Are Politicians who Cut Food Stamps and Deny Health Access Truly 'Pro-Life'?
A Commentary by Joe Conason
When Wendy Davis proclaimed that she is "pro-life" -- a description long since appropriated by conservatives opposed to abortion rights -- the right-wing media practically exploded with indignation. How could she dare to say that? But having won national fame when she filibustered nearly 12 hours against a law designed to shutter Lone Star State abortion clinics, the Texas state senator with the pink shoes doesn't hesitate to provoke outrage among the righteous.
Speaking to a crowd at the University of Texas in Brownsville last Tuesday, Davis, now running for governor as a Democrat, made a deceptively simple but profound declaration: "I am pro-life. I care about the life of every child: every child that goes to bed hungry, every child that goes to bed without a proper education, every child that goes to bed without being able to be a part of the Texas dream, every woman and man who worry their children's future and their ability to provide for that."
Her argument directly pierced to the contradiction within the right's "pro-life" sloganeering. So far the feeble answer from the right is that Davis must be "lying" because nobody who supports a woman's right to choose is pro-life.
But that response is merely a repetition that seeks to evade her deeper philosophical thrust. Whatever anyone may think about abortion, the persistent question for self-styled pro-lifers is why they tend to insist on making life so much more difficult for so many children who have entered the world. The same Republicans -- and they are nearly all Republicans -- most vocally opposed to reproductive rights are also most likely to cut assistance to poor families, infants and children at every opportunity, from the moment of birth long into adolescence and beyond.
The imperiled Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is only the latest instance of this drearily familiar anti-life syndrome. This week, more than 48 million Americans, including 22 million children, saw their food stamp benefits cut as a temporary enhancement of the program expired. That was worse than bad enough. But next year, if the Republicans have their way, the government would cut $40 billion from the program over the next 10 years -- immediately depriving 4 million people of food assistance and then another 3 million every year.
Supposedly, the excuse for this cruel scheme is to encourage able-bodied adults to work, even though jobs continue to be scarce. But what about the children who will go hungry, thanks to the budget advanced by the "pro-life" House leadership?
Incidentally, these are the same "pro-lifers" who will do almost anything to frustrate the long-sought national objective of universal health insurance. On that issue, one of their favorite complaints is that expanding health care to all will increase the availability of family planning, including abortion. But what of the tens of thousands of Americans who die every year because they lack insurance? Saving their lives is evidently not a "pro-life" priority.
Wendy Davis is right, but perhaps she didn't go far enough. You see, the other self-serving sobriquet appropriated by the right is "pro-family," a code term for opponents of reproductive rights, marriage equality, and other progressive policies that actually empower families of all kinds. Again, these same politicians tend to disparage not only Obamacare, but also extended unemployment insurance, Social Security's old age and disability assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, student loans, tuition assistance, family leave, the earned income tax credit, and the entire panoply of successful government programs that help to keep real working families from disintegrating under economic, social, and medical stress.
In fact, Davis might reasonably question whether the minions of the religious right and the tea party are even truly "anti-abortion," although they have long since tried to escape that category. It is true that right-wingers have tried incessantly (and unsuccessfully) to outlaw abortion. But today they often seek to restrict contraception and effective sex education as well, even though preventing unwanted pregnancies is the most obvious way to reduce the number of abortions.
How would conservatives behave if they honestly wanted to save the family -- as House Republicans will now claim when they kill the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, banning workplace bias against lesbians and gays? They might begin by reconsidering their ideological project of dismantling federal programs, long supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, that help families maintain stability, care for each other, maintain healthy children, and advance in each generation.
The real enemies of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for American families are those who seek to polarize incomes, destroy the social safety net, and impose misery on women and children in the name of religious morality.
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