Today, the Guttmacher Institute reported that the abortion rate in the United States reached its lowest level since 1973, the year that the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade. But to the extent that either side can claim any victory in this landmark, credit should go to reproductive rights groups, not anti-abortion activists. In fact, foes of abortion have opposed most every single public policy that contributes to lowering the abortion rate in America.
Of course, the best example is contraception. Conservatives have been apoplectic about a requirement under Obamacare that private insurance companies must provide affordable access to contraception. It would be one thing if the contraception outrage were merely manufactured as an excuse to undermine Obamacare as a whole—the “War on Women” simply as pretext for the “War on Obamacare.” But the puritanical conservative fervor against contraception seems far more genuine, for instance when Former Republican governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently suggested that women need contraception because “they cannot control their libido.” Another Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Rick Santorum, thinks contraception is “not okay” and that the Supreme Court decision guaranteeing contraception access to married couples should be overturned. And House Republicans have pushed measure after measure to restrict contraception access, including such threats as a component of the Republican shutdown of government last fall.
It probably goes without saying, but just in case ... contraception reduces unintended pregnancies, which in turn reduces the need for abortions. That probably doesn’t need further explanation, but just in case … Fox News reported on a study that found: “Free birth control led to dramatically lower rates of abortions and teen births.”
So why aren’t supposedly anti-abortion conservatives championing affordable access to contraception, rather than condemning it? Prior to Obamacare, the high cost of contraception was prohibitive for many women. Many reported trying to save money by irregularly taking the pill or changing to a less effective method of contraception. Now, thanks to Obamacare, at least 27 million women have affordable access to effective birth control. Which means fewer abortions. Shouldn’t conservatives be cheering that development, not trying to attack it?
Then there’s sex education. According to the National Survey of Family Growth, teens who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education. And yet conservatives have been pushing abstinence-only education for a generation, prioritized—and funded—by the federal government under President George W. Bush. Why? Out of some puritanical idealism that if you tell teens not to have sex, they won’t—instead of basing policy on the reality that teens will have sex either way, and so better to equip them with information to be safe and healthy. Oh, and if we don’t want teen pregnancies, better to teach teens how not to get pregnant. Doy. But conservatives continue to press for abstinence-only education nationwide.
Then there are things that would make it easier for women who get pregnant to have and raise children that conservatives also oppose. For instance, raising the minimum wage. Women are disproportionately paid the minimum wage—currently just $7.25 an hour federally, which hasn’t been raised since 2007. Meanwhile, women with family incomes below the federal poverty level account for more than 40 percent of all abortions and have a higher abortion rate compared with women in other income groups. It’s not surprising that women who can barely make ends meet as is would not feel they can have a child, let alone afford the medical costs and lost wages of carrying a pregnancy to term. Conservatives oppose public spending to ease the hardship of poor women, cutting funds for food stamps and housing assistance.
Conservatives also oppose access to contraception and abortion for poor women as well. And conservatives don’t even want Medicaid to pay for poor women’s maternity care. So what’s left? Oh, right—abstinence. The same policy that isn’t working with teenagers, only even more patronizing when applied to grown women.
Four in 10 unintended pregnancies in America lead to abortion. In Texas, newly enacted restrictions on abortion access have apparently not led to a drop in abortions but rather a surge in self-abortion disasters suggesting that women who feel they need abortions will take desperate measures if safe and legal options are not available. So if we truly want to reduce the number of abortions in America, we need to lower the rates of unintended pregnancies—with access to contraception and comprehensive sex education—and/or make it more possible for women to have and raise children if they choose, by increasing wage and income supports, especially for low-income women. That is a simple formula. Why are conservatives doing everything they can to oppose these policies—and to drive up the abortion rate in America?