For day twenty-one of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read “When Pregnancy Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Be Pregnant” by Tioloma Jayasinghe. This essay was something of a revelation when I first read it, because like most (white, middle class) people I tended to have a knee-jerk reaction when I heard about “crack babies” and pregnant women drinking or doing drugs. How dare the mother? How sad for the child. Jayasinghe does a good job of pointing out the problems with this reaction, which include ignorance of the roots of the problem in racism and poverty, studies that show hard drugs actually aren’t proven to harm babies, and the lack of available treatment options for mothers who do want help with a drug problem. This is an issue that is in fact just as important to the pro-choice movement as the right to a legal and affordable abortion, but much less talked-about.
Pro-life people tell women to “choose life,” but what they are really saying is “don’t choose sex.” When women do become pregnant, pro-lifers are rarely the ones offering resources for mother and child, especially after the woman has given birth and no longer has other options. Pro-lifers also have a habit of looking at things from a white middle-class perspective where everything from caffeine to alcohol to common grocery store purchases are practically criminal for pregnant women to ingest. This perspective, of course, assumes that pregnant women have access to information on nutrition, financial access to ideal choices, and resources to quit drinking or doing drugs. It ignores the social problems that contribute to a woman’s “poor choices” and punishes the woman for choices that she often has little to no control over.
This is not only a problem in the context of drug and alcohol use and laws that punish women for giving birth when under the influence of a given substance. The pro-life movement also tends generally to ignore the needs of women who do want to give birth. If you’re considering an abortion, crisis pregnancy centers will pour money and time into making sure you don’t have one. But, as a recent Feministing poster pointed out, if you want to give birth, these centers will not direct you to financial resources or help for young and poor mothers. Often the same people saying “choose life” are the ones demonizing poor women (especially women of color) who do choose to carry their children to term and depend on the (grossly inadequate) welfare system for financial support. A thorough pro-choice movement, therefore, has to concentrate not only on the right to abortion but also on women’s ability to give birth in a safe and supportive environment, on resources for mothers, and on fighting the poverty and systematic inequality that make parenting a seemingly insurmountable task for many women.