Republican candidates are going blue in the face telling Americans how much they care about the economy and, if elected president, how hard and effectively they’ll work to fix it. They promise to create jobs and to help businesses grow. Yet, not one of them seems to understand that for at least half of the population, economic status is inseparable from reproductive rights. No matter what kind of tax brackets or bailouts America votes for over the next four years, if a teenager has a child, that alone is the strongest indicator that the mother and baby will spend a lifetime in poverty.
So why does Rick Santorum, who cares so much about our economy, believe that a woman who has been raped should be forced to have a child?
Here’s what he said last week on CNN to Piers Morgan:
Well, you can make the argument that if she doesn’t have this baby, if she kills her child, that that, too, could ruin her life. And this is not an easy choice. I understand that. As horrible as the way that that son or daughter and son was created, it still is her child. And whether she has that child or doesn’t, it will always be her child. And she will always know that. And so to embrace her and to love her and to support her and get her through this very difficult time, I’ve always, you know, I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you. As you know, we have to, in lots of different aspects of our life. We have horrible things happen. I can’t think of anything more horrible. But, nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation.
How is this mother going to financially support her child? What are Santorum’s plans to help to get this baby access to health care and a good education? Why didn’t he talk about that on CNN?
As governor, presidential candidate Mitt Romney vetoed a bill that would have given rape survivors access to emergency contraception. As a presidential candidate, he’s promising to defund Planned Parenthood and eliminate federal funding for birth control.
As a member of Congress, Newt Gingrich voted anti-choice 72 times. He voted for “personhood” rights, which would make abortion and many forms of birth control illegal. He voted 10 times to bar the city of Washington, D.C. from using its locally raised tax dollars to provide abortion care to low-income women. He voted to eliminate Title X, the nation’s family-planning program.
Don’t these candidates understand that all of these policies are inextricably linked to the economic status of women? To all of those pro-choice Republicans who plan to vote for one of these men because you want to just “focus on the economy” this election, if you refer to yourself as “fiscally conservative but socially liberal:” That division makes no sense when it comes to women’s lives. Choice isn’t “just one issue” and it isn’t one choice.
Reproductive rights mean that women have the choice to graduate from college, the choice to borrow money to start a business, the choice to get a good job with a fair wage, the choice not live in poverty and keep their kids out of poverty. Choice means that women get to be autonomous citizens, just like men do, with the power to determine their own destinies.
Years ago, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass, said that pro-life politicians believe “life begins at conception and ends at birth,” meaning pro-life politicians are adamant about protecting the fetus but don’t care much about protecting the child once its born. I can’t think of a more obvious proof of this short-sightedness than the current Republican presidential candidates who pledge to get Americans out of financial crisis while simultaneously promising to deny women their reproductive rights.
Frank’s statement is also strongly supported by the work of Jean Schroedel, a professor and dean of the School of Politics and Economics at Claremont Graduate University, who examined the relationship between state abortion laws and spending on children. Her research revealed that the states that most severely limit abortion are the same ones that spend the least on foster care, parents who adopt special needs children, and poor women with dependent children. States with strict abortion laws consistently accorded lower political, economic and social status to women. For example, Louisiana had some of the toughest abortion laws and spent $602 per child. Hawaii had some of the most liberal laws and spent $4,648 per child.
Schroedel also discovered that states with restricted abortion laws consistently accorded lower political, economic and social status to women.
Her findings echo the work of Nafis Sadik, who was the executive director of the United Nations World Population Fund. Sadik has been instrumental in turning the debate over how to limit population growth into a campaign for women’s rights.
She is widely credited with bringing attention to the correlation between over population and the status of women. When women are educated, when they achieve economic independence, when they have access to good health care, when they are valued in society for their intellect and their accomplishments, they have fewer babies.
In France, mandatory sexuality education begins when students are 13. Parents are prohibited from withdrawing their teenagers from this program. France’s teenage birthrate is approximately 6 times lower than the rate in the US; its teen abortion rate more than 2x lower, and overall AIDS rate, more than 3x lower.
So what’s wrong with America?
If our presidential candidates really want to help our economy, they ought to be improving the status of women, not taking away their rights. They should be advocating for for preventative policy initiatives to reduce unintended pregnancies, expansion of family planning and funding services, comprehensive sexuality education programs, and insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Last week, President Obama did just that. He passed the Affordable Care Act ensuring that most women will get their contraception covered with no copay. He’ll have my vote, because I understand that reproductive rights have never been “just one issue.”