It's Time to Stop Pretending Abortion and Birth Control Aren't Economic Issues


Stop me if you’ve heard this one. The War on Women, as the GOP line goes, is a myth drummed by the liberal media to distract from important economic issues. Issues like jobs, the economy, and building a giant fucking oil pipe across the middle of the country. A real President would focus on things that matter to real Americans rather than spending the entire campaign playing in the Barbie aisle with the ladies and their special interest concerns. But since when did reproductive choices decouple from economic consequences? As long as pregnancy and childbirth cost money, and time that could be used to make more money if it wasn’t being spent on kid-wrangling, a woman’s ability to control the size of her family is the most important economic issue of all. So why is anyone getting away with pretending it’s not?

Democrats have taken some heat for last week’s convention, and the attention they paid during that convention to so-called “women’s issues” AKA “things of or related to babymaking” AKA “cooties concerns.” The Washington Examiner cynically postulated that they were only pretending to care about women’s issues as a way to rally the base and raise money (something, surely, Republicans would never dream of doing). Other outlets have grumbled that the whole lady issues thing is just a topic lib’ruls bring up to hide the fact that they don’t really have any economic solutions for the country. Like a significant other who brings up the time you cheated on your ex boyfriend every time you ask him to pick his underwear off the floor or do the dishes. Unserious! A smoke screen!

It’s not just conservatives who fail to grasp the link between having children and the costs associated with having children. Last week, CBS offered up a report of a public hearing in Texas over the revocation of Planned Parenthood funds, describing the proceedings as “emotional.” As in “ladies be vagina-crazy emotion machines!” It’s crazy, just nutty that women have worked themselves into a frenzy over something as trivial as their access to health care and their ability to afford to afford to care for their families and the right to control the size of their families. God, eat some chocolate, ladies.

Here’s a really important, apparently little-known fact that might blow some minds, if only it would sink in: pregnancy and childbirth cost money. A lot of it. And many, many organizations have been trying to point this out for a very long time. People’s grandmothers have already gotten headaches from banging their heads against this wall. So why the notion that women’s health is separate from “the economy” still a notion that’s given any credence whatsoever?

According to the USDA’s annual survey of how much families spend on raising children, the average middle-income couple with two kids can expect to pay between $12,290 and $14,320 per year in child rearing costs, and a baby born in the year 2012 will likely cost her parents $300,000 between the day she’s born and the day she heads off to college. But that’s only for families with two parents — single mothers either have to shell out more for childcare, work around their kids’ schedules to avoid childcare costs, or rely on friends or relatives to provide care gratis. Women who take maternity leave to care for children or who leave the workforce for a few years also often take a professional hit that can range from delayed advancement up the corporate ladder to being flat out fired.

And on a macro level, unplanned pregnancies have real costs as well. Earlier this year, Think Progress put together a nice roundup of all the ways taxpayers foot the bill for unplanned pregnancies — $12 billion per year at the federal level, and tens of millions at the state level, especially in places like Oklahoma where low-cost birth control is scarce and abortion is heavily restricted. Personal responsibility is a great thing to tout and all, but it’s not like we can just throw our arms up in the air when someone who can’t afford to pay for health costs associated with pregnancy and childbirth ends up choosing to carry and unplanned pregnancy to term and yell “PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY, LADY!” as she goes into labor in a bus shelter. I mean, that’s barbaric. Ignoring the health needs of low income women won’t make them go away — it will just make things more complicated and expensive. We need to either work with reality — “People have sex, and sometimes that sex results in pregnancy;” or work against it — “Women who can’t afford babies or who don’t want to become parents just shouldn’t have sex ever.” Sex is a biological process. It’s not a toll road or a yacht or membership in Augusta. It’s not just a thing that people will do only after they’re sure they can afford every possible consequence of it.

Women’s reproductive systems are not made of magic and prayers, just situated up in the pelvic region like a fairy sent from heaven to teach us lessons, and costs associated with everything that can go wrong with the female body are — surprise — economic issues as well. Almost 227,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the last year. About 47,000 women were diagnosed with endometrial cancer (of the uterus), and 22,000 found out they had ovarian cancer. In the most recent year for which data is available, 12,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer over a 12-month period. Efforts to prevent these cancers can save families (and insurance pools, into which everyone lucky enough to be insured pays) millions of dollars as well as the heartache that comes with learning you or someone you love has the big C-word. Anything that costs that much money is an economic issue.

Some conservatives have argued that the Democratic party’s insistance on talking about women’s health is akin to reducing women to their vaginas (and all of the yicky down-there vaginal accoutrements), and we can go on and on about living in a post-feminist society until we’re blue in the face, but pretending basic biology doesn’t exist is so obtuse it’s dangerous. The sex with the capacity to make babies who are helpless for several years after birth face the constant threat of being saddled with the sole responsibility of childcare, and the majority of the physical burden of reproduction. A father’s biological necessity ends before he’s even lit a post-coital cigarette. A mother’s got to carry the kid for 9 months, and then push it out of a tiny hole (or undergo major surgery to have the kid removed). A father can opt in (or out); a mother can’t. No matter what social advances we make, none of it will matter if we’re barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen because we keep getting knocked up.

Abortion, birth control, and women’s health issues are a distraction from serious, economic issues? How is this a thing that grown ass adults can say with a straight face? If you’re a woman in America, nothing is more tied to your economic health than whether or not you have to feed and clothe another human being. Babies are expensive. Pregnancy and child rearing are hard work that fall disproportionately on women. And anyone who doesn’t understand that is either Romney-rich or suffering from an unfortunate case of Duggar-itis.

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