Abortion, Policy and the Rights I Dream About Having

by Diane R. Pagen, LMSW

Do you think that abortion is a joyful and liberating experience, akin to a yoga retreat? This is what abortion rights activists often sound like they are telling us to think. Must you think so, in order to preserve the right to have one? This is the impression I get from celebrities who fancy themselves women’s rights activists. Celebrities, though their opinions are no more informed (and maybe even less informed) than the average person, get media coverage for every statement that they make about any controversial public issue, including one as important and contentious as abortion.

Sometimes those statements are reckless. An example is the writer/actress Lena Dunham, who earlier this year got a few days of media coverage by stating that she wished she had had an abortion already because to have had one would make her a better advocate for women’s abortion rights. The fact that she thinks she knows exactly the effect that terminating a pregnancy would have on her is naïve beyond belief, yet women like Dunham tell the rest of America that women’s empowerment starts by taking lightly a matter so personally and socially difficult as abortion. Damn, she makes having an abortion sound like a virtual rite of passage for people who care about women’s rights.

Her ignorance is unsurprising, though she considers herself a fierce supporter of black women, for example. Does she realize that abortions are disproportionately performed on black women? Nationally there are 365 black babies aborted for every 1,000 that are born. If illness or accident were killing these many babies the CDC would be convening to find a cure. What is she doing to right that wrong? More importantly, what are many on the Left, who wants a pro abortion stance to be a requirement for Democratic Party candidates, doing about it? Don’t black lives matter?

I have a range of dreams for myself and other women—a family, a rewarding job, a world free of violence, great schools for kids, the end of prisons, a comfortable home, good health, good books, enough money, a safe and healthy old age for all—yet every day, American women have only the opinions the pro- choice establishment that offers up a narrow menu of what to fight for: the right to an abortion. According to them, abortion is the be all and end all of what women should expect from society. They fight for nothing else that women need, and they do not fight for your reproductive right to have a baby, only to not have it.

According to the Guttmacher Foundation, over 70% of abortions are sought not because the women don’t want to be mothers, but because of economic worries. Thanks to more than twenty years of welfare reform ideology, women nationwide know that there is virtually no income support for women who become mothers. In fact, 15 of the states will not give any additional cash assistance for a baby if its mother gets pregnant after enrolling in welfare benefits.

Few people know that those 15 states “refer the mother to family planning” when she is determined to be pregnant. You don’t have to be a genius to realize that a woman referred to “family planning” once she is already pregnant is being referred to an abortion provider. Planned Parenthood knows this. This doesn’t sound very pro-choice to me. It sounds like we have an abortion referral mechanism built into a program that serves only poor women: we are targeting this “service” to low-income women, with no parallel referral mechanism to reach wealthy women.

If Planned Parenthood and abortion activists really think that all women should have equal access to this right, why don’t we have similar policy mechanisms in place to get wealthy women to seek abortions? I am sure it will be denied, but facts are facts. There isn’t one, and there won’t be. Abortion is disproportionately carried out in poor neighborhoods and sought by the non-wealthy, and Planned Parenthood at worst supports this system, and at best ignores it.

The best that can be said of abortion is that it is sometimes the solution to a particular woman’s circumstances. But in their zeal for preserving legal abortion, Planned Parenthood and other women’s pro- choice organizations refuse to have a fully informed, adult conversation with the American public about all its aspects—including the range of emotional reactions to it be they relief or depression, economic drivers of abortion, the absence of real cash assistance under the current welfare system, and the way that abortion disproportionately is carried out among African Americans and therefore extremely problematic in terms of preserving the black community. For Planned Parenthood, the end—legal abortion on demand—justifies the means, and the means include quashing any realistic and humanistic discussion of abortion and the ways it affects the American community. They need for you to think that an abortion is a procedure devoid of emotion, in itself a suggestion that insults women’s capacity to think and feel.

It’s offensive though, that women who have Ms. Dunham’s attitude egg everyone ELSE on to abort, but think that their ilk (i.e. the well off, famous) should have babies and document the growth of their own pregnancy with endless “baby bump” selfies. The kindest thing that I can say about her is that she is still young. She is also a product of the public relations campaign perpetrated by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Her lack of interest in the emotional aspects, as well as her lack of interest in its disproportionate effect on poor women and the families they might have had, are not her own doing. Decades of social engineering are responsible.

