The president’s enthusiasm did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
“He seemed so excited about it,” said Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life. “I could sort of see it looking up at the jumbotron.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group, said the president’s directives amounted to taking “a monumental stand.”
For someone who once described himself as “very pro-choice,” Mr. Trump’s transformation into a champion of the anti-abortion cause is a remarkable political evolution.
Anti-abortion activists and Christian conservative leaders have remained one of his most loyal and deferential constituencies, even as he faced accusations that would have been the undoing of other politicians. This week, as the president brushed off allegations that his personal lawyer paid a pornographic-film actress with whom he was said to be involved with $130,000 in hush money, the religious right was full of praise for the president.
“President Trump has never pretended to be a Bible-banging evangelical,” said Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, a Christian conservative organization. “He is who he is. His policies speak for themselves.”
Besides his executive orders, conservatives are celebrating one of the most ambitious efforts ever undertaken by a White House to reshape the federal judiciary.
Mr. Trump has appointed judges to appellate courts at a rate faster than any new president since Richard M. Nixon, and the Republican-controlled Senate is working to speed the approval of Mr. Trump’s lower-level district court nominees. Abortion rights groups have objected to many of the nominees.
Mr. Trump’s policies could have serious consequences for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, which has become a target of the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress.
The new directive Mr. Trump issued on Friday could prove especially problematic. Planned Parenthood says that 60 percent of its patients receive Medicaid assistance. And the new rules would make it easier for states to bar Medicaid funding from going to the women’s health provider.
“This is part of the Trump administration’s commitment to rolling back regulations the Obama administration put out to radically favor abortion,” said Charmaine Yoest, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, accused the Trump administration and Republicans of circumventing the legislative process. “They couldn’t get the votes to pass it in Congress, so now they are pushing states to try and block care,” she said.
The president’s remarks to the march on Friday were just part of a week in which the White House rolled out the red carpet for the anti-abortion movement. Vice President Mike Pence hosted anti-abortion leaders at a private reception on the White House grounds on Thursday, telling them, “Life is winning.”Continue reading the main story
Their commitment to supporting women helped me understand the high costs of choosing to carry out an unplanned pregnancy.
Birth Choice sees 300 to 400 women a month at its clinic in Oklahoma City. There, they get pregnancy tests and have their vitals checked. They help women register for SoonerCare (the state’s Medicaid program) and make referrals for prenatal care. They ask their clients about housing; some have violent partners or are living out of a car. Many have lost children to foster care. Some are mentally ill or are addicts. Seventy-percent are Spanish-speaking, many of them undocumented. Some have nowhere to go.
A majority of the clients need food and clothes, yet a founder of Birth Choice, Barbara Chishko, noted they don’t come to the center for resources. They come, she said, because they want to “feel worthy, cared for and trusted.” She added, “Even if they think they want an abortion, they come to be heard.”
“People judge our clients,” said Ray Ann Merchant, another founder. “Especially those on welfare. ‘Why do these women keep having babies?’ they ask. The common denominator is the desire to be loved.” She added, “We all crave intimacy.”
From the beginning, the founders told me, Birth Choice struggled to find support for women who feel too poor to have their babies. In 1986, a woman was referred to them from an adoption agency. Her prior pregnancies had ended in abortion and in placement for adoption. She had planned to give up her current pregnancy for adoption, but it became clear that she wanted to keep this child. She needed help parenting, she needed housing, and she owed the adoption agency thousands of dollars when she withdrew from that process.
Birth Choice responded by taking her in as the first resident of Rose Home, a shelter where the most vulnerable of its clients can live during and immediately after their pregnancies. At any given time, it houses five pregnant women and a maximum of 13 children.
The Rose Home shelter is a rarity among crisis pregnancy centers, a large majority of which, according to Ms. Chishko, follow “rigid rules: no shelters, no clinical services, just administer pregnancy tests and give out baby clothes. Just persuade the women not to abort their babies.” And the dominant mode of persuasion, according to a congressional report on federally funded crisis pregnancy centers, involves providing either false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion.
By contrast, Rose Home’s five residents get support to help them throughout pregnancy and beyond. They have weekly meetings with caseworkers to articulate goals and plan their futures. They receive counseling, drug abuse treatment and vocational training. They get help making court dates, permitting them to regain custody of their children currently in foster care.
The rhetoric of “choice” and “life” encourages us to see a pregnant woman as if she’s balancing a scale, with abortion on one side and motherhood on the other. Which will she choose? Tilt her one way and she might get to finish high school or college, gaining time to plan for the child she wants. Tipped another way, she might become a mother or allow a childless couple to adopt.
The women living at Rose Home reveal the shallowness of that metaphor.
Women face the surprise of an unplanned pregnancy as if on train tracks, with a locomotive barreling toward them. The only variation lies in how many other trains are coming from other directions. Homelessness, violence, addiction and the biggest of all: poverty.
I don’t mean to suggest money is the only factor that shapes many women’s response to an unplanned pregnancy, but let’s be clear about how much it matters. One of the largest research studies on the question of why women choose abortion surveyed about 1,200 abortion patients and found 73 percent said they could not afford a baby at the time.
Those women are telling us something that is hiding in plain view: Motherhood is really expensive. Rose Home has dedicated itself to offsetting the high cost of motherhood, but the costs are staggering. The system is rigged against poor women. Ms. Chishko remarked that “the bottom line encourages abortion.” She is right.
The price of motherhood is set by our government’s policies. It will, at some level, always be cheaper for a woman to have an abortion than to have a baby. But if anti-abortion campaigners truly want to decrease the numbers of abortions, rather than passing laws designed to drive up the costs of abortion, they would do far better to invest in the kinds of economic supports that make becoming a parent a realistic possibility for struggling women.
Consider the medical needs of the women living at Rose Home: access to health care, substance-abuse and mental-health treatment, food and housing. Each has a price tag. Yet rather than offsetting the high price of motherhood, recent anti-abortion laws drive up the cost of abortion by closing clinics, forcing women to travel farther, and to wait longer before ending their pregnancies.
The abortion war, with its singular focus on law, distracts us from the economic factors entwined in a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy. In a world of true choice, whether a woman walked into a Planned Parenthood or a crisis pregnancy center, she would learn that society cared enough to provide her with the resources she needs, regardless of her decision.
The women of Birth Choice taught me how little “choice” is involved in the abortion decisions made by some of the poorest Americans. We fight over abortion in absolutist terms, deadlocked in a battle in which we hurl rhetoric about choice and life, while remaining distracted from the reality that so many women have far too little of either.Continue reading the main story