Among America’s culture wars—from guns to gay marriage, drug legalization to penal reform—no battle is more emotionally wrenching than the decades-long struggle over abortion. And none is more bitterly polarized: As pro-choice states like Virginia and New York are enacting laws that allow abortion up to the moment of birth, pro-life states are advancing legislation that will ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Where might pro-life and pro-choice Americans find common ground? Might it not be possible to work together to reduce the number of unwanted abortions—by making it financially feasible for more women to choose life? America needs a generous pro-natal policy initiative similar to those of France, Germany, and the Nordic nations—one including federal funding for housing subsidies, day care, and medical coverage for willing mothers and their children, based on need. We might call this hypothetical legislation The Woman’s Right to Choose Act, a law that would provide comprehensive, means-tested, public aid—pre-natal care and counseling, post-natal care, and full child support for newborns—to all pregnant American women and their families.
The Woman’s Right to Choose Act could draw on policies suggested by both Democrats and Republicans, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recent national child care proposal and the family and child tax credits advanced by Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio. Its prime beneficiaries would be women who actually want to bring children into the world, but fear that they cannot afford to, and so “choose” abortion under duress. This act would embody a “preferential option for the poor”—whose rates of abortion, particularly among minority women, are far higher than among affluent whites. And by using federal funds, it would offer more resources to all American women than even the most well-meaning, well-funded private charities could ever hope to deploy.
Such a robust national program would be costly. Some estimates of Warren’s child support proposal run upward of $70 billion a year. But congressional budgetary data show that we expend $127 billion a year in tax breaks to recipients of stock dividends and capital gains—the majority of that going to the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans. Taxing that capital income at the same rates as wages would more than pay for a robust Choose Act budget. It’s a question of priorities: money or lives?
There is a solid case to be made for pro-natal policies in America on purely social and economic grounds. Fertility in the U.S.—at 1.8 children per woman—is now nearing record lows. Further declines could tip us into long-term population implosion. As we see today in Japan, Germany, Russia, Italy, China, and many other countries, falling birth rates undercut any country’s economic dynamism while also straining social safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Public support to help women choose birth could and should be one vital element of a larger pro-natal policy which would offer long-term benefits to our whole economy.
Research by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute shows that 73 percent of women cite inability to afford a baby as a major determinant of their decisions. Guttmacher data also shows that 75 percent of abortion patients in 2014 were poor or low-income, while 49 percent of them had incomes less than the federal poverty level for a family of two ($15,730). Fact-sheet data from the pro-life CareNet shows that “African American women were substantially over-represented, accounting for 35.6% of abortions, even though they are only 13.3% of the population.”
These numbers leave little doubt that strong public policy in support of women who choose to give birth would substantially decrease the number and rate of abortions in America. And since Choose Act benefits would be means-tested, gently falling at higher levels of income, the greatest gains would go to the less well-off—most notably African Americans.
Moreover, the nation itself would benefit. Assume the act only lowers the annual number of abortions by between 10 to 20 percent from today’s level—roughly eight hundred eighty thousand. That would mean within a decade women freed from raw economic coercion would bring to term somewhere between eight hundred eighty thousand and 1.7 million new Americans. Pro-lifers should celebrate and willingly, even joyfully, pay more taxes to achieve life on this scale.
As for pro-choice advocates, how could they deny that a law like this would dramatically improve women’s options, making the “choices” of millions of women far less coerced? Why would they not wish to free all women from the brutal class and financial pressures that currently drive so many to “choose” abortion?
Ten years after the passing of the Choose Act, thousands more children would be born to women and families who genuinely want them. These new humans would grow up to become productive, tax-paying citizens. Over the long term, economically, these children will more than pay back to America whatever we spend to help their mothers and fathers bring them into our world.
But they will never be born, unless pro-lifers and pro-choicers find the goodwill—and courage—to reach across the trenches of the abortion wars. Let’s work toward this minimum common ground: No American woman or family should ever again be pressured into ending a pregnancy solely because of economic pressures.
Lenny Glynn served as a speechwriter for Governor Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and is co-author of From Here to Security: How Workplace Savings Can Keep America’s Promise.