Banning abortion isn’t about morality: It’s the economy

Stop trying to convince anti-abortion folks that they should listen to the stories about a person’s choice with abortion: they don’t care. I don’t mean to imply that people who have had abortions should not go public, as it helps to end the stigma even within pro-choice organizations. Those in positions of power could care less about a person’s abortion story because the problem was never abortion. Just look at the extensive list of anti-abortion advocates whose motto boils down to “it’s OK for me; evil for thee.” A person shouldn’t have to air their personal and complex decisions with the hope that it would change some terrible peoples’ minds. It won’t, because it was never about abortion. 

Why, at this moment, are abortion bans happening? Think about the economic and population consideration that cause the state and those in power to decide that abortion and other contraceptives are suddenly immoral, that a woman’s essential purpose in life was motherhood and that sex was only for reproductive purposes. And if the birth of that child causes even more economic strain and forces those who can get pregnant into low-wage and exploitative labor? Well, that’s par for the course. If people have no choice but to pay back multiple medical bills even though they gave the child up for adoption? Well, get a second or third job. And if a person dies because they sought a back-alley abortion. Well, they deserved that punishment. A person goes to prison for miscarrying or for seeking an abortion only because they haven’t served their purpose of producing the next generation of workers, laborers and child-bearers, and the state deserves retribution, because we’re starting to need those next generations, desperately.

Abortion access and contraceptives have been banned or legalized depending on the state’s political and economic needs. Prior to the 19thcentury, a person could to a physician and end her pregnancy as long as it was before they could feel the fetus move. Growing concerns over the rise of Catholic immigrants served as a pretext for the rise of restriction to abortion, since immigration was infringing on the White Anglo-Saxon majority and Protestant were having fewer children. The first attempts at opposition to abortion and contraception were the Comstock Laws in 1873, passed to regulate information to the public about abortion, contraception, and sexually explicit material such as pornography. Fetal personhood hardly came into the argument until the early 20thcentury, and that argument was subsumed by the rise of religious morality which tied sex solely to the role of reproduction and not for pleasure. 

States implementing abortion restrictions saw birthrates drop from 37 to 29 births per 1000 population. Between 1900 and 1935-39 birth rates dropped to 17 per 1000, causing that lowering birthrates would have disastrous effects on the industrialized economy, which relied on the reproduction of laborers in the workforce. For enslaved peoples, access to birth control and abortion was expressly forbidden, since slaveowners saw slave children as adding to their human capital. Slaveowners routinely would put slaves together with the hopes of children being produced and tied a person’s status as a slave to the status of their mother, ensuring a continuous supply of enslaved individuals. 

Numerous examples highlight how abortion access and restriction is tied to economic and population needs of the state and elites in power. Despite its landmark ruling, Roe v. Wade was a continuation of regulating for those needs. Nowhere in the majority opinion does an individual’s choice come into the fore: 

“A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a life-saving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgement of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.

For the stage of subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, [emphasis added] the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health. 

For the stage subsequent to viability, [emphasis added] the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgement, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother…

This holding, we feel, is consistent with the relative weights of the respective interests involved, with the lessons and examples of medical and legal history, with the lenity of common, and with the demands of the profound problem of the present day.”

Even in such an important decision, the Supreme Court has given the state leeway to enact and decide regulations for a person’s right to choose what happens to their bodies. Wade was the beginning, but the work still needed to be done. Anti-abortion backlash happened almost immediately after the decision.

What is the economic and population landscape of American society now that is leading us back to a time where people are going to be criminalized for seeking abortions? What are people not seeing when it comes to the political landscape, where white men in positions of power can cry for the life of the fetus but demand that a mistress seek termination of a pregnancy? 

The US birthrate fell to a 32-year law in 2018, a 2% drop since 2017. Birthrates fell across all racial lines, a 1% fall for Latinx people and a 2% fall to Black and White individuals. The economy is desperate for higher birthrates, both for the future labor force and caregivers for the aging population. Instead of fixing economic factors that would lead to higher birthrates – a living wage, parental leave, a robust welfare state and single-payer healthcare –, states would rather criminalize any form of birth control to get the desired results. 

These decisions are further impelled by white supremacist ideology. Since the United States is going to have to rely heavily on immigrants to supplement those labor needs, a white majority in an Anglo-Saxon society is once again in “danger” of turning into a minority. The same racist fears that led to bans in abortion and contraceptives are being rehashed. That is why we cannot rely on the state, Democrats in power and a better President to save us by telling the stories of the individuals that have had abortions. That is why calling for safe abortions to happen because back-alley abortions will kill people won’t matter.  Again, they don’t care. Stop giving pro-life the “sensible” debate about a person’s choice. From here on, and as before, we can only rely on each other to ensure a person’s bodily autonomy.

(Photo Credit: Women’s Web)