On Choosing Life: An Anti-Poverty Proposal

2 January 2023

Recently, I read something interesting, which is that ~84% of abortions in the State of Minnesota are “elective” (in other words, “medically unnecessary”) and only 0.7% of abortions are due to cases of rape or incest. Assuming those numbers are close to accurate (the official statistics can be found here, but not all women answered the survey) and assuming those numbers are generally representative of statistics for other states, in the course of this post, I’m going to do something politically inadvisable: I'm going to delve into this issue further. The notion that ~16% of abortions (those ~0.7% which are due to rape or incest plus those ~15.3% which are deemed medically necessary to protect the health of the mother) shape the contours of the policy debate for 100% of abortions seems really strange. We rarely discuss why ~84% of abortions which are elective or how we can meaningfully reduce that number in a way that everyone, regardless of party, might find legally acceptable and socially beneficial.

Why is that? Why don't pro-life activists earnestly focus on the roughly ~84% of medically unnecessary abortions instead of making this a debate about banning 100% of all abortions? What if pro-life activists focus more on the social and economic drivers behind those ~84% of medically-unnecessary abortions? Conceivably, pro-life activists could convert a lot people who currently consider themselves “pro-choice” if they'd focus more on offering solutions to the problems — including poverty and lack of opportunity — that cause would-be mothers to seek elective abortions.

Pro-choice voters are often maligned, and often unfairly so, just as pro-life voters are often maligned (and also often unfairly so). The dynamics of hyper-polarization are such that both sides have to indoctrinate their own peers and convince the “undecideds” that the opposing side is full of people who are stupid, evil, and/or ignorant. The beginning of making peace between two warring sides of a culture war is for both sides to acknowledge that there are people on the other side who are *not* stupid, evil, and/or ignorant. (I know this because, in the course of my human rights work, I've tried to make it a habit to seek out people from all sides of an issue. Never have I encountered an issue where one side is as stupid, evil, and/or ignorant as their opponents claim.)

∼ ꙮ ∽

Most people seem to assume that I’m “ultra woke,” but I’m actually pro-life in the broadest sense possible. I rarely focus on the narrow abortion issue, though, because it's only a very small portion of what it means to be “pro-life,” and so many other facets of what it means to be “pro-life” are completely neglected whenever these issues are discussed. Moreover, whenever I do self-identify as being “pro-life,” I often fear that people will instantly apply their own (completely inaccurate) definition of what that means. The toxicity and exhausting nature of the domestic abortion debate has caused me to avoid it, and I've focused on channeling my passions for protecting human rights and defending life towards other areas… particularly those that involve China and other misanthropic regimes.

Unfortunately, at times, my focus on problems on the other side of the world has caused people to believe that I don’t care about issues of human rights and defending life here. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Just to be clear, I do care deeply about these issues as they relate to America.

That being said, having studied a bit of economics, I don’t think restricting the supply of things (procedures, etc.) for which there’s an existing demand even works. Bans (i.e., at the state level) simply drive the banned activity underground or out of state. Worse still, they're likely to cause the pendulum to swing back even harder at the national level at some future point. In other words, if you're genuinely pro-life, banning abortion probably isn't the solution that you think it is. To truly build a culture of life, we have to address the root causes of elective abortions.

Anyhow, after my long silence on this issue, I'm realizing that this is an area where normal, sane, goodhearted people can and should have rational and respectful discussions. Ergo, I've decided that it's perhaps time to add my small and inconsequential voice to the debate. Many people, myself included, feel utterly bullied into silence about these things by the extremists and absolutists on both sides, and we mustn’t let them win. We — the small, the timid, the inconsequential — have to speak up.

To further define what it means to be “pro-life,” at least for me, being pro-life means opposing wars of aggression, adventurism, and revanchism and only reluctantly supporting what Saint Augustine might call “just wars” (of which there are exceedingly few). It means opposing euthanasia and capital punishment. And, yes, it means opposing abortion and sterilization when those procedures aren’t done out of medical necessity. Being pro-life means opposing the “organ procurement” industry and the practice of organ harvesting that we see in countries such as China. Being pro-life means means opposing attempts to make it normal and commonplace for young children to choose their gender, since they might want to have children of their own some day. (It isn't about bathrooms or sports — those things are polarizing distractions — but about fertility. Whether a child imagines themselves as a mother or a father someday, few things are more tragic and devastating for an adult wanting to be a parent than the prospect of infertility, and we shouldn't allow children to be consigned to such a future without understanding the consequences of the decisions being made on their behalf at a young age.)

