancy and for themselves and their children after birth. This should include low-cost provision of birth control since the unintended pregnancy rate is roughly five times higher among poor women than among higher income women. Medical aid should be streamlined  at state and federal levels, but until it is, women need to be guided through options and forms so that the experience for women already under duress is not overwhelming. This requires personnel trained in the available programs, in the languages of the local community and in empathy.

Our adoption procedures (traditional, “open” and so on) also need streamlining. It should be as smooth as possible for the birth mother and affordable for adoptive parents, not an income stream for lawyers. In the U.S., 101,666 children are waiting for adoption, but nearly 32 percent linger in foster care for three years or longer before being placed in families, according to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Others are institutionalized. States spend 1.2 percent to 1.3 percent of available federal funds on locating and training adoptive parents. Given the devastating, long-term effects of unstable and institutional life on children’s cognitive and emotional development, this is neither a moral nor pragmatic position.

Women who wish to keep their children need a variety of reliable, quality day care options, from church and community centers to “day moms,” women in the neighborhood, each of whom takes care of four or so children, depending on the youngsters’ needs. If other countries can do it, so can the richest one on the planet. Day care needs to feed into solid pre- and public schools, both with after-school programs so that mothers can pick up their kids after work.
Speaking of work, mothers may also need education (GED, ESL, vocational, college) and job training. Other women and men also need access to and support for such programs, but pregnancy is a moment and motive for women to start.

Marcia Pally teaches multilingual multicultural studies at New York University and in the theology department at Humboldt University, Berlin. Her book "Commonwealth and Covenant: Economics, Politics and Theologies of Relationality" will be out in early 2016. Photo courtesy of R.S.

Marcia Pally teaches multilingual multicultural studies at New York University and in the theology department at Humboldt University, Berlin. Her book “Commonwealth and Covenant: Economics, Politics and Theologies of Relationality” will be out in early 2016. Photo courtesy of Marcia Pally

These ideas are not new, but that’s the point. While some community and faith-based groups are refining them (and picking up the tab), stopping abortion and providing meaningful choice call for quality centers that integrate all these features, that are inviting and that are everywhere.

That comes to a large bill in funds, time and expertise. Much could come from the private and faith-based sectors, but such a substantial project will also need government participation. And to be blunt, many of my pro-life sisters and brothers want to cut government budgets.

But a grounding principle of both Christianity and humanism is that each life is of unsurpassable worth — and worth it.

(Marcia Pally teaches Multilingual Multicultural Studies at New York University and in the theology department at Humboldt University, Berlin. She is the author of “The New Evangelicals” and her new book “Commonwealth and Covenant: Economics, Politics and Theologies of Relationality” will be out in early 2016.)

LM/MG END PALLY

  • Larry

    At least someone who is against abortion who is honest enough to admit that attacking the ability to have one is futile and counterproductive. That is refreshing.

    The only solution which has been effective is the one which the conservatives and bible thumpers do not want to consider. Stop attacking the right to abortion and start working towards gender equality. This means increasing the social safety net, not throwing people to the wolves and expecting a church group to handle the mess. It means not opposing actual sex education, or access to contraception.

    There is nothing in the Christian fundamentalist toolbox which is even remotely useful here.

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  • Bernardo

    And all muted if only all men would use a 50 cent condom !!

  • tanya

    I would like to read one “radically pro-life” person concede that the best possible outcome for them is a reduction in abortions. You will never have the answer to every woman’s issues, such that abortion will never occur.Today’s Atlantic carries an article about women inducing their own abortions in Texas — with all the accompanying danger. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/11/texas-self-abort/416229/

    Why can’t “radically pro-life” people like this writer simply join forces with choice people – we too would like to give women more options. More support, if that’s what is desired, or a safe, legal abortion if that is what is still desired. Instead, we’re spending time and money on litigation and advocacy. We’ve spent decades in this spot. Your move, “pro-life.” Close the phone pregnancy centers and let’s work together to open refugee centers so some women will have reason to bring a child into the world, and not prefer a kick in the stomach.

  • I couldn’t agree more, which is the purpose of the article. As I wrote, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates have to stop wrangling over the law and start providing the resources that women need.

  • Charlie

    I’m on board with Marcia’s views on these matters in lots of ways, but I do believe that equal protection of the law is necessary for vulnerable populations…among them prenatal children.

    The data on what happens when a culture bans abortion is mixed. Here, for instance, is a study which shows that illegal abortions go *down* when you make abortion illegal: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-11/mi-tca110614.php

    Maybe that’s because the law is a teacher…and the moral reality of the prenatal child can be buttressed in a culture by a law which acknowledges and protects that moral reality.

