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A pro-lifer and a pro-choicer do lunch
The day Dobbs was handed down, I happened to be lunching with a new friend who was upset and angry over the decision. She’s a libertarian and strongly pro-choice. I said “Sorry,” and meant it. Not that I agreed it was a bad decision (I was in the mushy middle with Justice John Roberts), but I understood her feelings and sympathized. She, in turn, has lately come to see that pro-lifers have many good arguments, even if, at the end of the day, she didn’t find them compelling enough to change her mind.
As someone who spent decades in the pro-life world but who has many new pro-choice allies, perhaps I can shed some light on our predicament by highlighting what I think are some possible areas of agreement.
Pro-choicers err if they think that the other side is not truly concerned about unborn life but merely seizes upon this issue to keep women subservient. Only 38% of women say they believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances.
On the other hand, pro-lifers who focus exclusively on saving the lives of unborn babies overlook the insurmountable reality that pregnant mothers and babies cannot be unlinked. There is no analog to pregnancy; no other situation in which one person’s right to life depends upon another being a physical host for nine months and undergoing the rigors of labor and birth. A baby’s welfare depends completely on the mother’s desire to protect and nurture that life. If, to cite just one of many possible examples, she is negligent by drinking to excess while pregnant, she is likely to give birth to a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome. Forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy she doesn’t want carries risks for both mother and child.
Another thing the pro-life movement could expend some energy considering is the kind of women who were having abortions in the past couple of decades. While abortions in aggregate fell dramatically since 1990, the percentage of poor or near-poor women obtaining abortions increased just as sharply. According to the Alan B. Guttmacher Institute, the share of poor women obtaining abortions rose from 27% in 2000 to 49% in 2014, and 75% of women terminating pregnancies were poor or low-income. Among the most common reasons women give for seeking abortions is financial inability to raise a(nother) child. An enhanced safety net for poor parents seems a necessary response to a post-Dobbs world. It won’t prevent every sad outcome, but pro-lifers thinking of the babies who will now not be aborted as well as pro-choicers thinking of the women who will bear them should be able to agree on quickly relieving the financial stress on poor mothers (and, in some cases, poor fathers).
Another possible area of agreement is contraception. Whatever their religious beliefs, age, sex or party, 92% of Americans approve of contraception. Yet about half of women who seek say they didn’t use birth control in the month before they conceived.
Cost is a factor. Forty percent of poor women would switch to a different form of birth control if price were not a factor. We can easily do better. As the R Street Institute has urged, all 50 states can make birth control pills available over the counter (18 states currently permit pharmacists to dispense them). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians have endorsed over-the-counter sale of hormonal contraceptives including pills, vaginal rings, patches and long-acting injections. ACOG confirms that they are safe for all age groups and do not require a physical exam. Women with health insurance (including Medicaid) can obtain them free of charge. Here’s something to raise an eyebrow: Both Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have expressed support for making contraceptives available over the counter.
Finally, men have a role in every pregnancy and must be required to take responsibility. DNA testing makes denying paternity impossible, and men should be legally required to support their children, with their full-time presence and marriage to the child’s mother where possible, but in any case with their money and time. The era of the shotgun wedding is gone, and maybe we’re all better off. But in our stigma-free age, we still have women carrying the burdens of unwed pregnancy and single motherhood and men often skipping off with no consequences at all.
Is it remotely likely that we’ll find some common ground in our response to Dobbs? Probably not. But consider that members of Congress were recently able to craft gun control legislation after decades of political rigor mortis. We must keep looking for paths to compromise or we will have a bleak future.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her most recent book is “Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense.” To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.