The Cleansing of the Poor
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Why do you focus so much on abortion? We’re Catholics, and Catholics aren’t single-issue voters. Catholic social teaching is very complex and it can’t be broken down into one or two issues, and don’t you think you’re being cynical by focusing on issues that favor the Republican Party? The Church teaches that society should have a preferential option for the poor. Not only does the Church teach it, but this is the one social issue that Jesus himself spoke most strongly about. Respect for life is like a seamless garment, and that seamless garment includes respect for the poor.
Of course those who raise these criticisms are right, to some extent. The real problem lies in their failure to realize that the right to life is the foundation of all other rights. Any quest for a more just society that does not first and very strongly demand the right to life is doomed to failure because it lacks foundation. What happens if you build without a strong foundation? Jesus knew a little something about carpentry, and he concluded that when the rain falls, and the floods come, and the winds blow, that which lacks foundation will collapse completely (cf. Matthew 7:24-27).
So what happens to the poor while their advocates — many of whom are very well-meaning — ignore abortion? A form of cleansing, like ethnic cleansing. But since the poor cross ethnic lines, what should we call it? Class cleansing?
Whatever one wants to call it, it’s happening. A study last September found that there has been a significant shift in abortion demographics. This is no longer an issue that primarily affects teenage white girls; rather, there are now more Latina and black women getting abortions today, and while abortion rates have dropped for those under twenty years old they have increased for women in their 20s and 30s. It’s no secret to anyone on the left that women of color are often among the poorest of the poor in this country, and in fact a senior research associate at the Guttmatcher Institute (affiliated with America’s leading abortion provider, Planned Parenthood) made the connection between these abortion rate increases and poverty.
But here are the solutions offered by the Guttmatcher Institute and Planned Parenthood, and this is where advocates of the preferential option for the poor need to take heed:
The findings indicate “we need to figure out efforts to reduce unintended pregnancy, not only among teenagers but among all women, and in particularly women of color,” she said. “A lot of policymakers are stuck 30 years back when most women getting abortions are teenagers and college students, and that isn’t so much the case these days.”
Others said the findings underscore the need to increase access to contraception for poor women.
“Birth control is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies,” said Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Unfortunately there’s a large number of uninsured people in this country, and if you are uninsured you are less likely to have access to affordable health care, including affordable birth control.”
Read that a couple of times if it doesn’t sink in right away. If you’re still not getting it, I’ll explain. There is no choice here. Neither of these women — not the researcher from the Guttmatcher Institute, nor the policy wonk from Planned Parenthood — even consider what can be done for a poor woman who might actually want to have her child but can’t afford to do so. That’s not even on the table here. Their focus is on making sure that poor women, many of whom are women of color, get what is needed to prevent procreation. They’re not even thinking about what needs to be done to make sure these women can have babies if they want to. I suppose the choice they’re offering is what kind of birth control to use, or failing that, which type of abortion procedure.
They’re not coming right out and saying it, but this is eugenics. This is a case of people playing God, deciding who’s “undesirable” and weeding them out. In this case, it seems that poor people — especially if they’re black or Latina — are the undesirables. If we were talking about this in any other context, the left would be up in arms beyond all imagination. But because we’re talking about this in the context of abortion, it’s fine. This kind of cleansing of the poor is a-okay. This kind of ethnic cleansing — what else do you call it, with so many black and Latina women disproportionately affected? — is all right in this context.
I can’t help but think back on the Kennedy funeral this past weekend. I think one of the commentators said there’s something like 85 Kennedies now. I think it’s great they have such a large family, and I know that the late Sen. Kennedy did more than his fair share to help the poor. But when I think about how large the Kennedy family is, and when I think about Sen. Kennedy’s record on abortion, I can’t help but detect some hypocrisy. Sure, they have a large family because they have the wealth to sustain it. But what about the poor?
It’s nice that the Kennedy family is so large. I just wonder, if Sen. Kennedy had applied the social teachings of his faith more consistently, if less privileged families today might be able to have similarly large families. According to the researcher at the Guttmatcher Institute that I quoted above, abortions for women who already have a child have jumped from 46% in 1974 to 60% in just thirty years and that’s because they can’t afford more than one child. And that seems fine with our complacent society because, after all, poor women always have a choice. That’s a shame. Where’s the right to choose a large family for the poor woman living in Harlem or Los Angeles?
Richard Stith has written an article for the current edition of First Things in which he obliterates the “feminist” argument for abortion. Stith argues that women are actually demeaned by abortion and that their choices are diminished, in that abortion has actually empowered men to have more irresponsible sex without real consequences for them while putting more pressure on women to have unprotected sex with them. And it’s clear from what I’ve written here that abortion is acting as a form of de facto cultural cleansing that targets poor women in general and women of color specifically.
Stith wants to know, and rightly so, when feminists are going to wake up and realize that abortion oppresses women. It’s a good question. I’m wondering when the “preferential option for the poor” folks, most of whom are well-meaning, are going to realize that their fight is futile while our culture is still quite comfortable with killing babies in the womb, especially if those babies might be poor or black or Latino. How do you argue for greater respect for poor women and women of color in a culture that turns a blind eye toward contraceptive and abortive cleansing of these same people? The rains are falling, the flood has come, and the wind is blowing. How long do you think your house can stand?
Tags: abortion, black, catholic social teaching, catholicism, christianity, class cleansing, contraception, ethnic cleansing, eugenics, feminism, first things, guttmatcher institute, latina, planned parenthood, poor, preferential option for the poor, richard stith, seamless garment, ted kennedy, women, women of colorYou can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.