The first part of a three-part series on voting Pro-Life
Note: While someone might be tempted to the read the 2020 election into this article, I’ve intended for the themes here to address ideas that will persist far beyond the current political moment. This series of articles is about what the movement can be in the future, not where we currently stand.
Many earnest pro-lifers—the ones who understand the enormity of the injustice and who relentlessly sacrifice to end it—have every right to be single-issue voters. But they probe deeper for the root causes of abortion’s evil. They are deep single-issue voters or single-issue plus. They urgently seek to expose the massive and complex layers of problems that underlie abortion’s human rights tragedy.
Single-issue-plus pro-lifers observe that, much like with racism, abortion is rooted in systemic and institutional injustice and bias. They focusing on the structural causes of anti-motherhood discrimination and dehumanization of preborns. Certainly, speaking in terms of social structures makes abortion sound too abstract or academic. But diving deeply enough into them reveals a constellation of problems that can be better isolated and fought with social and political urgency.
Pope John Paul II was aware of deeper issues in society when he remarked in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,
‘Sin’ and ‘structures of sin’ are categories which are seldom applied to the situation of the contemporary world. However, one cannot easily gain a profound understanding of the reality that confronts us unless we give a name to the root of the evils which afflict us.
The late pope called us to give structures of sin a name. We must more clearly specify what institutional issues plague mothers and their preborns. As we will see, the structures underlying abortion in America affect most all youth and are needlessly cruel to young mothers. Their roots are deeply entrenched in the modern American mindset, and people despair that there could be any other path. But the pro-life movement can undo hidden anti-motherhood assumptions that make people falsely believe that abortion is a “necessary” evil.
But despite an ever-deepening understanding of these issues, the pro-life movement’s solutions to institutional problems are still evolving and require greater nuance and articulation. In the meantime, pro-lifers have been deprecated as only being “pro-birth”. But by investigating systemic and institutional solutions more keenly, pro-lifers can offer a far more panoramic and hopeful vision of how society moves past what abortion tricks us into thinking could never change. And most importantly, it can show what essential paths to true social justice were overlooked when America took the route of Roe v. Wade.
The systemic root of abortion
So we first address abortion’s systemic evil, comparing pro-life viewpoints with to those that have battled racism in order to better expose hidden sources of anti-preborn and anti-motherhood bias.
Sociologists have made the strong case that racism is rooted not in hate but in policies that made business exceedingly efficient and profitable for Southern landowners. Thus, the landowners built a system that would help realize those profits most efficiently— namely, slavery. Racism was primarily rooted in economy policy; the prejudice and hate came thereafter to maintain the unjust policies.
Abortion is similar. Just as enslavement was made official government policy to promote economic prosperity in colonial America and beyond, so was abortion made official policy to promote the economic and social advancement of women in the late 20th Century. And like with slavery, dehumanization closely followed, with preborn humanity being dismissed entirely. Anti-preborn rhetoric, like that of “choice”, only accelerated in the ensuing years after state legislatures and the Supreme Court legalized abortion.
And that is key: a systematic shortcut to a desired objective was taken in each case, and that shortcut mindset is still active today.
Of course, the abortion shortcut is rotten, foremost because it is incomparably lethal, but also because blinds us to the institutional inequities cast upon motherhood. And the next level down—at the institutional level—is where the horror digs its claws and bares its teeth. It’s where all hidden assumptions pile up and become reality.
Institutional neglect of motherhood
Just as institutional racism can prevent many Black Americans from obtaining everything from a high-quality education to loans, institutional problems abound that prevent mothers in crisis pregnancy from finding high-quality educational opportunities to and employment that fully accommodate all facets of motherhood.
Experienced pro-life activists see it everywhere:
The modern world runs on a man’s clock. Education is tick-tock, machine-like, and the assumption is that every student must submit to it or face lifelong consequences. From the moment a child enters primary schooling, the system induces immense pressure to keep up with peers to matriculate “on time”. School semesters rarely accommodate interruptions, let alone extended ones like pregnancy and motherhood. College majors demand strict devotion to syllabi and the calendar. Meanwhile, alternative schooling is almost universally stigmatized as being associated with poor outcomes, reduced quality or deviance. Despite advancements in online learning, hardly any virtual teaching models have been tuned to the needs of students on an irregular schedule for any reason, let alone something as natural as parenting.
If a young woman thinks she’ll fall out of sync with academics because of pregnancy, abortion-mindedness can sink in. With almost half of abortions being among high school or college-aged women (about 400,000 at-risk preborns each year), and with many citing completion of education as a reason for procuring one, we’d think there would be credible roadmaps to success while mothering, but the absence of any is glaring and telling.
Every school system should offer fully equivalent, stigma-free routes of attaining a diploma for those who require a different path. There’s no reason that some of the taxes collected for on-site learning can’t be diverted to childcare and tutoring for a young mother participating in online classes.
