The older woman I was speaking to and I had had a mostly good conversation about politics. I think we both felt heard. We had found some common ground. We agreed that, on the local level, especially, politicians should mostly be evaluated by their responsiveness to the needs of their constituents. Then, as we concluded the conversation, she told me, “But I’m not going to vote for an abortionist.”
Of course you’re not, I thought with irritation, because no one who is an “abortionist” is running. The choices in her local election were between two people from the world of business. No matter who she voted for, they weren’t likely to be people who performed abortions. Sheesh.
But I understood her point: abortion is the only issue that will determine how she votes.
I don’t entirely disagree with it. In fact, I use a similar measure: whichever politicians is likely to do the most to reduce women’s need for legal abortions is likely to get my vote. I think that there is no more important measure of a society than how it treats its most vulnerable people. I vote based upon how I anticipate the least powerful–children, women, people of color, the poor, those with disabilities–will be treated by the people I vote for. I figure that if a politician is doing what we know works to reduce abortion (supporting universal healthcare, robust public education, and fair wages), then that person is working for the world I want.
For me, that almost always means voting for pro-choice candidates, because they are the ones who do the most to care for children. And they are the ones who do the most to reduce the abortion rate. If you think that abortion is the worst thing in the world, then you should vote for the things–universal healthcare, comprehensive sex ed, better wages–that reduce it, even if, in a different world, you think those things are bad. Even if you think that the Affordable Care Act is wrong, it has to be a distant wrong compared to abortion, right? And the ACA has been shown to reduce abortion.
“But abortion!” is the distraction that Republican leaders to remind their voters (the majority of whom, by the way, support the right to an abortion under at least some circumstances) that they have promised their vote to the Republican party, no matter how unreasonable that promise is. I’d bet dollars to donuts that Donald Trump has paid for more abortions than Hillary Clinton has, but hypocrisy on the issue doesn’t much matter when the goal is to control what other people do, not to elect leaders who reflect pro-life values in their personal lives.
Above, unintended pregnancy rates are significantly higher among poor women, as is abortion. About 1 in 2 pregnancies in the US is unintended, and about 1 in 2 of those ends in abortion. Reducing poverty is one way to reduce abortion without ever having to mount a court challenge or secure a pro-life majority on the Supreme Court. And we’d be improving the lives of women and children to boot.
Abortion is an important and serious issue. It brings together concerns about children, economics, families, health care, privacy rights, race and ethnicity, religion, and women’s rights. One out of four viable pregnancies end in abortion, with higher rates in some communities. By age 45, about 35% of American women will have terminated a pregnancy. (About 13% of these will be born-again or evangelical women and 22% will be Catholics.) Whether you think abortion is violence against the most innocent of people or a safe and relatively simple medical procedure, those numbers are large. Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures done in the US. About twice as many women get an abortion each year as men who get a vasectomy. In fact, in some reporting years, they have been more common than the top 10 most common operating room procedures. For each person you know who had a hip replacement last year, you probably know two who had abortions. The sheer ubiquity of the procedure means that we need to take it seriously.
But throwing up “But what about abortion?” when the topic is systemic racism or climate change or immigrant children being used as political pawns isn’t taking it seriously. It’s letting it serve as a an excuse for inaction for other, also important concerns, and, worse, as an excuse for not doing the work we know would support women in avoiding unwanted pregnancy and keeping their families out of poverty.