Having grown up Baptist in Alabama, I’ve always been cynical about conservative Christians’ fervent opposition to Roe v. Wade. I don’t doubt that religious devotion can lead to skepticism — even fierce criticism — of abortion rights. But those same religious principles should lead to efforts to boost the prospects for children, especially poor children, once they are born.
Apparently, the religious fervor that opposes abortion subsides considerably after children come squirming from the womb; it fails to wonder whether they have a chance at a decent life. That helps explain why the class divide in the United States is stark — and only growing more so.
Over the last several months, the rabid anti-choice faction has posted several victories, passing laws that erode a woman’s right to manage her reproductive life. Last week, Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, signed into law a restrictive bill that will outlaw most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — pushed by ultraconservatives who claim that fetuses can feel pain. During the legislative session, right-wing Georgia lawmakers scoffed at the testimony of experts who said that the neural connections needed to feel pain don’t exist before 28 weeks.
Meanwhile, Georgia Right to Life, a rigid anti-abortion group, expressed its disappointment that the new law makes an exception for pregnancies deemed “medically futile,” where the fetus is likely to die shortly after birth. Apparently, the group’s members have little compassion for severely malformed babies who might actually feel pain if forced into a short, doomed existence.
But neither Georgia Right to Life nor similar groups around the country display the same passion, the same dedication, the same fanaticism on behalf of impoverished infants or third-graders that they bring to bear against abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood. Think about it: If the interests of impoverished children commanded more political attention from anti-abortionists, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and conservative governors around the country wouldn’t dare offer up budgets that severely constrain money for Medicaid, the health care program for the very poor that is jointly funded by states and the federal government. About half its beneficiaries are children, according to federal data.
If you fervently believe that unborn children should be protected, shouldn’t you be equally committed to protecting those children from illness and disease once they are born? If you are willing to march in front of an abortion clinic, shouldn’t you be willing to at least vote against any politician who proposes to cut the funds that make it possible for poor children to get eyeglasses and dental care?
(There is one significant exception among the staunch anti-abortion crowd: Catholic nuns. Many of them toil in programs to assist the poor, including children. Recently, however, the Vatican chastised an influential group of American nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, for — among other things — paying too much attention to issues such as poverty and social justice and too little attention to abortion.)
In 2010, when the tea party faction was at the height of its influence, the more savvy among its members sought to downplay concerns that they would lead a full-out assault on social issues. They insisted that tea partiers were interested only in righting the economy and fighting what they described as an intrusive federal government.
Really? In state legislatures around the country, tea party-fueled legislators pushed creationism in schools, took potshots at Planned Parenthood and passed intrusive anti-abortion legislation. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who wants to keep alive his vice presidential prospects, curbed some of the harshest features from a law in that state designed to harass women who need abortions.
But Virginia’s law still requires women to have an ultrasound, whether medically necessary or not. This proposal, which puts the state into the medical exam room, was supported by activists who claim they wanted to fight an overweening government.
Nothing I’ve heard from the anti-abortionists has tamped down my cynicism about their motives. They may not be waging a “war on women,” but they certainly want to restrict women’s choices.
Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at email@example.com.