The Heartless Way Conservatives Treat Young Women Who Choose to Have Babies
By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet
Posted on May 1, 2011, Printed on May 5, 2011
Last week, “The Rachel Maddow Show” ran a story on Michigan politics that had footage so distressing it apparently created an avalanche of mail for the show. The new Republican governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, signed a law that allows the state to functionally dissolve local governments and hand them over to “emergency managers,” who are using their new powers to enact a series of wish list items for conservatives under the guise of fiscal responsibility. It’s a project that’s been dubbed “fiscal martial law”, and the latest victims were a group of school girls that were manhandled by police and arrested, all because they wanted to keep their current educational opportunities. Maddow’s show ran the unnerving footage of police shoving, cuffing and pushing around teenage girls, while the sirens wailed over the girls’ shouts and cries.
The girls were arrested for holding a sit-in to protest the closing of their school, the Catherine Ferguson Academy, which was established to serve students who are pregnant or mothering. The school provides day care and parenting classes, and focuses on getting students to college and giving them skills that help future self-sufficiency. Supposedly “pro-life” conservatives should not only be supporting this school, but demanding that every high school in the country provide these services to teenage mothers. After all, these girls did what anti-choicers ask of them. They chose to have their babies. And now the very same conservatives that wax sentimental about “choosing life” are working to shut down the educational opportunities of young women who did what anti-choicers want, by having their babies.
The imminent shut down of Catherine Ferguson demonstrates the emptiness of Republican claims that they oppose reproductive rights because they value life. Instead, Republican policies are rooted in a sadistic desire to punish and control, and to deprive women—especially young women, poor women, and women of color—of any opportunities whatsoever. Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, explained, “I think the range of actions being taken against pregnant women reflects what has been underlying attacks on Roe and abortion all along, a fundamental disrespect for pregnant women, regardless of what decisions they make. The combination of attacks that seek to deprive women not only of reproductive health care but food (through cuts to the WIC program) as well as education for pregnant teens makes clear that it is pregnant women’s personhood and not just their right to choose that is being targeted.”
Michigan Republicans are trying to put pregnant women in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. If you don’t want to have the baby, good luck to you trying to get an abortion in Michigan. The state already has been given an F by NARAL, especially for heavy restrictions on abortion access for young and low income women. The state also has onerous waiting periods, complete with false information about the risks of abortion. But some Republican legislators don’t think women who want to terminate pregnancies are hassled enough. State senator David Robertson has introduced a bill that would require abortion clinics not only to do an ultrasound, but to provide hard copy pictures of it to the patient before she’s allowed to have her abortion. This adds to the expense of an abortion, as well as creates time constraints that make it harder for clinics to serve all their patients with the best level of care. It also treats pregnant women making difficult decisions like they’re addled-minded morons, demonstrating further the amount of contempt that conservatives have for the personhood of pregnant women.
But just because they don’t want you to say no to having a baby means that Michigan Republicans want you to say yes, either, as the girls at Catherine Ferguson have learned. Young women trying to parent and finish high school face often insurmountable challenges. For one thing, being pregnant or mothering in high school is heavily stigmatized, and they face discrimination from school officials, teachers, and their fellow students. They also face a series of pragmatic problems. Balancing school and motherhood requires childcare, something most high school students can’t even begin to access or afford. Being a parent requires money, too. Trying to balance work, parenting, and school proves too much for many young mothers. Fewer than half of teenage mothers go on to complete high school.
Separate schools for teenage mothers draw criticism from people on the left as well as the right. Liberal critics say that teenage mothers should be integrated into their regular high schools, and the services offered at specialty schools should be available at ordinary high schools. While these critics have a point, the cold fact of the matter is that as long as services for teenage mothers are not integrated into regular schools, places like Catherine Ferguson serve a role. This particular school has a 90% graduation rate, more than twice the national average for teenage mothers. Most importantly, the girls themselves cherish the school, which is why they put their bodies on the line in order to save it.
Gov. Snyder claims to be “firmly pro-life”, but his governing decisions that led to multiple young mothers getting arrested because they want a better lives for themselves and their small children shows he is anything but. He and other Republicans who oppose reproductive rights are better understood as anti-choice and anti-woman. Their stance isn’t pro-fetus, but pro-punishment. If you get pregnant outside of their very narrow parameters of what’s acceptable (middle class, married, white), they simply want you to suffer for it. If your decision is terminate the pregnancy, they will make you suffer. But as the girls at Catherine Ferguson are learning, if you choose to have the baby, you will also be made to suffer. You may even find yourself hauled away in handcuffs if you dare suggest you deserve to have something as simple as a high school education.
Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.
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