Previously published elsewhere on July 16, 2013
I recently escaped to Colorado, after living in Oklahoma for 39 years. Though similar abortion legislation has recently been passed, or simply declared (looking at you, Ohio), in multiple states, I primarily reference Oklahoma and Texas below (and a little Arizona because, well, that state tends to scream for attention).
I’ve spent the past month completely pre-occupied with events in Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina. A pre-occupation that has interfered with my work and time with my family. It’s always this way for me when abortion issues take center stage, though not for reasons people might suspect. I’ve never had an abortion. Technically, I don’t have “personal” experience with it. Yet, my existence is intrinsically connected to this issue.
My mom was 15-years-old when she became pregnant. I was born in October 1972, nine days after Roe v. Wade was re-argued before the Supreme Court. I was three months and two days old when the opinion was issued. If my conception had occurred one year later, I might not be here.
I am also passionately pro-choice.
My opinion on this matter isn’t a form of masochism, nor the result of a bad childhood. In fact, my mom and I are extremely close. But I have spent the past month, indeed years, listening to politicians explain how much they value life and about protecting “those little babies.” I was one of those babies. Unlike those of politicians, my opinion is born of actual experience and a perspective that casts a glaring light of hypocrisy on the pro-lifers passing these laws. I get to take their words and reasoning personally because I am exactly who they deign to be protecting through their exploitive legislation. Frankly, their hypocrisy and willful ignorance has grown infuriating.
In 1972, when my mom was a teenager, women didn’t have any choices in pregnancy, nor did they have a lot of other things. Schools didn’t teach comprehensive sex education, meaning they never covered topics such as contraception, consent, risks. Young and poor women didn’t have access to clinics where they could obtain affordable reproductive health care, nor did they have access to birth control. No knowledge, no care, no protection, no choice. And in October of that year, while the Supreme Court pondered Roe v. Wade, my mom became a teenage mother.
When I compare today’s world with that one, I am terrified by the similarities emerging. Oklahoma and Texas schools are not required to provide sex education. If a school does, it is required to teach an “abstinence-only” curriculum. Information regarding STDs or contraception is completely (and absurdly) optional.
Moreover, Texas’ recent legislation will likely close all but 5 clinics. In a state that is over 700 miles wide, where 42 clinics currently provide care to literally millions of young and low-income women, this will inevitably mean many women won’t have access to reproductive health care, cancer screenings, birth control or safe abortions.
No knowledge, no care, no protection and no choice. Sound familiar? Think about that while also considering Texas currently has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Oklahoma comes in fourth. It’s as if these states want unintended pregnancies because they certainly work to create the perfect storm.
Still, it’s the differences between the pre-Roe v. Wade world and today that are the most terrifying. Looking back to my early childhood, it is blatantly clear to me now that we were skirting the poverty line. I was one of the lucky ones, never actually going without food or clothing, but I was distinctly aware we were poor. Fortunately, my mother eventually took advantage of every program available to her to drag us out of poverty. After years of dead end jobs that barely paid the bills, she went to college while I was in elementary school. She received Pell Grants to help pay for tuition and took out a reasonable amount of student loans. I recall her using both welfare programs and food stamps at least part of that time to help with housing and food. We were still ridiculously poor, but we had a future.
In the end, the government more than profited from its investment in my mom. She has been an economically productive, tax-paying professional for over thirty years. I grew up healthy and went on to college and then law school. Officials talk about needing to cut off the circular nature of government dependence, but they rarely discuss the circular nature of independence government investment can foster.
Today, the programs she used have been slashed by the same legislatures that proclaim themselves pro-life. Pell grants, 74% of which are awarded to families making $23,000 or less, cover less than 1/3 of tuition costs. The welfare and food stamp programs are exceedingly limited in both time restrictions and benefit cuts. They emphasize immediate employment in low-wage jobs with no future. These programs no longer lend themselves to long-term changes through higher education but instead to a cycle of poverty to pass on through generations. It is possible for a mom to do what mine did, but highly unlikely.
