Refuting Libby Anne: No, pro-lifers aren’t making children too expensive to let live

Never mind for now the ghoulishness of deciding whether to kill a child based on finances…

Pro-choice denizens of the blogosphere have found a new hero in Libby Anne, whose article “How I Lost Faith in the Pro-Life Movement” tries to be a one-stop shop for why pro-lifers are wrong about everything.

Fortunately, Live Action is here to refute her claims, one by one.

Kristi Burton Brown and Kristen Walker Hatten have already tackled two of ‘em, and now it’s my turn. Here, I’ll be addressing Anne’s argument that pro-lifers actually encourage abortion because the other policies of pro-life politicians make it more expensive to have children.

(Naturally, left unmentioned is the ghoulishness of deciding whether to kill a child based on finances, making abortion the only area of life where liberals aren’t instinctively repulsed by the thought of putting money above basic human compassion. But I digress.)

Citing data from the Guttmacher Institute (which is nowhere near as objective as she wants her readers to believe), Anne begins with a simple proposition:

One thing I realized back in 2007 is that, given that six in ten women who have abortions already have at least one child and that three quarters of women who have abortions report that they cannot afford another child, if we want to bring abortion rates down we need to make sure that women can always afford to carry their pregnancies to term. Maternity and birth is expensive, adding your child to your health care plan is expensive, daycare is expensive, and on and on it goes.

While it’s obviously true that children are expensive, Anne’s link between low income and abortion isn’t quite a slam-dunk. Analyzing a Guttmacher study on rising abortion rates among poor women, Witherspoon Institute researcher Michael New points out that “this finding is not consistent among racial and ethnic groups” – even as abortions spiked dramatically among low-income white women, they rose only slightly among low-income black women and declined among low-income Hispanic women, an inconsistency Guttmacher doesn’t “adequately explain.”

New also observes that there’s another painfully obvious explanation for these abortions – because state governments are paying for them – and that, even more embarrassingly for Anne’s side, this increase happens to coincide with an increase in public funding of the very services she hails as the key to abortion prevention: “federal grants to Planned Parenthood increased from $165 million in 1998 to $363 million in 2008.”

Further, Patheos blogger Marc Barnes, in another reply to Anne worth reading, compares NARAL’s state scorecards with state abortion rates and finds that the most pro-life states tend to also have lower abortion rates – meaning that if those states’ pro-life leaders are also enacting the burdensome economic policies Anne attributes to them, it’s not having the effect she predicts.

If we found a way to offer more aid to parents, if we mandated things like paid maternity leave, subsidized childcare, and universal health insurance for pregnant women and for children, some women who would otherwise abort would almost certainly decide to carry their pregnancies to term. But the odd thing is, those who identify as “pro-life” are most adamant in opposing these kind of reforms. I knew this back in 2007, because I grew up in one of those families. I grew up believing that welfare should be abolished, that Head Start needed to be eliminated, that medicaid just enabled people to be lazy. I grew up in a family that wanted to abolish some of the very programs with the potential to decrease the number of abortions […]

And lately, it’s gotten worse. You see, in some cases conservatives are actively working to make it harder for poor women to afford to carry unintended pregnancies to term […] In other words, this bill would make it so that if a poor woman gets pregnant, she has to decide whether to have an abortion or whether to carry to term, have the baby, and see her welfare benefits slashed, taking food out of the mouths of the children she is already struggling to feed.

It’s easy to list a bunch of nice-sounding things and then browbeat your opponents for being against X, Y, and Z. It’s much harder to engage the reality that behind the innocuous names and superficial goals lie complex policies with little things called “details” and “effects.” Any serious thinker knows that it isn’t the thought that counts, that truly responsible policymaking requires weighing benefits against costs and recognizing that even the most well-intentioned measures can have unintended consequences.

For instance, forcing employers to pay for one benefit means reduced compensation somewhere else. The “universal insurance coverage” she’s talking about is actually a hornet’s nest of increased costs for women. And when conservatives speak critically of our welfare status quo, we’re not talking about throwing destitute women into the streets – we’ve got very real waste and abuse in mind, as well as the undeniable harm done to a populace conditioned against recognizing the difference between a hand up and a handout. (Besides, the conservative theory of government is to make life less expensive for people in a far simpler way: by not taking as much money from them through taxes.)

I want to say I’m surprised, but I’m really not, because I’m remembering rumblings underneath the polished surface of the things I was taught. This idea that women shouldn’t “spread their legs” if they’re not ready to raise the results of their promiscuity, that the government shouldn’t be expected to pick up the tab for some slut’s inability to say no.

Actually, Anne has just alluded to the ultimate refutation of her point: pregnancy doesn’t just happen. The women she’s talking about presumably know they can’t financially handle parenthood, yet have chosen to bring the possibility of pregnancy into their lives. All of them could have chosen to say “not tonight,” and it wouldn’t have cost them a cent. Why isn’t it reasonable to expect people to factor basic responsibility into their decision-making? Why isn’t your preparedness for children something you should consider before having sex? And once you’ve brought about a situation you’re not ready for, why should the burden for alleviating it automatically shift to the rest of us? Most importantly, why should your child pay the ultimate price for costs you’ve incurred?

So far, Libby Anne’s reasons for leaving the pro-life movement aren’t withstanding closer scrutiny. Might we win her back? Stay tuned.

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