More State Help for More Babies?
Terry H. Schwadron
June 28, 2022
The question is only now beginning to take hold: After a Supreme Court decision that allows states to end abortion, how are these states going to support women and babies?
Among the many real-life questions that the court ignored in its snooty review of historical reasoning was whether they were creating new problems for poor women, infants or states.
The very red states that are proving the most active in shutting clinics and moving to criminalize abortions are the same that score lowest on public services for health, welfare and pre-school aged support for children, to say nothing of public education and mental health services that follow.
Even with state restrictions governing abortions growing, there were about 860,000 in 2017, down from 926,000 in 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-partisan group that keeps statistics.
With about half the states moving to halt abortions, logic says we can probably expect unwanted births to rise by about half that number. Women who can afford it will travel to states where they still can get abortions, and choice advocates are busy raising money for travel grants, so let’s reduce it to maybe a third more babies, still somewhere in the 300,000 range.
Abortion statistics, which remain fairly stable year to year tell us that 58% of U.S. women of reproductive age live in states that were considered hostile to abortion rights, that one of four women will have an abortion by age 45, that more than half were in their 20s, and that clinic patients were about 38% white, 28% Black, 25% Latin. Only 16% were born outside of the United States, which is comparable to the rate of all women aged 15–44.
Fully 60% already were parents, and 75% had an income below federal poverty lines. That is, we know that economics have played a role in abortion decisions, yet the anti-abortion campaigning has reflected such decisions only as antithetical to faith and belief in pre-born life.
Are We Even Asking the Questions?
However the legal and mechanical processes of crossing state lines or distributing medical abortion pills work out, the point is that we haven’t really opened the box yet on services that states might be expected to provide.
After all, these are states that have declined to underwrite an expansion of health access to state Medicaid, for example, or to invest in pre-K, or even food programs. Poverty rates are highest in these states; so is infant mortality; per-pupil spending is the lowest.
Oftentimes, officials from these states have resisted both the added cost for providing health care access for those who cannot afford it and any attempt by a Democratic federal government to force states to comply.
Suddenly, we now have states moving rapidly to force thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of new births that disproportionately will emerge from households under economic stress.
As Brent Orrell, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, argues in The Bulwark, “As a society with broad, shared agreement on the foundational importance of human dignity, how do we begin creating policies that offer true welcome to mothers and the children who arrive on society’s doorstep unexpected, unbidden — and possibly unwanted? In the new era, there will be more babies born into poverty or with disabilities who would have previously been aborted; what can we do to protect and support them?”
Are those even questions arising in the 26 states expected to stop all abortion in the next weeks?
Rather, the questions we’re hearing from these officials are focusing on enforcement and prosecution, on creating systems as in Texas where neighbors are supposed to spy on neighbors for reward money, and on developing yet more targets for control of private love lives and chosen sex choices.
A Jolt to Our Systems
Even Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in his concurrence with the court’s right-wing majority that the abortion decision would be “a serious jolt to the legal system” — and not just the legal system but to our politics and the administrative state as well. Local elected officials now must determine how to fashion an abortion policy based on the evident splits in our country and that will acknowledge the needs of the women and infants who will inherit the burden of a court decision. It’s not about slogans anymore.
“To create a true culture of life, there is still much more work to be done,” Orrell summarizes.
What happens to the federal Child Tax Credit program, which the very same Republicans have been opposing in Congress, for example? Among the objections has been an insistence that recipients must be working — something made more difficult by forcing women to give birth without exception.
What will these states do to increase support for public education rather than to continue to lobby to undercut schools for support of private, parochial schools, or to support nutrition and hunger programs or address health access?
What will we make of needs for pre-kindergarten programs or of the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Block Grant program, programs universally dismissed by Republicans or expanding various voucher-based support legislation. What of food stamp program extension or programs that aim to make men better, more engaged fathers who support their children? What about more attention to domestic abuse, given the number of abortions whose genesis was in broken relationships?
Shouldn’t states be talking about more visiting nurses or more adoption programs, changes in foster care and keeping new mothers in their homes in a time of skyrocketing rents?
In Texas, when Gov. Greg Abbott was asked about all this, he promised an end to rape as a crime. Have you seen or heard anything since?
States are in a hurry to put their most severe anti-abortion efforts forward and hope that there are not too many gray legal areas. But they just bought into tens of thousands of new households beset by poverty.
It would be nice to hear governors talk about their new commitment to needed social programs.