Every college ought to publicize opportunities centered exclusively around the routines and timetables of new mothers, especially for classes that require little professor-student interaction. For other classes, because pregnancy is the normal course of events for women, subsidies for on-campus daycare should be tied to scholarships, financial aid, activities fees and graduate stipends. The added costs ought automatically extend student loans with no future penalty because pregnancy must be seen as more than an extenuating circumstance—it’s the ordinary course of events as dictated by biology. Pregnancy is not a condition magicked upon a person at their insistence while mired in coursework.
Abortion “hides the ball” regarding these kinds of reforms, obscuring them from the field of play. It relaxes any urgency for competing solutions because the shortcut is tantalizingly cheap and efficient. In effect, abortion makes us think such investments in motherhood aren’t worth it. Or that they would be too complex. Or that they conflict with our obsessiveness in ensuring students graduate on our schedule, not theirs.
And that’s what abortion is: The Great Denier of ever pursuing equitable systems and institutions.
Whatever obstacles hinder student mothers, the effect is trebled in the workforce, where expectations of productivity dominate a young employee’s timeline. Pro-life groups have suggested that pro-life employees to perform workplace evaluations that increase their workplace’s mother-friendliness, which have been excellent starting points. But institutional change requires far more than informal audits. That women fret about disclosing pregnancy, or fear “showing” at a job interview, or think about declaring pregnancy after receiving a job offer (so as not to appear have pulled a bait and switch)—all of these situations expose the inherent anti-motherhood discrimination in the workplace. And all this happens despite laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act making illegal denial of employment for pregnant mothers. All of these things must be uprooted from our social mindset by pursuing policies that not only police discrimination but incentivize mother-friendly hiring practices.
Radical change must be pursued, so that no young mother sees not an iota of their future threatened by presence of a child.
Where to start? Similar to how women-owned businesses advertise as such due to contracts or incentives granted by the government, companies should be able to gain a special designation if they maintain motherhood-friendly policies. The criteria can be wide-ranging, from having supporting flexibility in location and hours, to the percent of motherhood-friendly roles in positions of ownership and management, to granting increased maternity leave offered to entry-level employees, and to establish workplace daycare support.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed massive societal faults affecting mothers in the workplace. One salvageable result is that work-from-home has become a more widespread alternative. The pandemic showed that work-from-home can lead to increases in productivity. A motherhood-based economy would demand such arrangements become the norm for mothers going forward—official policy—not a special request so there’s no anxiety about choosing to do so. Temporary work-from-home projects should be employer-prepared for those mothers without availability of a normal work-at-home desk job. Beyond that, various forms of employment amenable strictly to motherhood—a type of “motherhood group economics” or co-working arrangements with shared childcare—will have to be diligently investigated.
The media has explored skyrocketing daycare costs and the troubling rise of daycare deserts, but solving those problems doesn’t go far enough. A motherhood-based economy prioritizes mother-child proximity from the start. If work-from-home is not feasible, a ubiquitous workplace daycare system should become the norm, first in medium and large-sized companies, and with regular breaks offered promoting parent-child connection. And then an analogous system for mothers at small businesses would also be investigated, borrowing and scaling concepts from childcare co-ops.
But, again, we see abortion “hiding the ball”, short-circuiting exploration into workplace and childcare reforms because abortion is the far cheaper and quicker shortcut. Legalized abortion is so tempting a shortcut that it largely keeps many of these concepts about a motherhood economy from even being imagined. Abortion takes away all pressure on society to cultivate change for the somehow radical idea that mothers ought to be able to balance family and work, and be near to their children during the critical connection ages of infancy and toddlerhood. And make no mistake, unless radical reforms are pursued, the simplicity of the abortion shortcut will forever be tempting. Radical change requires nothing less than the wholesale embrace of motherhood by all sectors of society.
And this is a major reason pro-lifers get pigeonholed into seeming only “pro-birth”. These hidden problems—while discussed within certain pro-life circles extensively—lack public urgency. Part of the issue is that while the pro-life movement presses awareness of the problems, its sensitivity to institutional bias behind the problems has been lacking. But the institutional problem is enormous, and we haven’t even touched the institutional issues facing young fatherhood, the lack of academic programs on preborn rights, changes in how religious institutions speak about and promote motherhood, and the list goes on and on. The public perception of the pro-life movement relies on whether we approach these “single-issue plus” reforms with zeal. But I think we have the zeal; it’s a matter of articulating our priorities and ensuring that leaders hear the validity and promise of our ideals.
What we’ve discussed is only the start, the low-hanging fruit. Countless authors and pro-life feminists have researched the currently absurd social and economic price of motherhood. They cast wide nets and propose solutions that are often generic to motherhood in general. But for pro-lifers to be effective, they must more strongly zero-in on institutional injustice. We must be more surgical in removing abortion’s institutional roots. Acting too broadly too often saps the vigor that comes with precision and clearly “naming the evil”.
And that leads us to the point of our next discussion in Part II, on whether progressive-minded, socialized solutions have proven to help to decrease the number of abortions and how they might make us deviate from focused institutional reforms.