Further, there is a telling correlation between those voting pro-life and those cutting any care we might receive once we’re actually breathing. I was a healthy kid but like most, I didn’t make it all the way to adulthood unscathed. In second grade, I broke both bones in one arm completely in half (an over-achiever, I know). I wore a cast that covered ¾ of my arm from May through August. At the time, this seemed a tragedy because I wasn’t permitted to swim. Now though, I cringe at what that must have cost. A trip to the emergency room, overnight hospital stay, multiple cast changes and ex-rays equate to substantial bills even for a professional carrying decent insurance. My mom was a poor college student. She has since told me a government program paid a portion and she made monthly payments on the remaining. How would that play out today? Not well in Texas or Oklahoma.
Both states tout women’s health and protection of babies as their noble reasons for passing these laws. Yet, in spite of hospital and medical associations pleading with them to do otherwise, Governors Perry and Fallin refused Medicaid expansion. In Texas, expansion would have provided $100 billion to pay for health care for the poor, including children. This in a State that had already cut $700 million from state Medicaid funding in its previous budget. Texas currently has the highest percentage of uninsured adults in the nation with 28.8%. Keep in mind, Texas is a monstrosity – 28.8% is 4.78 million people, higher than the entire population in many states.
In 2007, Rep. Jodi Laubenberg, sponsor of the Texas bill and rape-kit intellectual extraordinaire, proposed an amendment to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”), which helps cover uninsured children in low-income families, to require mothers to wait three months before they could begin receiving prenatal and perinatal care. When this was challenged, Laubenberg explained her reasoning as, “But they’re not born yet.” Two years later, when Texas had 1.1 million uninsured children, Laubenberg voted no on a bill that would increase the number of children eligible for CHIP. Pro-life? Really?
Nothing illustrates the inconsistency of the pro-life platform better than the 20-week ban. Abortions after 20 weeks are rare and are almost always related to developmental defects of the fetus, something parents don’t generally become aware of until the standard 20 week ultrasound. In Texas, babies with birth defects that I can’t even wrap my mind around will be born into a pro-life state that has gutted children’s health insurance programs and refused federal funds for the same.
Arizona passed similar legislation, though it was struck down following a legal challenge. During appellate court arguments, one of the judges, a Bush appointee, expressed concern about forbidding parents the opportunity to make any decisions after becoming aware their baby might develop “horrible birth defects.” Arizona’s solicitor general candidly responded, “With due respect, that’s the woman’s problem.”
Though by now I shouldn’t be surprised, I admit, I was stunned by his answer. It’s not at all clear to me that anyone in that situation is receiving “due respect,” certainly not the child these laws purportedly protect. The Arizona law provided for criminal prosecution of any doctor who performed an abortion after the cut-off. I think about my life, the assistance my mother received when I had something as elementary as two broken bones. The idea there would be nothing to assist the mother or the child born with birth defects after the government forced that birth to occur makes me question who the real criminals are in that situation.
Pro-life advocates are rabid in their supposed desire to protect the unborn. They are not so moved to protect the welfare of a living child, especially if it might cost the government money. I cannot reconcile these positions and I have yet to gain any answers to this paradox from those who so violently advocate for life. If those social and medical programs do not offer anything else, they offer hope and opportunity. Ironically, they offer life to the next generation of statistics like me.
All I can ever think about while the pro-life advocates are yelling about protecting the unborn is, “You’re not there once we’ve arrived!” It is a choice that should be made by those who will actually be present. In the meantime, pro-lifers could spend their energy on programs that actually prevent unintended pregnancies, but no. Instead, they remain perversely obsessed with forced births.
If abortion had been a legal option, my mom might have taken it. And if I had been her friend sitting beside her, as I was later to a friend in college, I would have supported her and truthfully answered, “I’d probably do the same thing in your situation.” People desperately want this to be a black and white issue but it just isn’t and never will be. The only clear thing is this – as one of the protected unborn, I know officials cannot legitimately tout themselves as pro-life and opine about protecting the most vulnerable, while simultaneously cutting every program that gives us any hope in life. It fills me with rage when I watch them force us to be born and then abandon us as soon as we take a breath. Protecting life has to involve more than just requiring existence because my life didn’t end simply because I was born.