Criminalizing abortion is a key feature of dismantling the social safety net
Activists supporting a woman's right to choose to have an abortion protested in March 2020 outside the US Supreme Court(AFP)

Criminalizing women’s health care is likely to harm and impoverish women. The GOP’s opposition to reproductive health care is consistent with its class war on working class and poor people.

Pushing kids into poverty is a feature of abortion policy, not a bug.

Earlier this month, a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked suggesting the court is ready to overturn Roe. That would make it possible for states to pass draconian laws criminalizing abortion. States with Republican governments are already gearing up.

In Senate testimony following the leak, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen argued that “eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.”

Yellen is in line with an amicus brief supporting abortion rights filed by nearly 155 economists. The brief summarizes a range of studies showing that abortion access has had sweeping effects on the health and economic wellbeing of women and pregnant people.

The brief cites studies showing that abortion access reduced teen motherhood by 34 percent and teen marriage by 20 percent. It also cites research finding abortion access increased the likelihood of Black teenage women graduating from high school by around 23 percentage points. For Black women attending college, it was 23 to 27 points.

Perhaps the most striking evidence in the brief is a study that followed outcomes for people who sought and obtained abortions just before the gestational limit cut off, and those who sought them but were turned away because they were just past the gestational limit.

The study found both groups had similar financial outlooks before abortions. Immediately after seeking abortions, however, the turned-away group experienced major economic struggles, including a 78 percent increase in past-due debt and an 81 percent increase in paperwork related to bankruptcies, evictions and court judgements.

Ideally, failing to receive an abortion should not result in major financial hardship. For that matter, no child should experience major financial hardship in a wealthy country like the US. Parents should have the resources they need to care for their families.

The fact is that raising children is expensive and difficult in the US, especially for the poor. The cost of raising a child through age 17 in the US is about $233,000, according to USDA estimates.

Child care, to list just one expense, is broadly unaffordable. Infant care costs on average $11,000 a year. Only one in six families eligible for child care subsidies receive them. Those subsidies generally cover a fraction of care, even for those who receive them.

If the Republicans want to reduce incentives for abortion and show they care about children, they’d be eager to provide more money for child care and more resources for families with infants.

As Roe is ready to fall, the Republicans have started to mutter half-heartedly about maybe perhaps possibly sorta kinda providing some, a little, more resources for families raising young children.

But the fact is that Republicans have in the past consistently fought viciously against programs designed to help parents and families.

Biden proposed a $1.8 trillion plan to provide for universal pre-K, a national childcare program and tuition-free community college.

Republicans like US Senator Marsha Blackburn immediately labeled Biden’s proposal a socialist plot. Senate wannabe JD Vance said funding childcare was “class war against normal people” because it was encouraging mothers to work instead of staying home with families.

So if the Republicans want mothers to stay home and not work, they must want to provide them with the money to do that, right?

Ha, no.

The Democratic Congress, at Biden’s urging, passed an expanded Child Tax Credit in 2021. It provided hundreds in cash payments for each child in low-income families. It lifted millions of kids out of poverty.

But when the expanded tax credit came up for renewal, Republicans and one conservative Senate Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, scuttled it. Manchin — channeling the arguments of Republicans — insisted the tax credit be predicated on a work requirement.

When Biden tries to provide aid for child care, so parents with young children can work, the Republicans say mothers should stay home.

When he tries to provide aid to families, so children aren’t engulfed by poverty, the Republicans say mothers have to work.

It’s almost as if the GOP’s goal is impoverishing children.

The Republicans say they are against abortion, because they value fetal life, which they insist is synonymous with the lives of children.

But if the Republicans actually cared about children, they would support programs to help children. If they cared about the well-being of families, they would support programs to help families.

Attacking abortion is apiece with shredding the safety net.

It’s not about life.

It’s about preserving a social order in which the poor have few options except humiliating themselves for the few bones thrown at them.

It’s about making sure women in particular are kept in their place as second class citizens, desperate and dependent, punished for working or for failing to work, for having children or failing to have them.

In an ideal world, pregnant people would decide whether to have abortions without worrying about crushing poverty if they make the wrong decision. No one who is pregnant, and no family, should worry about their children not having enough to eat, or a place to live.

A world in which people have the resources they need is a world in which people have the health care resources they need. And that absolutely includes the reproductive health care they need.