The opinion section of The New York Times often oscillates between being embarrassing and terrible. On Tuesday, it managed both. Beautiful.
In a piece pegged to the Omaha mayoral election, which has reignited a debate about the place of anti-abortion Democrats in a “big tent” party and the consequences of framing access to the procedure as a cultural rather than economic issue, Lori Szala, a national director at the anti-abortion Human Coalition, writes that it’s a mistake to connect abortion and economics:
Above all, it’s a profoundly dehumanizing argument. It reduces mothers and their children to mere economic objects, and amounts to saying we are justified in killing those who impede our economic progress. Parenting presents undeniable challenges, but no one argues that those challenges give parents the right to kill their children.
It’s also patronizing, and patently dishonest. Of course unplanned pregnancy presents challenges. But it doesn’t have to lead to economic failure. Abortion is society’s easy way out — its way of avoiding grappling with the fundamental injustices driving women to abortion clinics.
Szala then goes on to write about her own experience of becoming pregnant at a young age, scheduling an abortion, and deciding against it after a friend begged her to change her mind. She found housing, took parenting classes, and graduated high school on time. She eventually worked her way “up the ladder” at an investment firm.
Today, Szala is married with three children. The pessimists were wrong, she writes. In order to make her story possible for more women, she advocates for “help” of the sort provided by Human Coalition—crisis pregnancy centers paired with private charity. (“Conservatives must do more than tell abortion-seeking women to ‘go in peace and keep warm and well fed’; they must sacrifice their time and treasure to serve women in need.”)
A few things go unsaid here.
Because Szala is an anti-abortion activist who works for an organization with the stated goal of making the procedure “unthinkable and unavailable in our lifetime,” she is writing from the unreality of the culture wars. In that alternate universe, women who terminate their pregnancies are victims of a profit-seeking industry run by people who sell baby parts to finance sports cars, criminalization does not carry dangerous or deadly consequences, and the problem to be eradicated isn’t poverty and the conditions of deprivation that lead some women to terminate otherwise wanted pregnancies, but the simple availability of legal abortion.
If you can’t engage with the medical and material realities surrounding abortion, you can’t make a non-bullshit argument.
Set aside the pat way in which Szala compares an extraordinarily common medical procedure to homicide, and the women who have it to animals gnawing off their own legs, and you are still left with a bad faith argument premised upon a problem it can’t answer.
Many of the women I have encountered believe they have no choice but to abort: Many tell me they would rather give birth, but they believe the complex, difficult circumstances of their lives — like joblessness, substance abuse, criminal records or homelessness — leave them with no real way to raise a new child.
Women have abortions because they do not want to have children, do not want to have more children, or do not want to have children at the time they become pregnant, but Szala is right that the material conditions of women’s lives do shape their reproductive choices. Poverty can absolutely act as a coercive force here. A survey from the Guttmacher Institute found that 73 percent of women who had an abortion in 2004 reported that the prohibitive cost of raising a child contributed to their decision.
How to alleviate that? Szala provides the following example:
We recently had a client whose husband needed a car to get to work. A donor sold her car at a steep discount, another donor purchased it for the client, and a third paid for six months of car insurance.
A free car and six months of insurance. That an editor at the Times felt this was sufficient to support Szala’s argument that “unplanned pregnancy doesn’t have to lead to economic failure” is as absurd as the argument itself.
The piece makes no mention of wages, or how the lack of paid family leave policies in the United States often force women out of their jobs or back at their cash registers only days after giving birth. Szala has nothing to say about the affordability of childcare, healthcare, or education or how these problems are shared at varying levels of desperation by nearly all but the very wealthiest of women. She says nothing about the cost of groceries or the current assault on food assistance programs that keep children fed. The piece is silent on every measure or policy that could reasonably address the ways in which motherhood can be a poverty sentence in this country.
This shouldn’t be surprising. On the morning of November 9, while millions of people in this country woke up fearful about losing their healthcare or being torn away from their families by deportation raids, Brian Fisher, the president and co-founder of Human Coalition, felt an “almost unprecedented sense of hope,” and was “reinvigorated by the knowledge that our new government leaders had at least pledged to stand with us.” He then went on to applaud the Congressional body that most recently affirmed its position that it’s acceptable to allow children with heart defects to die if their parents can’t afford their medical care.
It’s a morally bankrupt grift, and one that The New York Times is happy to promote in the name of “balance.” Fuck your free car.