But that’s only the half of it.

Being pro-life also means supporting “progressive” or “liberal” policies like common sense gun control, opposing health insurance companies' efforts to deny health coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and supporting strong social safety nets for the most vulnerable among us.

Being pro-life means supporting “conservative” policies like strong border security to interdict drugs and weapons, opposing overly-strict gun control measures which might prevent people from defending their own lives when violence comes to their doorstep, and supporting efforts to harness the incredible power of the free market in order to drive down the cost of life-saving health care, including through price transparency initiatives.

Being pro-life means supporting libertarian “right to try” therapies for people with terminal illnesses. It also means supporting compassionate, dignified policies which provide seniors the chance to enjoy their golden years, preferably at home with the people they love… even if such policies might be deemed “socialist.”

Being pro-life means rejecting arbitrary labels and supporting policies which make it easier for parents to bring new life into the world… policies like paid parental leave, the Child Tax Credit, and WIC/SNAP. Furthermore, being pro-life means rejecting false and pernicious myths about human “over-population” and completely rejecting the misanthropic notion that being “pro-life” and being “pro-environment” are positions which are somehow at odds.

We should encourage more people to have children, and we should encourage them to have more of them.

Very few (if any) politicians are holistically “pro-life,” and this, sadly, is reflected in our politics. Chances are, if you read the previous paragraph, regardless of which party you identify with, at least one of those pro-life sentiments mentioned probably provoked feelings of strong disagreement and even anger. And that’s alright. That’s why we have freedom of speech.

My very broad and general opposition to elective (medically unnecessary) abortion and my overriding aspiration that we should aspire to be a society that supports and celebrates life — all lives — at all of their various stages is always couched in two caveats: (1) I don’t have a uterus (and so I recognize that some might argue that I shouldn’t have an opinion on the abortion issue specifically, which is an assertion I reject, prima facie), and (2) I recognize bodily integrity to be an essential human right under International law (first enshrined in Article V of the UDHR) and to be a protected right under Constitutional law.

Why? The right to bodily integrity — which is often distilled to “my body, my choice” — protects us from things like mandatory vaccinations and forced medication. Conversely, the right to bodily integrity also protects us in cases where the state might say that certain people aren’t allowed to be vaccinated or treated for communicable diseases — which wouldn’t have been unthinkable during the Jim Crow era — i.e., so that the progression of their diseases might be studied (consider the heinous injustices perpetrated during the infamous Tuskegee Experiment), just as much as it protects women from undergoing forced abortions or forced sterilizations, or from being forced into pregnancy. Indeed, efforts to completely ban abortion would amount to “forced pregnancy” for those ~16% women who are victims of rape and incest, as well as for women whose health is jeopardized. Those aren't even the kinds of “forced pregnancies” that concern me the most, though.

A government that can force someone to have an abortion (or forcibly prevent someone from having one) is a government that has already asserted its control over a woman's reproductive rights, and which can, on a whim, force a woman to carry a child… even as a surrogate. That might sound strange, but if one looks at where China is at right now, the stark, dystopian possibility of forced pregnancies is already real, and forced surrogacies may not be far off. Having adopted an infanticidal and femicidal “One Child Policy,” which they maintained for far too long, the anti-feminist (in the First-wave sense) Chinese Communist Party is now sending Chinese men to the Northwestern Xinjiang region, where they’re being married off to ethnic Uyghur women — forced marriages, even though those two cultures typically don’t intermarry — in a clear attempt to dilute the Uyghur ethnicity, balance China’s surplus number of males, and boost China's plummeting national birth rate. If that policy doesn’t work, the Communist Party’s next policy might be forced surrogacy, possibly with some form of compensation. Given their research on genetic screening, their history of sex-selective abortions, and prior unethical and unsanctioned human cloning experiments, at some point, China's Communist Party will likely attempt to create artificial wombs in order to mass-produce children in factory-farming type operations, removing old-fashioned notions of love, intimacy, and family from the procreative act of propagating our species… a truly scary future which we must call out and resist with all our might.

Perhaps Afghanistan is another good example. In Afghanistan today, young women are again being bought and sold as child brides, and now they're prevented from obtaining even an education. The future that many of these girls face is one of forced pregnancies with men who’ve purchased them or taken them as trophies after killing their husbands. This surely isn’t a path out of poverty for Afghanistan. And the connection between poverty and abortion is a salient one, with the seeming antidote for both being education. I’ve read that educating girls is the fastest way to lift families out of poverty. If poverty drives a large portion of the ~84% of elective abortions, would better anti-poverty efforts help to address that number?

