On Tuesday, the Alabama state legislature decisively passed a bill that would criminalize all abortions in the state. It was accompanied with the usual tripe about the sanctity of life. “When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb,” one Alabama state legislator piously opined, “it is not our place as human beings to extinguish that life.”
Less than 24 hours later, we got a chance to see just how well the United States actually does at encouraging women to give birth to children: not well at all.
According to data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fertility among women in the United States hit a record low. Don’t get me wrong — many of the reasons for the falloff can be considered good. The drop is most dramatic among teens and women in their early 20s, something many observers say is a result of better access to and use of birth control. The increasing number of women attending college also likely plays a role.
But it’s also true that surveys show many women would like to have more children than they ultimately do, and that U.S. society’s family-unfriendly aspects likely share much of the blame for why they don’t. When The New York Times surveyed the issue last year, they discovered the high cost of child care was cited by almost two-thirds of their respondents when asked to explain why they didn’t have children or had fewer then they considered ideal. Half claimed economic fears stopped them, slightly more than 4 in 10 said they “can’t afford more children” and about a third cited such things as lack of paid family leave, climate change and domestic politics. (People were allowed to choose more than one answer.)
Alabama is not alone. Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky and Mississippi have passed laws this year banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be heard, something that effectively bans the procedure. None of these states mandate paid family leave. Georgia has the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the United States. In fact, a woman is more likely to die while giving birth or shortly thereafter in our country than in other First World nations.
Instead of addressing this like the medical emergency it is, the Trump administration is attempting to overturn the Affordable Care Act. The ACA bans insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions, something, that among other things, was used to deny payment for pregnancy care and childbirth back before the law took effect. So trying to get rid of the law doesn’t exactly scream care and concern for the health and welfare of mothers and children.
Children are also less than well tended to after birth here in the United States. Many child-care workers are paid so little, they are dependent on government benefits to get by, while decent child care itself is so difficult to come by that it costs more than to send a child to public college in more than half the states. We whine on about improving our public education system, but don’t actually want to spend money to do that: Teachers, who are 75 percent female, are paid about 20 percent less than other similarly credentialed professionals.
And when it comes to the future of those children — well, we fall apart here too. Climate change and a biodiversity implosion are literally destroying the future of our children and grandchildren, but the Trump administration is moving backward and denying the threat, making a dire future all the more likely. To go on and on about abortion, while doing nothing at all about the existential threat facing all of us, reveals a level of hypocrisy that’s all but breathtaking.
That the lecherous Donald Trump is presiding over this sustained rollback of women’s reproductive rights and seeming social breakdown is a feature, not a bug. We know that banning abortion doesn’t stop it. Instead, it drives women to desperate measures, including dangerous, back-alley procedures. It stands to reason that women will die if the Supreme Court ultimately upholds these laws. Denying a woman a right to a legal abortion is not an expression of love for women and children. It is instead an expression of hatred and contempt.
Helaine Olen is a contributor to The Washington Post Opinions and the author of “Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry.”