The Womb is the Most Dangerous Place for a Child?

This headline was said (not as a question) through a bullhorn at a protest yesterday in Washington D.C. where 40 people staged a “die-in” by lying on the ground in the fetal position while a red cloth was draped over them.

Two nights ago, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said that, “[w]e’ll defend life, because protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society.”

You might be surprised to find that I agree with Ernst – it’s just that we don’t agree about who is the most vulnerable or on the definition of life.

I’m tired of beating the same drum, but I need to say this again: Abortions will happen pretty much the same amount whether they are legal or not. Making abortion illegal does NOT protect any fetus. In fact, it has pretty much the opposite effect. Whether by taking drugs obtained through the black market, having someone beat her in the stomach, going to a dirty doctor who is willing to break the law, or committing suicide – if a woman doesn’t want to be pregnant, she will do almost anything to make sure that pregnancy ends, even if it literally kills her. Which, you know, also kills the fetus. Two deaths instead of one – yay?

The difference between safe and legal abortions and bans is how many women die in the process.

Women are very vulnerable in this society still, and until we ensure that women have full legal autonomy over their bodies, they always will be.

However, I would argue that our most vulnerable citizens are the children who are already breathing air in some pretty tough circumstances.

This includes the urban youth who attends a crumbling and overstuffed school and sees a world where gangs are the only people who might give you love and support.

This includes the “homeschooled” child being raised in a “spare the rod, spoil the child” home, who is given almost no useful education, access to socialization, or way to contact adults who can help stop the abuse (not all or even most homeschooled kids are in this scenario, some parents are great at it, I’m talking about kids like the ones featured on this site).

This also includes the children who do not have a single parent in their lives at all, who are foundering away in the foster and group home system because their parents failed them and most adoptive parents won’t even consider them.

This especially includes LGBTQ youth who are being bullied not just by their peers but by the adults in their lives, often their own parents. The largest segment of suicides and homeless teens are the result of anti-LGBTQ bigotry and the rhetoric that keeps it alive, and children who are highly rejected by their own parents are 8x more likely to kill themselves.

Until we have taken care of every single child in America, until we can guarantee every child the right to an education at least through high school, a somewhat-stable home, and freedom from being mentally, physically, and spiritually abused at the hands of their families, educators, coaches, and pastors, there will be children who need to be worried about far more than children who do not and will never actually exist.

You know what that would take? A whole lot more social programs.

There are three things that have been found to drive down abortion rates: fully accessible contraception options, social welfare programs, and a healthy economy. Mandated paid maternity and sick leave for all workers, a livable minimum wage, affordable child care, health care programs that include family planning and full pre-natal care – these might actually help drive down the abortion rate (which is already at its lowest at this point), unlike restricting abortion access.

For many families, the addition of one child can be what pushes them from middle class to poverty. Just one normal child, without special needs or major health interventions. According to surveys done by the Guttmacher Institute, 74% of participating women who had abortions in 2004 cited  “I can’t afford a baby now” as a reason. Many of these women already have at least one child (47% were “done with childbearing”) and knew they could not afford another without sacrificing the futures of their existing child(ren). Several women specifically mentioned that they chose abortion in order to stay off public assistance.

Take your pick, conservatives – you can’t have austerity and poverty wages and deny people access to good family planning AND expect that women will stop making a choice that has proven wise for millions of women and families all over the world, regardless of how many obstacles you build.

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