Anti-choicers have long argued that their interest in removing access to abortion—even for rape survivors and women who will die if they remain pregnant—is because of their concern for unborn children. Occasionally, they'll feign concern for the woman, too, presenting women as hapless victims of baby-killing “abortionists.”
It seems reasonable enough. However necessary it may be, abortion is an unpleasant reality. It's not something any woman would do for fun, and many women have deeply ambivalent feelings about their abortions. But scratch beneath the surface and it becomes clear how inconsistent the anti-choice position really is. These five policies could greatly lower abortion rates, yet “pro-lifers” consistently oppose them—undermining the claim that they care about women, babies, or life.
Comprehensive Sex Education
Anti-choicers almost universally oppose sex outside of marriage, and have diligently lobbied for abstinence-only sex education to force these policies on everyone. They don't work; the states with the highest teen pregnancy rates also have the highest rates of abstinence-only programs. Abstinence-only education does not prevent teen sexual activity, but it does increase the likelihood of engaging in high-risk sex. Abstinence-only education often scares teens out of safer sex practices, and teens who participate in abstinence-based programs are more likely to have anal sex.
Comprehensive sex education that includes accurate details about human biology, education about sexual pleasure and consent, and details about proper condom usage is conclusively linked to lower abortion rates. Hawaii, for example, which recently enacted comprehensive sex education, saw a dramatic drop in abortion rates coincident with the change.
Access to Birth Control
A number of studies have established a link between ready access to birth control and fewer abortions. A recent University of Washington study found a dramatic drop in abortions among 15-19-year-old women with access to free birth control. Abortion rates among women in this age group without access to birth control hover around 34 per 1,000. When teens get access to birth control, the study found, the rate drops to 6.3 per 1,000—a reduction of more than 500%.
Anti-choicers have long claimed that birth control causes abortions, but this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of human biology. Perhaps if anti-choicers believed in comprehensive sex education, they would not have this misunderstanding. Hormonal birth control typically disrupts ovulation, preventing the release of an egg. Some hormonal birth control options also prevent implantation—the moment when the egg burrows into the uterus. The body is not pregnant, does not produce pregnancy hormones, and does not take any steps at all to nurture a developing embryo until implantation. This means a pill that prevents implantation cannot possibly cause abortion.
Family Leave Policies
The US is the only industrialized nation that offers no paid leave time for new parents. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) authorizes six weeks of unpaid leave for new mothers, but for the overwhelming majority of women considering an abortion, this is no help at all. Six weeks without pay can be challenging for even upper middle class families. For a woman living in poverty or at the cusp of poverty, six weeks without pay is simply unmanageable.
Time to recover from birth and bond with a baby is one of the simplest options for lowering the abortion rate. Yet Republicans near-universally opposed even unpaid leave when the FMLA was first enacted. This opposition continues. Paul Ryan, a staunch anti-choicer who has frequently talked about the importance of family, continually opposes any paid leave measures.
Quality and Affordable Health Care
If you have health insurance, the average out-of-pocket health care costs of having a baby are around $2,000. This doesn't include the costs of a Health Care Marketplace plan. An average Silver plan costs around $500 per month, or $4,500 for nine months of pregnancy. That's hardly affordable for most families.
What about families without insurance? For them, things look even worse. Giving birth costs between $30,000 and $50,000, depending upon complications and where you deliver. Yet most anti-choicers oppose any measures to reduce the costs of health care. Indeed, opposition to any maternity coverage at all has become a linchpin of the Republican health care platform.
A Stronger Safety Net
Republican lawmakers have long relished the chance to talk about welfare cheats. A safety net, they argue, discourages people from seeking work and making responsible decisions. The reality is much different. An average family of four can expect to receive about $900 in welfare benefits. Those benefits don't come easily; welfare recipients may be drug-tested, told where and how to live, and even be instructed not to have children. That's a recipe for more abortions, not fewer.
Financial considerations account for 73% of abortions, according to one recent study. While Republicans like to make a big show of giving away free baby clothes and ultrasounds, these nominal giveaways do nothing to eliminate the very real financial turmoil in which women seeking abortions find themselves. Yet these same anti-choicers continue to oppose a safety net. Apparently babies only count as human beings when they're in the uterus. After that, they should get a job and fend for themselves.