    We ought not be forced into the position of choosing between mothers and their prenatal child. That is a false choice. We should love and protect them both. Pro-lifers can work with pro-choicers in giving women the social support than justice requires, while at the same time trying to convince a culture to protect the prenatal child in the way that justice requires.

  • Absolutely! We should abandon the oppositional worldview–not to mention tactics–and work together to do everything possible for mothers, the fetus, and born children.

  • Yes, we should abandon the oppositional worldview–not to mention tactics–and work together to do everything possible for mothers, the fetus, and born children.

  • Larry

    There is no equal fault here. The anti-abortion crowd has to stop trying to attack the right of access to abortion. The pro-choice crowd has been on the defensive here from inception. Only one part has to act, and its not the pro-choice here.

    When the anti-abortion crowd starts focusing on improving the quality of life and economic opportunity for women, as you suggest, they can be taken seriously. Even judging by the reactions here, the pro-choice crowd appears awfully game for such things. It is highly doubtful the anti-abortion crowd is so willing.

  • Larry

    Charlie, your quotation should be qualified by the last part of the article. It is a clear distinguishing point from the US experience:

    “However, several authors agree that the Chilean progress in this matter is likely to be explained by the success of maternal health policy interventions, the access to modern methods of family planning, the increase in women’s educational level and, more recently, to the emergence of support programs for vulnerable women with unplanned pregnancies at risk of abortion”

    These programs which help Chile are the kind of things opposed by American conservatives. Widening the social safety net.

  • Charlie

    Larry, are you suggesting that Chile is stronger in those areas than the United States is right now? I hope not. Especially after passage of the ACA.

    If we banned abortion, it is just as likely that illegal abortion would go down as it would go up. Actually, it is probably likely to go down.

    Even more reason to give vulnerable prenatal children equal protection of the law.

  • Larry

    Obviously that is the case there. Conservative politicians here, the anti-abortion crowd oppose increasing the “social safety net” and easy access to contraception. Plus the article doesn’t address abortion tourism or self-induced abortions.

    You are absolutely wrong about abortion rates going down if we banned abortion. Abortion rates did not drop in this country until there was WIDE access to it and contraception.

    Plus to further undercut the assumption you made in referencing the article, we are already seeing in this country that the onerous abortion restrictions are leading to a dramatic spike in very dangerous and potentially lethal “self induced abortions”. Something which hasn’t really been seen in this country since the days before Roe v. Wade

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2015/11/18/anti-choice-laws-spurring-spike-in-dangerous-self-induced-abortions/

  • Larry

    Just to add, one cannot talk about “pre-natal rights” without engaging in some major moral, factual and logical contortion here.

    One has to engage in ignoring the existence of the mothers or engaging in vile shaming of them. All in order to make the phony claim that your self-styled moral superiority grants you the right to make personal decisions for all women.

    Women who have an unwanted pregnancy being such dirty immoral people that their concerns are immaterial and their health and survival not worthy of concern for you. That is the basis of attacking abortion rights.

  • Doug

    Marcia, you aren’t pro-life. You are anti-abortion. Call it what it is. If you were pro-life, you would be busily active in causes far more significant in human lives than protecting fetuses is.

    See also Monty Python’s “Every Sperm is Sacred” and ask yourself about all that unused sperm that your god created man’s ability to produce. So many lives not created, yet you just let that slide.

    Your side is laughable. At best.

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  • Jack

    There once was an organization called Common Ground for Life and Choice. I wonder what became of it. It was composed of pro-life activists on the one hand and pro-choice activists on the other who agreed to find ways beyond the law of reducing abortions.

    There’s a lot that can be done on this front.

    But I don’t agree with the writer that everyone wants to reduce the number of abortions. Rubbish. I wish it were so, but it isn’t.

  • Jack

    Based on LarryLogic, a contradiction in terms, any time anyone takes a stance of any kind on any issue, they are “shaming” those who disagree or asserting their “moral superiority” over them.

    Carried to its conclusion, that means Larry is “shaming” pro-lifers and asserting his “moral superiority” over them.

    Silly goose….

    The problem with abortion has nothing to do with the behavior of women or men in any other way. It’s the act of abortion itself that’s the problem. It’s taking human life, albeit in its prenatal stage.

    And Larry will do anything in the world to avoid and evade that simple, bedrock fact. He will muddy the waters in a thousand ways to obfuscate, to obscure the road leading to that undeniable reality.

  • Jack

    Doug, I don’t know how you made it through biology class with your magical thinking, but life begins…..at the beginning, when the sperm fertilizes the egg.

    Interesting how the same people who feign an almost worshipful stance toward science on all other issues are scientific ignoramuses when the issues are abortion, when life begins, and fetal development.

  • Philip

    WHACK! Ad Hominem Jack is back with another personal attack!

