Saturday, September 06, 2008

Inner 3rd World: Reproduction

If you listen to WOC talk about reproductive rights, you get a profoundly different view from the dominant white feminist talk that centers on abortion. For poor women and brown/black women, choosing to parent is seen as an affront to decent society.

There is a long and sad history of eugenics and forced sterilization of "undesirables" in this country. While white babies are considered a treasure, brown babies are considered a burden on society. You could even posit the idea that the insanely high prison rates for black and brown men is an underhanded attempt at keeping them locked up so that they cannot reproduce.

But there are more obvious racist and classist eugenics programs that are already in place. And several of them spring from Welfare reform. Ronald Regan started the idea of the Welfare Queen, a woman so diabolical that all she did all day was spread her legs so she could pop out more babies to suck on the government teat. Welfare reform decided to deal with this mythological beast by putting in blocks to additional aid when a woman already receiving assistance gets pregnant while on assistance. If you are a poor single mom on TANF and you get pregnant, you will not receive any additional money. And as I've written before, it's not like TANF gives you all that much to begin with. In WA state the amount for a mother and child is $440 per month and it's been the same for decades. And we're one of the higher states. $440 doesn't cover rent anywhere, it barely covers the cost of diapers and laundry soap. Add a 3rd person into this budget, and kids are spending a long time in a wet diaper simply because there is no more money for clean ones.

But it doesn't stop with TANF. The same rules apply to housing grants.

Now part of Welfare reform did include provisions to provide post-pregnant women with birth control. But it's only birth control. If during the course of a routine pelvic/papa smear to get you the pill they discover cancer- you're SOL. They don't actually care about keeping you healthy. They just care that you don't bring anymore snot nosed brats into the world. And don't you forget it.

Besides- we all know that birth control is infallible. Right?

Very few states have figured out that it is cheaper to pay for abortions for poor women than it is to not pay for them. Washington is one of them. If you walk into a Planned Parenthood in WA state to take a pregnancy test, and you are poor, they help you apply for Medicaid. If, during the application process you tell them that you want to have an abortion, the application is speeded up. But you still get Medicaid, temporarily, whether you decided to parent or not. As soon as you are not pregnant either via birthing or abortion, you lose all medical coverage except for birth control.

Personally- I think having the option of abortion is a good thing. And it's one of the things the WA state does right. But for a majority of states, abortion is not covered by Medicaid. As a poor woman you have the choice of finding a way to pay for it yourself (upwards of $400 for an early procedure, substantially higher the later you go- and remember that most women on Welfare receive less than $400 a month to begin with.) or having a baby. But if you choose to have a baby, you won't get any additional money from the state. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't position. And that's before we even get into personal choice.

I can guarantee you that no one would applaud a poor black woman's choice to knowingly have a downs syndrome baby like Sarah Palin did. The first thing they would say is that she was trying to milk the government for extra money for the disabled kid. And the kind of hoopla surrounding Bristol Palin's pregnancy would be changed to something about how young brown women are too lazy to get an education and opt out with pregnancy instead.

But if we really do believe in choice, then the poor have just as much right to choose parenthood as everyone else does. If we put a mandate that people can only have the number of children that they can afford right now, then the entire world would depopulate within a generation. In an ideal world, we would all get to parent only when we wanted to and with enough resources to raise healthy, well educated, future paragons of society. But this isn't an ideal world. And pretending it can be isn't much different from fundies thinking that they can brow beat everyone into heterosexual marriage where everyone stays virginal till the wedding night.

What we can do is provide the resources so that only women who want children have them, and that they have enough resources to raise their children without the violent punishment of increased poverty.

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