Thursday morning, progressive Christian writer Rachel Held Evans wrote a Twitter thread about the possibility that Roe v. Wade may be overturned once Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is replaced. Rather than make some kind of cogent-but-wrong progressive argument, she leapt straight to some completely unjustifiable insinuations about pro-life people.
Basically, in her now-deleted thread, she claimed that pro-life people’s opposition to abortion is based on a belief that most saved babies would be white, and that if we knew that the saved babies would be black, we would probably be pro-choice. While the thread is gone, this screencap is illustrative:
Deleted tweet: pic.twitter.com/3xPwglcfrm
— Joseph Ashby (@JosephAshbyShow) June 28, 2018
Rhetorically, the tweets sounded even-keeled, but they represent a phantasmagorical world. Unfortunately, rather than rebut her position with facts, some on Twitter apparently responded to Evans with threats and insults, which is what led her to delete her thread. The antidote to this kind of mob responsive is to show, in plain and non-inflammatory terms, why Evans’ aspersions of pro-life people are wrong.
We Know We’re Saving Minority Babies: That’s the Point
First of all, pro-life conservatives are very well aware abortions target non-white people more heavily. Vox, hardly a right-wing propaganda site, recently ran an entire expose on “Abortion as black genocide.” The tagline is, “A new documentary examines how fears of ‘black genocide’ became part of mainstream anti-abortion activism.”
Even a left-leaning site recognizes that explicit anti-racism is a key part of mainstream pro-life activism! However ferociously a site like Vox may favor abortion, even they are bound to a basic standard of journalistic honesty, and by that standard everyone must recognize that many, maybe even most, pro-life activists consider their activism to be explicitly anti-racist, and working to undo a horrible racial crime.
Far from showcasing white babies, to see that pro-life advocates have a central concern for uniquely targeted or vulnerable families, including racial minorities, all you need to do is to go to the website of your local pregnancy center. The pregnancy center that my wife and I support, on their “impact” page, shows children of several races.
Pro-life advertising isn’t more or less focused on white babies than any other form of advertising is, and very well may be even more focused on minority kids, because we recognize that the perverse combination of racially concentrated poverty and legalized abortion combine to enable extermination of a huge number of African American, Native American, and Hispanic children.
The Pro-Choice Movement Originated in Racist Eugenics
Even more importantly, Evans is trying to flip the script on history. The origins of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, are not mysterious. Margaret Sanger, who was instrumental in founding the “Birth Control League,” explicitly argued for using abortion and birth control to reduce or eliminate racial and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. There’s no serious historic debate that the rise of reproductive technologies in the early twentieth century was closely tied to efforts to exterminate or control “undesirable” populations.
Most abortion activists today do not advocate for exterminating specific racial groups, thankfully. Modern activists believe themselves to be protecting women’s rights, not continuing the legacy of racial inequality begun with slavery and continued through the medical racism of Tuskegee in the mid-twentieth-century and Planned Parenthood today.
Yet if either side were to be expected to be unpleasantly surprised by more black and Hispanic babies being born, it’s clear which side that would be: the pro-choice side. The movement began with eugenics. While it has shed that baggage as far as race is concerned, it nonetheless continues to militate against childbearing generally.
Furthermore, the eugenicist project continues unabated with regards to disabled people. Countries like Iceland and Denmark brag about eliminating Down Syndrome: what they mean is that they have murdered all of the disabled children before they were born. The job Adolf Hitler couldn’t complete with Aktion T4, the abortion doctors of the (overwhelmingly white) Nordic countries are well on their way to achieving.
Even in the United States, aborting disabled children is extremely common. This is just good-old-fashioned eugenics, and it’s unapologetic. So, again, for Evans to imply that it’s pro-life people who are tacitly in favor of the eugenic reduction or extermination of a people group is absurd. We celebrate kids with disabilities. We center them in our rhetoric and vigorously assert their worthiness to live and their dignity. On the contrary, it’s pro-choicers who run op-eds in major newspapers celebrating the selective murder of disabled children.
