This week, The New York Times ran yet another bizarre conservative straw-man op-ed in a misguided attempt to seem unbiased. “The Problem With Linking Abortion and Economics,” written by Lori Szala, claims that acknowledging the connection between poverty and unwanted pregnancies “reduces mothers and their children to mere economic objects, and amounts to saying we are justified in killing those who impede our economic progress.” She goes on to tell her story of being a successful teen mom, one which started with her rejecting an abortion and deciding to carry the baby to term.
The piece glosses over the fact that Szala works for the Human Coalition, a “crisis pregnancy center” which states on its homepage: “We have a vivid hope that abortion will become unthinkable and unavailable in our lifetime. Unite with us in our mission to end the worst holocaust in human history, to protect image-bearers of God Himself, to bring help to abandoned and rejected women, and to rescue every preborn baby we can.”
Szala’s argument is deliberately reductive. Saying that “women on the margins need abortion so that they can scramble up the economic ladder without children holding them back” is offensive, inflammatory garbage. Reality is far more nuanced than this weak argument. Reality is catastrophic birth defects. Reality is harm to the mother’s body. Reality is babies without anyone to take proper care for them. Reality is a continuing cycle of poverty—real, profound poverty, not just “a lower rung on the economic ladder.” Szala bases her entire piece on the fact that she was a successful teen mom and you can too! Throughout her piece she implies that with a little wit and hutzpah, we can make sure no woman ever wants an abortion.
Republicans love these “I did and you can too!” narratives. They’re vague enough that the details seem easily transferrable—she was 17 and pregnant just like you! She had a single parent just like you! They didn’t have a lot of extra money just like your family! And yet she still did it, so why can’t you? This kind of logic is what leads someone like Rep. Raul Labrador to say that “nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” Just because it didn’t happen to you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Nor does it make you a better, stronger person if you avoided that fate. Honestly, it sounds like Szala just got really fucking lucky. She had a sister who could support her, a high school that didn’t expel her, a roof over her head, enough skills to get employment. Her ability to support herself as a teen mom is commendable, but she also got super lucky that she didn’t have to go it alone.
It is beyond arrogant for Szala to advocate for taking away options that were so readily available to her. As she states, she was not ostracized for her decision to keep her baby. While her family had counseled abortion, they supported her when she chose otherwise, going out of their way to ensure her safety. Szala was able to make a decision for herself after being provided choices and options. She was educated and then supported in her choice. That’s exactly what abortion rights advocates are asking for.
Crisis pregnancy centers like the Human Coalition are based entirely around withholding information and services from women. The Human Coalition gives a list of the many ways it is attempting to make abortion “unthinkable and unavailable,” one being “Incubation Services.” I’ll just say quickly that “Incubation Services” sound very much like something offered by a dystopian theocracy, but I digress. The Incubation Services provided by the Human Coalition involve developing an Abstinence Training Educational Program. Abstinence based sex education is basically a refusal to tell kids anything other than “sex is bad, don’t have it.” By refusing to acknowledge that sex frequently happens and the dangers with it can be mitigated, educators are withholding information that could keep children and teens safe and healthy.
The group also touts a “legal team that is constantly monitoring the abortion industry landscape for potential leverage points.” Once again, they focus on finding loopholes, arbitrary guidelines and misinformation that can help them snatch up lifesaving medical care from women.
The argument for maintaining access to safe and affordable abortions is not that everyone who has not carefully planned their pregnancy should quickly abort it. Nor is the argument that raising a child should be easy or should not be undertaken at all. The argument is that women should be allowed to make these decisions fully and completely for themselves. They should be given all available information, given all possible comfort and care, and allowed to look within themselves to decide which decision best suits them.
Additionally, organizations like the one Szala works for do offer support—the story of the donor who sold her car at a discount, the job services—but that support always comes with strings. The Human Coalition is designed around the idea that having a child out of wedlock is a sin in the first place—that’s at least what is implied by insisting on abstinence only sex education. They repeatedly refer to the women who come seeking help “abortion-determined clients.” By definition—in their own materials—these are not women who have come to the Human Coalition seeking to have their minds changed. They have made a decision they believe is right for them and the Human Coalition is bound and goddamn determined to change their minds whether they like it or not.
I believe Szala’s story of her friend who regretted her decision to have an abortion. I also believe there are just as many people who have had babies and regretted that decision. The only way to mitigate these life altering “mistakes” is education. No one knows what will happen to them 10 or 20 years down the road, but if they don’t even have enough information to know what is happening to them right now, how can they possibly be expected to make the best choice?
It seems especially malicious to run bullshit like this right after the Republican House passed a health care bill that basically made being a woman a pre-existing condition. In that context, this is not only an anti-abortion op-ed, it is an insidious advertisement for the privatization of reproductive care. Privately funded organizations often provide convenient partial-truths and outright misinformation to sway clients’ decisions. Of course an organization stating its mission to criminalize and ban all abortions on its website landing page isn’t going to give women the full and complete picture when it comes to all of their reproductive options.
All women are asking for is education and options. We are asking to be trusted to make decisions that are in our best interest and then supported in that choice. We need safe access to public health care, not condescending half-truths and aide that comes with strings attached from private organizations. And The New York Times needs to be more conscientious about who they are providing a platform.