Defund the Pro-Life Movement

Judging by the collection of chirpy headlines about the latest SCOTUS decision on abortion rights, I should be ecstatic, but instead, I’m livid.

women's rights collage
(Image credit: Morgan McMullen)

Sure, the Supreme Court struck down June Medical Services v. Russo (opens in new tab), banning the requirement that doctors who conduct abortions have admitting privileges at a “nearby” hospital, a TRAP law (opens in new tab) whose entire purpose is to shut down abortion clinic (opens in new tab)s (opens in new tab). Which is good news, I guess. But why should I celebrate the Supreme Court ruling in favor of me having a right that was already guaranteed by the constitution? It’s enraging that in 2020 women still have to wait around as a small collection of middle-aged-to-elderly men put on their thinking caps and decide whether women are, in fact, still people. I didn’t choose to be a woman. In fact, given the choice, I’d rather let my partner bear our children and deal with the nine months of intermittent vomiting and hunt for trousers that highlight nouveau cankles. Alas, I was born with the reproductive organs that allow me to get pregnant. But just because I can get pregnant, doesn’t mean I should have to spend my time refreshing my Twitter feed to learn if I will be punished for that ability by the men on the Supreme Court who never will.

But this piece is not about the crippling anxiety of being a woman in a country that can’t decide if my gender is deserving of bodily autonomy; it’s about the fact that my money is being used to disenfranchise me. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about how much of the taxes that I pay go to the police (opens in new tab), and it got me thinking about all the money of mine that goes toward another classic American institution: the pro-life movement. While the vein on the side of my neck gets particularly bulgy when I remember that my tax dollars pay the six-figure salaries (opens in new tab) of accused-of-rape Brett Kavanaugh (opens in new tab) and probably-harrassed-Anita-Hill (opens in new tab) Clarence Thomas, it becomes full-on protruding when I consider that my own money funds a movement whose entire purpose is to enable the government to use more of my dough to debate my humanity.

It’s time to defund the pro-life movement.

I know what you’re thinking. Defund it?! Doesn’t the pro-life movement get most of its money from religious organizations and corporations? Yes, it does (opens in new tab)! But it also gets a giant portion from you! The American tax-payer!

In the last five years, abortion bans have cost (opens in new tab) tax-payers more than 10 million dollars. In Texas alone (a state that tried to give women who get abortions the death penalty (opens in new tab)), tax-payers have covered almost six million dollars (opens in new tab) in legal fees, claim filling, and travel expenses for the state to argue in favor of laws that have been deemed unconstitutional. Worse, the state has used more than $21.6 million (opens in new tab) of Texans’ taxes to fund centers that restrict access to abortion. Half of that money goes exclusively to so-called “crisis pregnancy centers,” fake clinics that trap (opens in new tab), mislead, and deliberately lie to women (opens in new tab) with the sole goal of manipulating them out of choosing abortion. An investigation (opens in new tab) by Rewire found that, in 2018 alone, these draconian centers received a total of $40.5 million in taxpayer dollars across 14 states. Given that almost seven out of 10 Americans (opens in new tab) like Roe v. Wade and two-thirds (opens in new tab) want the right to abortion to stay the same or get better, it is completely absurd that so much of their money goes to doing what they explicitly do not want.

Anti-choice measures are costing poor Americans the most. The pro-life movement transfers the financial burden of prevented constitutional rights onto the poor. Research shows that being denied an abortion makes you four times (opens in new tab) more likely to live under the poverty line and that women who are refused abortions are more likely to report (opens in new tab) struggling to pay for basic expenses even several years later. Another study (opens in new tab) by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that being refused an abortion makes you more likely to be evicted, file for bankruptcy, and struggle financially. That’s because where people are poorer, the anti-choice movement has made abortion restrictions far worse. Thanks to the movement, there are currently 2.5 million poor women (opens in new tab) who live more than an hour away from an abortion clinic. These same women are less likely to have a car and to be able to get time off work and afford childcare in order to take the sometimes multiple trips to the clinic because of required waiting periods. Tax-payer money is being used to further entrap and endanger the most poor and marginalized. The pro-life movement is a war on the poor.

