David Brooks must have been playing a Groundhog Day trick on us all. Like Bill Murray’s character in the comedy classic, I woke up on Friday to a nightmare that has repeated itself too many times to count. In this case, the nightmare is the assertion, again, by a white Democratic man, that a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about pregnancy and parenting isn’t as important as other progressive policies.
Here we go again.
Brooks is so focused on trying to make the case that abortion is a losing issue that he seems to have missed entirely how politicians have increasingly pushed abortion out of reach—which undermines his core assertion that abortion access isn’t worth protecting.
Let’s start by noting that abortion is safe, legal, and constitutionally protected health care that 1 in 4 women in the U.S. will need in her lifetime. Women seek abortion care for a variety of deeply personal reasons and face an alarming array of barriers to getting the care they need. Since January 2011, state legislatures have enacted 401 new restrictions on abortion that force women to delay care, shut down clinics, and impose financial and logistical barriers that fall hardest on women of color, young people, and low-income folks.
It is, therefore, not always possible for a woman to get an abortion as soon as she has made her decision. Brooks is proposing that Democrats allow the GOP to stand in the way of women having abortion care available to them at different points in their pregnancies, utterly ignoring the reality that some of those women only end up seeking such care because of the other restrictions that exist.
This is particularly relevant to debunk Brooks’ claim about abortion access in Europe. In European countries where abortion is heavily restricted later in pregnancy, abortion is not restricted early in pregnancy and is covered by universal health insurance. We’re a long, long way from even entertaining the prospect that a woman who needs to get an abortion is able to do so as soon as she has made her decision, and that still fails to account for the unique circumstances of any individual woman who needs this care.
A woman’s health should guide important medical decisions throughout her pregnancy, including whether to have an abortion as her pregnancy progresses. Brooks would rather we let the politicians decide.
He claims that part of his reasoning has to do with the number of women who seek abortion care after a certain point—evidently not numerous enough to warrant our respect and care—but Brooks’ chilling utilitarianism is naïve at best.
Almost immediately after Roe v. Wade, the backlash began, and it hasn’t stopped since. First, opponents of legal abortion attacked access for poor women with the cruel Hyde Amendment, banning coverage for abortion for low-income women enrolled in Medicaid. It took decades for Democrats to mount an adequate opposition to Hyde, which was positioned by some as a compromise of exactly the sort Brooks is proposing.
But those who want abortion to be illegal didn’t stop there. In the decades since, we’ve seen laws undermine abortion access for young people, women of color, rural women, and immigrants. Just last week, we learned that the Trump administration considered the use of an untested procedure on an unwilling immigrant woman to stop the abortion she had decided to have. The anti-abortion movement has made their strategy plain for all to see: until they can take down Roe, they will pick off the most vulnerable women in hopes that wealthy white people will ignore the problem until the real-life Handmaid’s Tale comes knocking at their door.
Make no mistake: if Democrats abandon women who need an abortion at different points in pregnancy, the other side won’t stop. They’ll triumphantly stride across the ground ceded and continue their relentless crusade until Roe is but a ghost of a right.
Brooks makes grand claims about what throwing women under the bus will buy us: policy wins on poverty, immigration, income equality and racial justice! He even blames the election of Donald Trump on the commitment of Democrats to abortion rights, a point that has been disproven repeatedly.
What kind of anti-poverty agenda ignores the reality that low-income women are more likely to need abortion care? And that some are forced to delay care because they are trying to raise the funds? What kind of racial justice agenda erases the health and bodily autonomy of women of color? Fair wages, decent working conditions, and access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion, help ensure that women and families can be healthy and live with dignity. These issues can’t be separated into neat little silos.
In the end, Brooks is pitching a solution straight off of the anti-abortion movement’s wish-list. His pitch won’t make Democrats stronger, won’t serve women and people who experience pregnancy, and will only serve the long-term goals of the opposition.
When the going gets tough, the tough have to remember where our spines (and hearts) are. Abandoning abortion rights won’t un-elect Trump. But it will endanger the health and lives of women.
Here’s hoping Democrats ignore this bad advice, if not for the right reasons, then for the smart ones. Remember Alabama? Remember how Black women are the backbone of the Democratic party? Remember the Obama coalition of single women, people of color, new Americans, and young people that won the White House for Democrats just a few years ago? All those groups are overwhelmingly supportive of abortion rights. In fact, polling from Pew Research Center found the highest levels of public support for legal abortion since 1995. If the Democrats change course, they’re going to learn it the hard way.
Pamela Merrit is a reproductive justice activist, Rockwood Leadership Institute 2017 Reproductive Health, Rights, & JusticeFellow, and NARAL Missouri board member