The policies under China’s Communist Party and Afghanistan’s Taliban aren’t that different from what one might expect if sanity were to stumble and if we were to allow the very far-left or the very far-right to institute their favored policies here in America. We ought to recognize this and guard against such possibilities.

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I digress, as someone who is pro-life but who also tries to be reasonable and thoughtful, what I’m looking for from candidates on the right are actual solutions for reducing that ~84% number. How can we uplift people at the forgotten end of the economic spectrum in order to better incentivize them to choose life? There’s a large number of “pro-life” voters who do *not* want to criminalize all abortions, but who *do* fervently want to adopt a positive, proactive, incentive-based approach to reducing that ~84% number down to 0%. How can candidates on the right better support women who find themselves in a desperate situation?

For instance, should America somehow directly compensate people to choose life? What if there were a way make the Child Tax Credit immediately available to a woman once she realizes she’s expecting a child? Most members of Congress likely have no idea about the finances of those whom they purport to represent, but as of 2022, 56% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. (In a country which just passed a $1.7 trillion government-funding omnibus bill, 56% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. Let that sink in.) Entering a pregnancy with less than $1,000 in savings likely makes motherhood unthinkable for many women who seek elective abortions, but if a woman had access to, for instance, 50% of the standard $3,600 Child Tax Credit as soon as she learned she was pregnant (and then 50% once she gave birth), that’d likely make a huge difference in her decision-making process.

Is this really such a bad idea? Does the right wing’s opposition to Federal spending exceed its commitment to life? Must “pro-life for the not-yet-bornalso mean “pro-poverty for the already-born?" What if there are ways to reduce maternal and childhood poverty in a way that lowers, rather than increases, the national debt? The government can’t aspire to do everything, or even most things, after all — nor should it — and it generally does nothing well, but ours is government that passed “Cash for Clunkers.” Surely “Cash for Children” isn’t the worst way to incentivize women to choose life, right? Perhaps smart policies could even encourage more men to be fathers, and not simply encourage more women to be mothers?

Some on the left, without framing such proposals in “pro-life” terms, have advocated a “Baby Bonds” policy which would create a less direct incentive, payable to the child (or payable for the child's benefit) after they reach the age of 18 (rather than a payment to the mother as soon as she realizes she’s expecting). This Baby Bonds proposal is best exemplified by Cory Booker’s “Opportunity Accounts” proposal, which his supporters (in a major marketing failure for a decent policy proposal) have packaged as an attempt to address intergenerational racial inequality and boost “social equity” (despite the vast majority of Americans having absolutely no idea what that phrase is supposed to mean). Booker's roughly $60 billion proposal would provide every child in America an account seeded with $1,000 to $3,000… an amount allocated in inverse proportion to that child’s family’s income. Each subsequent year, children would be eligible for additional payments based on the family’s income, until the child reaches the age of 18, at which point they’d be able to access these accounts for specified uses including education, homeownership, and retirement. While many of Cory Booker’s ideas have been somewhat half-baked, this intergenerational anti-poverty proposal deserves real consideration. (Indeed, cutting spending today by the same amount that we allocate to “Baby Bonds” which would mature in 18 years might be a radically innovative way to restructure America's finances in a way that would garner conservative cheers, and it might also possibly be a really smart way to restructure our system of higher educational system itself, if, for instance, such money could be spent on community colleges.)

Clearly, the Baby Bonds idea isn’t a terrible proposal. It simply needs serious thought and consideration from both sides of the aisle, as well as a few thoughtful modifications, and its most ardent proponents need to stop attempting to sell it as a partisan measure designed to address the racial wealth gap specifically for African-Americans. Why? Because, theoretically, white, lower income, blue collar, red state Republicans and their children stand to benefit from the idea just as much as lower income African-American Democrats and their children! According to a recent survey from Intelligent, 46% of Republican parents haven’t started a college fund to date, but 70% do aspire or hope to somehow start saving. On the other hand, 15% of (very honest and realistic) Republicans are conscientiously neither currently saving nor planning to save. When it comes to Democratic parents, 33% of Democratic parents aren’t currently saving, but 79% do aspire or hope to somehow start. Only 7% of (very honest and realistic) Democratic respondents are conscientiously neither planning nor saving. Of course, few survey respondents would honestly confess that they're barely scraping by and realistically won't be able to save enough for their children's education.