Similarly to many police departments (opens in new tab), the pro-life movement doesn’t even do what you think it does. We’ve been conditioned to believe that the pro-life movement protects individual religious beliefs, but it was never about religion. The movement doesn’t reflect people’s religious beliefs, it created them. The "pro-life" campaign was carefully crafted in the 1970s by a handful of racist evangelicals (opens in new tab) who needed an issue to latch onto as school segregation began losing in the court of popular opinion. As Samantha Bee has pointed (opens in new tab) out, the religious right casually chose abortion as their cause célèbre the way most people have planned their COVID office birthdays: on a random conference call.

While the pro-life movement lies about why they do what they do, the laws proposed by these anti-choicers also don’t do what you think they do. These people have the audacity take your money and then claim that these unconstitutional laws are in the best interest of women’s health. In a statement (opens in new tab) responding to SCOTUS’s decision yesterday, the White House Press Secretary declared that “the Supreme Court devalued [...] the health of mothers,” but in reality, it’s shutting down clinics that jeopardizes women’s health. Forcing clinics to have admitting privileges is completely medically unnecessary given that less than 0.25 percent (opens in new tab) of women need to go to the hospital as a result of an abortion. Getting an abortion is safer than getting a colonoscopy or a cavity removed (opens in new tab). Back in 2016, I interviewed pro-life protestors (opens in new tab) outside the Supreme Court during hearings for Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt; most were misled to believe admitting privileges made women safer, when no medical body supports it (opens in new tab).

As many activists have pointed out, the pro-life movement isn’t even pro lifeResearch (opens in new tab) shows that the lack of access to abortion makes women and their children more likely to die. The movement also doesn’t seem to care at all that one of the biggest causes of death for children in America is the abysmal and racist healthcare system that denies pre- and postnatal care to poor women.

The United States, despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has maternal (opens in new tab) and infant mortality (opens in new tab) rates worse than those of most industrialized nations, largely a result of astronomical (and increasing) racial health gaps. The maternal mortality rate in Washington, D.C., is worse than in Syria (opens in new tab). Black mothers are up to six times more likely (opens in new tab) to die in childbirth compared to white mothers. A Black baby born in America is twice (opens in new tab) as likely as its white counterpart to die in its first year. This is a public health crisis. If we defund the pro-life movement, that money could be reinvested into clinics in the communities who need life-saving healthcare the most. Imagine how many children’s lives could be saved if, say, $40.5 million dollars were given to health clinics that serve mothers on Medicaid?

The anti-choice movement is effectively a pyramid scheme to funnel tax-payer money into a system that promotes the violation of a human right the vast majority of Americans want to keep. That’s why we have no choice but to abolish it.

Some of the things you can do to help include calling your congressional rep’s office (here’s where to find their contact information (opens in new tab)) to demand they stop funding a movement that violates human rights, and electing pro-choice candidates who won’t channel public funds into the anti-choice movement. NARAL (opens in new tab)Planned Parenthood Action Fund (opens in new tab), and Swing Left (opens in new tab) are all organizations focused on flipping the Senate to prevent more anti-choice judicial nominees and to pass federal legislation safeguarding the right to abortion. Donate to them. You can also get involved (opens in new tab) with Emily’s List, an organization whose principal mission is to elect pro-choice female candidates. Five years ago they introduced me to one of their star candidates, a young freshman state senator by the name of Stacey Abrams (opens in new tab), who may just become (opens in new tab) America’s next Vice President. They helped power the Black and Brown wave (opens in new tab) of 2018 midterms, and will be crucial in dethroning the pro-life movement’s kingpins in state legislatures across the country. In fact, our fight starts at the state level; here’s a website (opens in new tab) to find out who your state representatives are and who your governor is (opens in new tab). Demand they stop funneling your money into a scheme that scams the poor. You can also check out this list of your favorite corporations (opens in new tab) (like General Electric and Pfizer) that give millions of dollars to the pro-life movement and boycott them.

Lastly, as with any social justice fight, public pressure matters. All progressives must talk and post about defunding the pro-life movement, and continue to do so, to keep those in power who are misusing our public funds accountable. This isn’t a woman’s struggle, it’s everyone’s struggle. Your hard-earned tax payer money, regardless of your gender, is being spent on further endangering those who are already the most vulnerable. I promise that once I see some dude walking by with a “Defund The Pro-Life Movement” sign, I’ll stop being livid for a moment and maybe even crack a smile.

Correction: A previous version of this story attributed data about Washington, D.C., to Washington state.

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Liz Plank

Award-winning journalist, author For The Love of Men: A Vision for Mindful Masculinity and host of the podcast Heart Homework.