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, banning the requirement that doctors who conduct abortions have admitting privileges at a “nearby” hospital, a TRAP law whose entire purpose is to shut down abortion clinics. 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, 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 of accused-of-rape Brett Kavanaugh and probably-harrassed-Anita-Hill 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! But it also gets a giant portion from you! The American tax-payer!

In the last five years, abortion bans have cost tax-payers more than 10 million dollars. In Texas alone (a state that tried to give women who get abortions the death penalty), tax-payers have covered almost six million dollars 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 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, mislead, and deliberately lie to women with the sole goal of manipulating them out of choosing abortion. An investigation 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 like Roe v. Wade and two-thirds 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 more likely to live under the poverty line and that women who are refused abortions are more likely to report struggling to pay for basic expenses even several years later. Another study 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 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, 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 who needed an issue to latch onto as school segregation began losing in the court of popular opinion. As Samantha Bee has pointed 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 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 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. Back in 2016, I interviewed pro-life protestors 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.

As many activists have pointed out, the pro-life movement isn’t even pro lifeResearch 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 and infant mortality 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. Black mothers are up to six times more likely to die in childbirth compared to white mothers. A Black baby born in America is twice 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) 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. NARALPlanned Parenthood Action Fund, and Swing Left 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 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, who may just become America’s next Vice President. They helped power the Black and Brown wave 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 to find out who your state representatives are and who your governor is. Demand they stop funneling your money into a scheme that scams the poor. You can also check out this list of your favorite corporations (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.