The Nation's Katha Pollitt: Newsweek “Completely Misunderstands The Fight Over Abortion In The United States”
On December 17, Newsweek published a cover story entitled: “America's Abortion Wars (And How to End Them).” The article argued that the solution to the “brutal stalemate” between pro-choice and anti-choice advocates was for both sides to let go of “bumper-sticker logic” and instead bankroll policy measures to support lower-income women who choose to give birth.
In a December 21 response for The Nation, Katha Pollitt criticized Newsweek for mischaracterizing the debate over abortion and failing to recognize the strategies of pro-choice supporters, in particular those of reproductive justice proponents. Pointing to the long history of anti-choice violence against abortion providers, Pollitt argued that Newsweek's cover story supported a false equivalency between the goals of the pro-choice and anti-choice movements, explaining the two sides couldn't be equated because “in the so-called abortion wars, only one side is murdering the other.”
She concluded that by distorting the problem and proposing inadequate policy reforms, Newsweek problematically elevated the credibility of the anti-choice movement and minimized the actual needs of pregnant women and parents:
Sorry, Newsweek. In the so-called abortion wars, only one side is murdering the other. Pro-choicers don't invade Christian “crisis pregnancy centers,” guns blazing; they don't picket Catholic churches and scream at the people going into worship. Only one side wants to force women to do their bidding. Only one side fights broad access to birth control and realistic sex education. Only one side has allied itself with the Republican Party, which wants to cut every program and rescind every law that helps women and children and promotes gender equality in the workplace.
But then, Eichenwald doesn't seem to know much about the actually existing reproductive-rights movement. As if drawing a rabbit out of a hat, he points out that the majority of women (69 percent) who have abortions today are poor or low-income. This will come as a surprise to few people involved with supporting abortion rights and access--or who have spent an afternoon in a clinic waiting room. He notes that a study shows that three-quarters of women choosing abortion give finances as one reason (he skips over the study's conclusion that typically women give multiple reasons, including responsibilities to others, lack of a partner and not being ready for motherhood). Since poverty is the cause, the way to end the abortion wars is for both sides to “put down their placards and open their wallets”--i.e., support laws and programs that will help poor women keep their pregnancies if they want them. “Here,” he writes, “are all the new costs”: an increase in the minimum wage, free government-funded daycare, free prenatal care, stronger legal protection for pregnant workers, and an end to the fight against Obamacare.
It's a pretty minimal list--it doesn't even include paid parental leave or subsidies for low-income women who want to go to college as mothers, or help with housing or support in escaping abusive men. It doesn't consider that having a baby affects a woman's life forever, not just while she's pregnant or a new mother. And it has a strange focus on adoption as part of the solution. If he'd looked into the literature on adoption, he would have discovered that very few women (and black women least of all) are interested in having babies to give to adoptive couples--even ones who are willing to pay for their prenatal care, as he suggests. Almost all women who go through pregnancy and childbirth seem to want to keep the child.
That he considers his list complete shows that Eichenwald hasn't spent a lot of time looking at women's lives. He's spent even less looking at the pro-choice movement, which he seems to think is a bunch of child-hating tightwads, when in fact most pro-choicers are Democrats. The anti-tax crowd is in the other party--the anti-choice party.
Worst of all, he does not seem to know that the brilliant new idea he thinks he figured out on his own is what today's reproductive-rights movement is all about. That women need the right to have babies as well as not to have them, that freedom from poverty--and racism and violence--is part of that right, is called reproductive justice, and for 20 years it's been gradually replacing the libertarian “choice” framework for the abortion-rights movement. Today even Planned Parenthood embraces it. If only Eichenwald had picked up the phone and actually talked to some pro-choice leaders and thinkers. Loretta Ross, founder of the black-feminist organization SisterSong, where the reproductive-justice framework originated, could have set him straight in five minutes.