The Administration released a statement on Monday of this week noting its “strong support” for H.R. 36, a bill that would make it generally unlawful for any person to perform, or attempt to perform, an abortion of a fetus after 20 weeks post-fertilization, with limited exceptions. If enacted into law, the Administration stated H.R. 36 “would help to facilitate the culture of life to which our Nation aspires.” This statement was striking, given its release on the same week that our country had the deadliest mass shooting in our modern history. When asked about solutions to gun violence, the President stated: “We’re not going to talk about that today… We won’t talk about that.” This week the Administration also released new rules expanding the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception, and it issued sweeping guidance on religious freedom that erodes civil rights protections for LGBT individuals. We can glean a lot from this week about how our President and this Administration plans to facilitate the “culture of life.”
In her forthcoming piece, ProChoiceLife: Asking Who Protects Life and How and Why It Matters in Law and Politics, Professor Reva Siegel of Yale Law School argues that there are many ways to protect life, yet we often speak as if restricting abortion is the only way to do so. The government can protect new life by providing robust assistance to pregnant women who wish to become mothers. For instance, providing access to affordable health care means protecting life: “Newborns of mothers who do not receive prenatal care are … five times more likely to die than children born to mothers who do receive prenatal care.” Access to healthcare also reduces incentives to pursue abortion. To promote a “culture of life,” the government can encourage affordable childcare options and provide comprehensive maternity and paternity leave for new parents. In addition, the government can ensure that women have clean drinking water, given that a new study suggests that Flint’s lead water crisis contributed to stark fertility declines and fetal deaths. Finally, as Siegel points out in her forthcoming piece, numerous studies in the United States show that providing access to contraception dramatically reduces unwanted pregnancies and the abortion rate.
In short, there are many ways to protect and promote the “culture of life.” As Professor Siegel explains, “appreciating that states can protect new life by means that respect women’s reproductive decisions and by means that restrict women’s reproductive decisions allows us more precisely to characterize the policy preferences of jurisdictions that restrict abortion.” How this Administration chooses to protect life reflects views not just about life, but broader views about the role of women and government in our society. Given the numerous policy directives coming out of the White House this week, it is clear where this Administration stands.
One supporter of H.R. 36, Rep. Tim Murphy, announced his resignation this week after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published text messages revealing that when Mr. Murphy’s mistress thought she was pregnant, he urged her to consider an abortion. The Rep. Tim Murphy “scandal” reveals more than just hypocrisy. As Jennifer Weiner wrote in her New York Times op-ed: “What Mr. Murphy’s moral flexibility ultimately reveals is that, for these particular hard-line anti-abortion politicians, it’s not about fetal pain or the sanctity of life. It’s all about control — whether you’re telling a woman she can’t have an abortion, or forcing a woman to get one.” Jill Filipovic echoed this sentiment in her CNN op-ed: “For people like this, opposition to abortion appears to be not so much about fetal life, as about controlling women. It's about discomfort with the female power and progress facilitated by abortion rights. Which is exactly why abortion suddenly becomes an option when it will help a man’s career or his life—regardless of what the pregnant woman wants.”
The Administration chose to promote the “culture of life” this week through guidance, rules, and support for legislation that protects life in ways that controls women’s bodies and choices. This shouldn’t be all too surprising, coming from a President who quite literally suggested we should be grabbed by our anatomy. But there are other ways to foster a culture of life through means that don’t restrict our choices. Here are some places to start: gun control, access to contraception, and affordable health care.