  • Philip

    WHACK 2! Ad Hominem Jack is back with yet another personal attack!

  • Larry

    “Carried to its conclusion, that means Larry is “shaming” pro-lifers and asserting his “moral superiority” over them.”

    I see you have met the reductio ad absurdum fallacy to go along with your usual ad hominem and strawman.

    Unlike the anti-abortion crowd I don’t claim your shameful actions entitles me to make decisions for you. 🙂

  • Larry

    http://thinkprogress.org/health/2015/11/17/3723068/self-induced-abortion-texas/

    ” Somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 women of reproductive age living in Texas have tried to end their pregnancy entirely on their own, without any medical assistance, according to a group of policy researchers. Most of these women either used home remedies, like herbs or vitamins, or went across the border to Mexico to buy misoprostol, the drug used in U.S. clinics to terminate a pregnancy.

    “As clinic-based care becomes harder to access in Texas, we can expect more women to feel that they have no other option and take matters into their own hands,”
    http://www.utexas.edu/cola/txpep/news/article.php?id=10043

  • Carolyn

    I disagree with you, Larry. These services that the writer is talking about are often funded by prolifers who put their money where their mouth is.
    I think the real problem here is the party-liners who fall for whatever rhetoric the Republicans spout because they are the “prolife” party. I think those who are truly prolife (in that they care for the lives of babies even after they are born) are the ones providing and supporting these services and adopting and doing whatever else they can to help support these women.
    For example, one of our prolife friends is a doctor. Instead of earning the big bucks in a private practice, he earns significantly less providing quality prenatal care at an inner city clinic with a sliding scale based on income. In fact, it is my plan to work there with him once I have my Masters as a Nurse Practitioner.
    Please don’t lump us all in with the ones who claim to be pro-life just for political reasons, or with the idiots who fall for it.

  • Diogenes

    An unspoken but salient point is that 50+ years of sex education in America’s classrooms have accomplished absolutely nothing. Unwanted pregnancies, always problematic, are joined statistically (in a tangential sense) with a continuing uptick in the incidence of STD’s. Whether pro choice/abortion, or pro life/anti-choice, what Americans both male and female have demonstrated more than anything else, is a complete fecklessness in matters of sexual common sense.

  • larry

    Well no. In states with restrictive abortion laws, restricted access to contraception and inadequate sex education, teen pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies skyrocket. Texas has been a great example of how that plays out.

    The resistance to 50+ years of sex education as well as attacks on the availability of contraception and silly Christian purity culture have undermined efforts . Abstinence only education is a joke with no positive results to speak of other than that warm glow of self-righteous egotism produced by Christian fundamentalists.

    One will never find “sexual common sense” coming from people who claim abstinence is the only viable option, such as yourself.

    Christian Fundamentalists never produce solutions to problems. They either create more of them, try to keep them out of view or just point fingers and denounce how everyone else are just vile sinners.

  • Jack

    Wrong, Larry. I base my opposition to abortion neither on “shaming” anybody nor on the fact that I obviously think you’re a moral barbarian on the issue, given your position that it’s just wonderful all the way up until birth.

    I base it my belief in the science of fetal development, as opposed to the magical notion that life suddenly begins at birth. I leave magical thinking to the domain of five-year-olds, psychiatric patients, and radical pro-abortionists like yourself.

  • Jack

    Where to begin…..

    The fact that for the better part of a generation now, most kids are graduating high school as virgins, for the first time in many decades, obviously suggests that the abstinence message is working for that segment of teens who were on the fence regarding sexual activity.

    As for teens who will be sexually active regardless of any abstinence message, the good news is that more are using birth control than previously.

    So it seems that there is some good news to report on this front……More kids are abstinent than at any time in decades, and among the sexually active, more are using birth control. That’s a double victory.

    But professional activists on both sides of the cultural divide are still growling, because growling is essential for successful fundraising for their respective causes.

  • Jack

    I see that “Philip,” who sounds like Larry’s clone, thinks he’s scoring brownie points with the Universal Prissy somewhere beyond objective reality, who faithfully awards gold stars to the prim and proper.

    The only problem is that Philip/Larry is as prim and proper as a gang of besotted old rockers trashing a hotel room.

  • larry

    Yes you do. It permits you to ignore the rights of a mother in order to justify your view.

    You think yourself so superior to women with unwanted pregnancies that they should defer their personal decisions to you. It’s inherent to your view.

  • larry

    Jack, your criticism of sex education is a lot like libertarian politicians complaints about the lack of function of government. They spend all their time undermining any effort to make it work and actively opposing it. But then they complain of the lack of results….caused by their actions.

    The states where fundies hold enough sway for abstinence only caca and effective attcks on availability of contraception have the highest teen/unwanted pregnancy rates.