Racism Is Definitely Not a One-Party Deal
More broadly, Evans’ point that conservatives are terrified of a non-white population boom is not correct. Sure, some “conservatives” wet their pants over having Hispanic neighbors. This kind of racism is very real and very awful. Also, you may notice that racial segregation is no better in very blue cities than in other places: practically speaking, there are racists of all political stripes.
For example: Washington, DC is about 95 percent Democratic. I live in a two-bedroom apartment less than a block from a metro stop with three lines at it. There’s a bikeshare on my corner. We have ample parking all the time, and trendy restaurants within 10 blocks. Indeed, one of DC’s most bustling new areas, H Street, is about a 15-minute walk away, or a few minutes on a bike.
Yet my rent is less than $1,500 a month. People just four or five blocks away pay twice that. The reason is simple: across the street is a majority-black high school. When they learn where I live, many otherwise progressive people have asked me, “Do you have problems with the…. Students? You know, the…. youths? Any problems? How about, um, crime? Is the… crime, you know, bad?”
It’s this wonderful coded language where the person can make an extremely racist assumption that having a lot of black kids across the street is dangerous, but never actually say racist words. If this were just a few people, then we could write it off. But I live in a mid-sized building where every unit is this cheap, and the neighboring apartments are similar. These prices are low because, in 95 percent Democratic DC, demand is low for these units.
Demand is not low due to bad parking or bad transit or a long commute or bad housing conditions: demand is low because a very large number of cocktail party DC progressives will pay $500 extra per month to not have black high schoolers walking through their alleyway on the way to school. Real, hardcore racism, the kind that divides our neighborhoods and schools and segregates black people into neighborhoods with little opportunity, turns out to be alive and well in America’s most progressive cities.
Demographic Angst Is Not Necessarily Racism
More to the point, an appreciable share of conservatives have recently begun to identify as “pro-natal,” meaning we favor higher national birth rates. Some of us also have explicitly called for vastly higher immigration rates, especially from Sub-Saharan Africa. Pro-natal conservatives are very aware, in excruciating detail, that higher birth rates would hasten the non-whitening of America. Guess what? That’s fine!
Is there demographic angst among some conservatives? Yes. I abhor the laments about “other people’s babies,” etc. We should celebrate life, and we should celebrate the growth of the nation. But it’s key to keep in mind that while a hard core of racist opposition to demographic change can be found among people registered in both parties, much of conservative opposition to demographic change is indirect.
Conservatives tend to believe (erroneously) that immigrants commit more crimes. We tend to believe (sometimes correctly, but usually wrongly) that immigrants present high risks of terrorism. We tend to believe (wrongly) that immigrants suppress wages. We tend to believe (rightly) that immigrants and minorities are overwhelmingly more likely to vote Democratic, even if they don’t support the radical cultural changes the Democratic Party supports. In other words, demographic change is a proxy for concerns about other cultural changes driven by partisanship.
I think conservative anti-immigrant sentiments are mostly unfounded, so I favor more immigration, but the main driver of conservative concerns about immigration, I think, is not “concern that the neighbor’s dinner will be rice instead of burgers,” but rather, “concern that the Democratic Party is diluting native votes with an extremely culturally dissimilar group, which may enable the Democratic Party to impose cultural norms that Republicans abhor.”
I get why some progressives would still find this view offensive (some people love to be offended), but it’s a far cry from the overt racism Evans imputes to conservatives. Crucially, it explains conservative behavior more accurately. It explains why Mexican immigration is opposed, but Cuban immigration isn’t.
It explains why conservatives who on Monday loudly and crudely fear being replaced by “other people’s babies” on Tuesday argue passionately for those babies to be born. It explains the conservative fixation on “immigrant quality” and “merit.” The fear is not, for most of us, about race, it is about partisanship, and an awareness that however personally conservative many immigrants may be, the Democrats they elect will not be.
