Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism has been blogging a lot about how she lost faith in the pro-life movement. Today she has a post about social safety nets for poor women and families, and the idea that women must somehow “pay” for having sex. From her original post on losing faith in the pro-life movement, and becoming pro-choice:
I realized, then, that if the goal is to cut the abortion rate, the pro-life movement should be working to make sure that women can afford to have and care for children. After all, a full three quarters of women who have abortions say they could not afford a child. If we found a way to offer more aid to parents, if we mandated things like paid maternity leave, subsidized childcare, and universal health insurance for pregnant women and for children, some women who would otherwise abort would almost certainly decide to carry their pregnancies to term. But the odd thing is, those who identify as “pro-life” are most adamant in opposing these kind of reforms. I knew this back in 2007, because I grew up in one of those families. I grew up believing that welfare should be abolished, that Head Start needed to be eliminated, that medicaid just enabled people to be lazy.
Calvin Freiburger of Life Action News responded to this post by speaking against social programs, and basically saying that if women can’t afford children, they shouldn’t have sex. (And what about the men they’re presumably having sex with?) From Freiburger’s post:
The women she’s talking about presumably know they can’t financially handle parenthood, yet have chosen to bring the possibility of pregnancy into their lives. All of them could have chosen to say “not tonight,” and it wouldn’t have cost them a cent. Why isn’t it reasonable to expect people to factor basic responsibility into their decision-making? Why isn’t your preparedness for children something you should consider before having sex? And once you’ve brought about a situation you’re not ready for, why should the burden for alleviating it automatically shift to the rest of us? Most importantly, why should your child pay the ultimate price for costs you’ve incurred?
This is Libby Anne’s response:
Freiburger argues that women should have to foot the full financial bill for children they bring into this world because, well, if they couldn’t afford children they shouldn’t have had sex, and if they couldn’t refrain, well, then they have to pay for their decision.
But my whole point was that if it’s really about saving babies and not about making sure women face the full consequences of having sex, then the focus should be on finding a way to bring down the number of abortions that occur, not on forcing women to bear the entire “burden” of their choice to have sex. (emphasis mine)
Pro-choicers often accuse pro-lifers of being pro-fetus but anti-child. As a pro-lifer I thought the accusation was ludicrous, but I understand it now. You see, by requiring a poor woman to bear the full consequences of having sex and refusing to support any programs that might help her handle those costs, pro-lifers doom her child to a life of utter poverty. Programs like medicaid or Head Start aren’t about enabling lifestyle choices pro-lifers find abhorrent. Rather, they’re about helping poor children. And yet, Freiburger seems to see these very children as simply a form of punishment meted out to poor women for having sex when they couldn’t afford children…(emphasis mine)
Freiburger is talking about a fetus. Once he starts talking about a child – and the costs involved in raising a child – he absolutely thinks that that child should have to pay for her mother’s decision to have sex when she couldn’t afford children. Because, you know, programs to give that child a better life than grinding poverty would be shifting “the burden for alleviating” the situation the mother wasn’t ready for “to the rest of us.” Fetuses shouldn’t have to pay, but children should.
I’m going to quote my own comment, which is mainly about the idea that women should just not have sex if they don’t want to become pregnant, which I think requires further examination:
Do people like Freiburger think contraception doesn’t exist, or that married people don’t use it or get abortions? (Well, I think Fox News commentators proved the existence of that train of thought.) Telling women to say “not tonight” to avoid pregnancy only makes sense in a world where people don’t or can’t avail themselves of the myriad options to substantially mitigate the risk of an unintended pregnancy. And it only makes sense in a world where couples are willing to remain abstinent for a period of years, which most people would not find a desirable or tenable solution (unless they’re advocating Natural Family Planning, which certainly doesn’t work for everyone, much as its proponents desperately assert that it does). Or a world in which everyone wants as many children as God sees fit to give them. In other words, telling women to say “not tonight” (again, what about the men?) turns the debate toward which forms of sexual activity are considered legitimate, as decided by conservative religious philosophy, and everyone who doesn’t participate in this philosophy is worthy of condemnation and punishment.
Saying no to consensual and desired sex isn’t taking responsibility, it’s shooting yourself in the foot. Or at least, it’s probably not conducive to maintaining healthy relationships. Most people want sex and most people consider sex an important part of their partnerships. Fortunately, we live in a world where we can have sex AND use contraceptives to reliably avoid pregnancy. Yay, science! Unfortunately, there’s still a serious lack of education about the contraceptive options available, and not everyone has good, affordable access to the full range of options. Boo, people who spread misinformation and attempt to restrict access to reproductive technologies!
But maybe this is all predicated on the belief that women don’t really want sex? Or that the world is divided into uncontrollable sluts who deserve to be punished and good, chaste women who only have sex for procreative purposes? Or: sexually uncontrollable working class women and chaste middle class women? And/or: sexually uncontrollable women of color and chaste white women? Because I think that if you scratch the surface, you’ll find those tropes and prejudices lurking beneath. I certainly think you see them in conservative responses to the election (see: the Fox News video). It may not be overt, but I think it’s there. These tropes have long historical legacies, from upper middle class Victorian women out to help working class women “fallen” into prostitution (due to dubious morality rather than economic necessity, of course), to the belief that women of color are more lustful and promiscuous, which in the 19th century was allegedly verified by some really terrible science and anthropology.
Another commenter, Kacy of The Ex-Convert, observes that telling people not to have sex if they can’t afford to raise a child turns sex into a class prerogative, based on material abilities rather than one’s relationship with one’s partner. Another point from the comments section is that marriage does not automatically make a couple able to provide for a child, nor does it automatically make couples want children. However, many people seem to assume that married couples are always financially able to handle pregnancy, and that married women don’t get abortions (because marriage makes the pregnancy legitimate), which is not borne out in reality. Married people can be poor (and single people can be affluent or at least reasonably comfortable, which also got lost in the kerfuffle over single versus married women voters, what with people saying single women just wanted to marry the government and all). And evidently if they can’t afford a(nother) kid, they just shouldn’t have sex.
Anyway, this further proves the point that for some anti-choice people, it’s more about condemning other people’s sex lives than it is about helping children, because if it was the latter, they’d support Head Start.