Dobbs is Bearing Out a 45-Year-Old Pro-Life Feminist Theory
[Today’s guest article is by Acyutananda.]
There is a particular pro-life feminist theory which I have sometimes reiterated in Secular Pro-Life blogposts:
The removal of abortion as an easy option ensures that people will protest strongly for better conditions for women. Why bother to protest strongly, which is a lot of trouble, as long as there is an easy way out, legal abortion?
And if there is more forceful pressure, there is of course every chance that that will lead to better conditions for women. Again,
Mounting pressure by women and their supporters for a society that gives more honor and support to pregnant women and mothers, and that takes ultimate responsibility for quality child-raising, will no longer be defused by the “escape valve” of legal abortion, the easy way out. That social pressure will likely reach a mass where it will get results.
I’m aware of this idea having first been articulated in 1978 by Daphne de Jong, here quoted by Mary Meehan:
Accepting short-term solutions like abortion only delays the implementation of real reforms like decent maternity and paternity leaves, job protection, high-quality child care, community responsibility for dependent people of all ages, and recognition of the economic contribution of child-minders.
The president of Secular Pro-Life has agreed: “I’m convinced that as long as abortion is accepted, society will never address the true causes of gender inequality.”
Now, thankfully, abortion is not accepted throughout the US: it is illegal in some states. The Dobbs v. Jackson decision made this possible even without problematic tactics such as those of the Texas Heartbeat Act. That Texas act was forced by the then-prevailing constraints of Roe v. Wade to employ an enforcement mechanism sometime criticized as a vigilante mechanism, which, if constitutional, could be used to enforce otherwise unconstitutional laws – laws that, unlike the Heartbeat Act, might be very undesirable. But however that may be, that Act did go into effect ten months before Dobbs, so let’s ask what else happened at that time?
On the same day that that Act went into effect, Texas’s 2022 fiscal year began, with a budget featuring increased funding for that state’s Alternatives to Abortion program: “[Amy] O’Donnell [of Texas Alliance for Life] said the Alternatives to Abortion covers counseling for mothers, parenting classes, job training, and even clothing and formula. It also connects those who are expecting with resources like WIC and Medicaid.”
Probably no feminist, pro-life or pro-choice, would say that Texas is yet doing enough, but the above simultaneity doesn’t appear to have been a coincidence.
Pro-choicers have always been skeptical that legal abortion “only delays the implementation of real reforms,” and have demanded evidence. But now Dobbs has made possible a laboratory test, and I think the results already show that better provision, public and private, for pregnant women, mothers, and children is a clear effect of pro-life laws.
On May 13, a week-and-a-half after the leak of the draft Dobbs opinion, Marjorie Dannenfelser (the hard-driving woman who singly may deserve more credit than anyone else for making Dobbs possible) was allowed some space in the Washington Post. She wrote:
governors in pro-life states are leading the charge to enact meaningful protections for unborn children and increasingly creative ways to ensure mothers have the resources they need to choose life.
. . . we have been heartened by the way state[-level] leaders are embracing this phase of the pro-life movement.She speaks of resources for mothers as an integral “phase” of the pro-life movement.
On July 2, the Abilene Reporter-News wrote of Bishop Michael Sis of the San Angelo Catholic Diocese of San Angelo:
But the ruling also means communities must be prepared to step up to help, he said, a stance he shares with several Abilene supporters.
“I encourage everyone to offer ongoing, practical support to our local pregnancy resource centers, and to pray for their staff and volunteers,” Sis said. “Pregnant mothers in our communities in West Texas need support to help them obtain the necessities of life for themselves and their children.
“This is a time for all of us to step up our support for mothers and fathers in welcoming and caring for God’s precious gift of life.”
. . .
Sis said it is important to offer wide support to mothers and children, from a wide band of sources.
“When a woman is pregnant and considering abortion, she needs to know where she can find practical support if she decides to bring the child to term,” he said. “Ideally, that support should be available from many sources: government, churches, family and friends.”A Texas bishop called for government help for pregnant women and families.
On July 3, in an article called “How overturning Roe upended standard conservatism,” Jonah Goldberg wrote:
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, hailed the court’s decision. “But,” he added, “we must not only continue to take steps to protect the unborn, we must also do more to support mothers and their babies.”
He promised to “soon introduce a bill to ensure we do everything we can to give every child the opportunity to fully access the promise of America.”
Following the Dobbs leak, Rubio had already hailed the impending decision, and had already made the pledge to take steps. The first paragraph above is an almost verbatim reiteration of a promise already made on his website. The Dobbs leak was first reported May 2, 2022, and the post on his website came on May 11, proposing policies to expand the child tax credit, establish paid parental leave, increase WIC funding, and improve child support collection.
A July 1 article quoted a pro-life post on the Facebook page of Buffer Insurance of Texas, which criticized companies that are “paying for the travel costs for employees to abort babies out-of-state. Today we are announcing that Buffer will pay for costs for our employees who birth babies.”
And on July 7 in Mississippi, a trigger law went into effect that resulted in the closure of that state’s only abortion center, and Mississippi’s Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who had spearheaded the plaintiffs’ side of Dobbs before the Supreme Court, tweeted:
In Dobbs, we asked the Supreme Court to return abortion policymaking to the people. Today, in Mississippi, for the first time in many years, the will of the people as expressed through their elected legislators, is no longer held up in a court and will go into effect. Now, we must all work together to strengthen the safety net that women need not only for healthy pregnancies, but also as they build families where both they and their children thrive. We need our laws to reflect our compassion for these women and their children. It is time for an open and frank dialogue about issues like: the affordability and accessibility of childcare, child support enforcement that requires fathers be equally responsible for their children, workplace policies like maternity and paternity leave, streamlining adoption, and improving foster care. It is time not just to talk about these issues, but to take action on them.
In pro-life states across the country, private and public programs are being rolled out coinciding in time with an expected upsurge in births of unintended children. Will it be even close to adequate? That remains to be seen. And should any support for pregnant women, mothers, and children have waited for the activation of pro-life laws? No, it shouldn’t have. It has always been a need even unrelated to abortion laws. But de Jong and others predicted many years ago that it would in fact have to wait and be goaded by such laws – and that is what happened.
[Photo credit: Alex Pasarelu on Unsplash]
Since I wrote the article on July 8, I have learned about some further developments that had occurred even before that date, along the same lines as discussed in the article, and there have also been some further developments since that time. Here I’ve cataloged all those developments, and at the end of those notes there is a little further discussion of pro-life feminist history as well: https://www.NoTerminationWithoutRepresentation.org/dobbs-is-bearing-out-a-45-year-old-pro-life-feminist-theory/