Online Harassment Is Wrong and Not Representative
Before I conclude, however, I should note why Evans deleted her thread: harassment. Attacking a person with threats and ill-speaking is never convincing. More to the point, it has become unfortunately common in some strands of the American right. Indeed, the alt-right in particular engages in an enormous amount of online harassment. The problem is, with such an inflated online presence, they make their own idiosyncratic positions seem normative for conservatives. One person tweeted to me, observing the same trend I have:
Indeed, whenever I write about fertility, abortion, and minorities, it only takes a little while for a half-dozen trolls and their gazillion sock-puppet accounts to show up and start tweeting about how, really, we should want fewer minority babies. While these people are big on Twitter and make it a hostile and inhospitable place, few conservatives want to abort a baby for being black. Nobody who calls themselves pro-life wants that.
Further, the few real, offline people who are so concerned about “demographic change” that they will tolerate the murder of the unborn should and must be exorcised from conservatism, drawn out like the poison they are. When you hate someone so much that you would murder the innocent child in her womb rather than let the child possibly join the other political party, you have revealed yourself to be a pants-wetting political coward who, rather than play the game, smashes the board like a petty child. To any such alt-right weirdos reading this: grow up.
The Pro-Life Movement Is About Justice
Pro-life people believe the unborn are people too and thus deserve justice. Their right to life should be honored. All abortions are tragic; none individually more so than others.
Beyond the individual tragedy of a murdered babe, there is an additional national tragedy and injustice when the scourge of abortion especially ravages racial or ethnic groups who also face centuries-old racial discrimination and segregation. Pro-life activists are well aware of this additional tragedy.
Indeed, the black pro-life activists who call abortion a “black genocide” are particularly aware of this double tragedy. White activists in the pro-life movement have, imperfectly of course, tried to step aside and make space for groups especially targeted by abortion to tell their stories. Go to a pro-life conference: you’ll find a lot of minority moms and disabled survivors.
The point Evans was struggling to make, of course, was not that pro-lifers are racist (I am unsure if she really believes that), but that pro-life people can’t just stop at birth: we should favor real financial support for parents and kids too. I agree. We cannot stop at birth. For starters, we must protect the lives of the elderly as well and oppose euthanasia.
Pro-Lifers Hold All Sorts of Views about Redistribution
But beyond that, we should indeed provide generous support to families. Conservative movements in Poland, Georgia (country, not state), and Hungary are taking huge strides to reduce child poverty and housing insecurity in their countries by providing generous per-child cash benefits to families.
American conservatives should do the same, and, notably, the recent tax reform substantially increased the child tax credit. Evans is absolutely correct that pro-life people should enact their beliefs, not just by ending abortion, but by embedding support for childbearing, marriage, and the family in law and fiscal policy.
But while pro-life people should do these things, there’s very little actual evidence that more financial support would reduce abortions. When progressives claim that “abortions will fall more if we increase welfare,” they’re speaking from faith, not evidence. Abortion rates have been steadily falling for over 20 years with virtually no correlation to changes in government spending.
Moreover, our abortion rates are much lower than in many countries where welfare is far more generous, or health care is socialized. Thus, while I think we should enact new policies, not as welfare but as universal benefits aimed to promote childbearing, marriage, and family, it should also be made clear that these policies won’t end abortion.
What will end abortion is, first, reversing Roe v. Wade. Then, because abortion is not interstate commerce or the like, each state will face a decision about whether to ban abortion (a federal abortion ban is probably neither constitutional nor desirable, as it would energize pro-abortion groups into much higher turnout).
Once Roe v. Wade is reversed, pro-life people will need to aggressively lobby their state governments and persuade their neighbors to protect life. Then, state by state, we will roll back the murderous campaign of abortion. Thanks to Kennedy’s retirement, this may all happen far sooner than most of us imagined a few years ago. Here’s hoping.