If poverty is a driver of elective abortions, and if education reduces poverty, then any long-term solution to reducing elective abortions also has to address poverty and increase higher education. One would assume that most of those 46% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats who aren't saving for their children's education also fall into the aforementioned cohort of roughly 56% of Americans who have less than $1,000 in savings and thus weren't financially prepared for parenthood to begin with. This is a cycle that we have to break.

Clearly, it’s time for big ideas. We can do hard things! Nothing is impossible with God. With a bit of ingenuity and goodwill, big ideas can unite both pro-life lawmakers and anti-poverty lawmakers in achieving long-sought goals. Ergo, I’d humbly offer a hybrid proposal designed to satisfy both sides of the aisle — a once-in-a-generation pro-life/anti-poverty bill that aims to (1) decrease elective abortions from 84% to ZERO over the next two decades, (2) reduce the U.S. childhood poverty rate from ~16.9% to ZERO over the next two decades, and (3) expand opportunities to prepare future American college students for 2044 and beyond — encompassing direct support to expecting mothers in the form of a “Pre-imbursed” Child Tax Credit, a jus sanguinis “Baby Bonds” program, and other innovative proposals.

While it sounds expensive, deficit neutrality could (and should!) be attained though a combination of similarly creative proposals and offsets, including by phasing out Pell Grants 18 years after passage of the bill. For instance, for the 2021/22 academic year, the U.S. government's total expenditure on Federal Pell Grants was $25.9 billion, which is already half the cost of the Baby Bonds portion of the proposal. Planning and saving for the future is cheap when done correctly. Paying for the past, spending on the present, and failing to save for the future… those are the behaviors which are expensive. Congress needs to understand that and change the way it considers legislation. An increase in the number of new Americans being born over the next two decades would help with Social Security and Medicaid solvency over the long-term tremendously. After all, consider how much each new child would pay into our entitlement programs over the course of their life! Indeed, in ROI terms, investing in a once-in-a-generation pro-life/anti-poverty bill may the best investment the U.S. government could ever make with taxpayer dollars! With both sides conceivably satisfied by such a once-in-a-generation pro-life/anti-poverty bill, perhaps the Hyde Amendment could then be codified into law, rather than passed as a yearly Appropriations Amendment?

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What I’m looking for from candidates on the left is slightly different. What I’m looking for from the “tolerant left” is tolerance for those who demure from absolutist positions on abortion. I understand the opposition to barriers to care for women who are victims of rape or incest, and I understand the opposition to forcing women to carry pregnancies which would put their health/safety at risk — indeed, I and most other Americans generally agree with those exceptions — but when will it be okay to be a mostly pro-life Democrat” again? We need more new Americans. Our fiscal solvency depends on it. Whether Democrats want to acknowledge it or not, fewer people (particularly millennials) are having premarital sex, fewer unintended pregnancies means fewer women are choosing to have abortions, and fertility has been falling (alarmingly) around the world (and in America) for many years. Ergo, regardless of one thinks about the clear immorality of elective abortion, the lasting cultural salience of the issue really isn't in Democrats' favor. There is a very large portion of people in this country who are “live and let live” pro-life types — mainly Christians — who don’t support Republican policies to completely and totally ban abortion for those ~0.7% to ~16% of cases of rape, incest, and “health of the mother” cases, but who also think, i.e., that elective abortions after the first trimester (Dobbs) or second trimester (Roe) can and probably should be regulated/restricted. These voters feel politically homeless, as current Democratic Orthodoxy is that abortion, by default, should be legal and unquestioned in all cases, up to the point of nine months. That is an extremist and nonsensical position, and yet it's Democrats' present default position, as no Democratic leaders dare articulate anything to the contrary.

That's unfortunate for Democrats, because even though most Americans won’t publicly admit it, they find the concept of allowing it to be completely legal to abort a child mere weeks before birth to be both unthinkable and repulsive, just as much as they find it cruel and reprehensible to force a traumatized teen to carry a pregnancy resulting from incest. Sadly, if you try to run as a “pro-life (except rape, incest, and health of the mother) Democrat,” you’ll be blacklisted by the party’s funding mechanisms. That’s why there’s so little diversity of thought on this subject among politicians on the left. The few Democrats who are quietly “pro-life” have to call themselves “pro-choice” when speaking to donors (just like Republicans who make exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the mother are increasingly being drown out by those who aren’t willing to make such exceptions).

Anyhow, if you read this far, I hope that you, dear reader, are doing well and that this was actually a more thoughtful post than you were expecting. Please reach out if you have any (hopefully kind and reasonable) thoughts to share.

Regardless of which party you belong to (if any), what’s a positive, life-affirming policy that you think we should consider for reducing that ~84% number?