The engineering goes like this: poor women should have abortions and go back to seeking out a living in an economy where few people will ever “have enough money to have a baby.” Not having a baby until you have enough money to meet all its needs (this includes sending it to college and getting it an iPhone at age 8) is part of a woman’s duty of “Personal Responsibility.” Planned Parenthood leadership endorses “Personal Responsibility” and other judgmental and discriminatory aspects of the Welfare Reform Law of 1996 explicitly in its literature.

Celebrities boast about being pro-choice for the rest of us to have “reproductive rights,” then brag about their own pregnancies. We can’t open a magazine without reading about the latest pregnant actor and how she is “over the moon” about expecting. I feel for the woman who passes the newsstand, the one who just had an abortion because she thought couldn’t afford to raise a kid. I imagine Planned Parenthood executives don’t give her a thought.

Meanwhile, you’ll notice how often celebrity moms practically anoint themselves while being publicly pregnant, as if they have discovered the holy grail; snapping selfies of their bellies throughout. I’m sure Ms. Dunham will do the same when her turn comes, all the while telling other women that they should have abortions and not feel “stigma” about it.

Stigma is the least of America’s problem. Poverty, a public assistance safety net that is diverted from poor people, and disproportionate pressure on low income and women of color to terminate pregnancies are the problems. A lack of education about all the possible emotional reactions to an abortion is also a big problem. Though Planned Parenthood won’t say it, there are women who experience regret and grief after an abortion. The pro-choice gag order on discussing the range of emotional reactions to abortion is a disservice to women, especially the youngest, who are not given all the information that they need to make an informed decision and may be caught totally by surprise by feelings of loss they were not warned about. If we really care about women, wouldn’t we give them all the accurate information, so they can make an informed choice?

The women’s rights advocate or family planning worker who withholds information from a woman trying to decide whether to become a mother is no better than the male chauvinist who says that women shouldn’t have been given the right to vote: both people are acting like women armed with accurate information are incapable of making good choices. Saying, “You are twelve weeks pregnant. We can do the procedure for you today” to a college student who sits in front of you undecided, uninformed, and totally frightened about how her life may change, is simply jumping the gun. How about starting with, “You are twelve weeks pregnant. What do you think of that?” I should think that would have helped that women to view all her options and eventually reach her own decision, whatever it would have been, instead of being rushed to Planned Parenthood’s desired outcome.

The pro-abortion lobby also refuses to attach abortion policy to population policy and planning. Today, the U.S. fertility rate is insufficient to maintain our Social Security program and insufficient to enable the care of aging Americans, but pro-abortion organizations reject any attempts to make childbearing more pleasant through pro fertility policy changes as oppressive to women in general. Pro- abortion organizations rarely act to support child-friendly policies, don’t aggressively support a U.S. child allowance, or call out the evisceration of welfare cash benefits, all which would make abortion less necessary. Supporting these useful things would not make abortion illegal, just more rare, something most Americans want. But it would probably decrease profits from abortion, and this may factor into Planned Parenthood and other organizations’ fixation on fighting restrictions on legal abortion.

In America today, more than 60 percent of Democrats do not agree with abortion. Much of the population either quietly accept abortion as a regretful necessity, or vocally object to it; women who have had abortions in the great majority don’t consider it an accomplishment and keep it to themselves. The asinine “Shout Your Abortion” campaign begun on the internet a while back imploded; this is because rational people respect life too much to participate in such idiocy, and most people have an instinctive disgust for the mechanics of abortion. Even Planned Parenthood stayed out of it.

More than 70 percent of women who seek abortions do so for economic reasons. Abortion is disproportionately carried out on poor people, on African Americans and other Americans of color. Legal and safe abortion is not a safety net policy. It is easy to make the case that a pro-life orientation is more racially just and economically just, and more rational than an abortion rights orientation is. These are strong reasons to start accepting candidates for public office into the party who have a pro-life orientation.

I am pro-choice, but I am also pro freedom. As in, freedom to choose to keep your baby without fear of starvation and social condemnation. We are caught up in the most alarming social engineering experiment of our time, the one where we convince rational people that ending one million U.S. pregnancies a year—mostly within low-income families— is nothing to be concerned about. Or ashamed of. I also fear that the lack of concern is affecting the judgment of younger Americans as to what kind of actions are repugnant. It wasn’t long ago that a New York City teenager gave birth, killed the baby, then stuffed it in her purse and went shopping at Victoria’s Secret. Maybe she thought her actions didn’t seem much different from having an abortion in the third trimester. Maybe it isn’t.

For all the above reasons, there is a place in the Democratic Party for pro-life candidates and a place in the women’s rights movement for us.