Last month, Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote on a measure that targets funding for Planned Parenthood clinics. His vote—which broke a 50-50 tie in the Senate—makes it legal for states to revoke federal Title X funds from clinics that provide abortion services, jeopardizing access to reproductive health care for millions of women.
Pence’s vote came as no surprise. A week into his tenure as vice president, he addressed thousands of abortion opponents at the 44th annual March for Life. Days earlier, his administration instituted a particularly draconian version of the Global Gag Rule, which bans NGOs that receive U.S. aid from counseling anyone on abortion, and a week later it announced a nominee to the Supreme Court chosen in no small part because he poses an existential threat to Roe v. Wade.
All in the name of traditional family values.
Pence has built an entire career on his family values narrative. In 2006, as a Congressman, he supported a constitutional amendment to define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman—same-sex couples, he said, threaten to usher in “societal collapse.” In 2015, as governor of Indiana, he made national news for signing a bill that legalized discrimination against LGBT couples. A year later, he signed a law restricting access to abortion and—as part of his continued quest to make health care as awful as possible for women—requiring that fetal remains from abortions or miscarriages at any stage of pregnancy be buried or cremated.
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The irony of these positions, which he insists are in defense of families, is that he is actively undermining them.
For starters, access to reproductive health care, which gives families control over if and when they have children, increases economic security. That makes families less likely to undergo conflict. On the flip side, laws that restrict access to abortion actively endanger families’ financial security. Generally, the birth of a child is a big expense—and if its’s unplanned or mistimed, it’s more likely to cause an economic shock or plunge a family into poverty. Financial stress, in turn, can lead to divorce or relationship dissolution as well as domestic violence.
And all those anti-LGBT policies? LGBT people have families, too—and when Pence denies them the right to get married or use the bathroom, he denies them the humanity that he grants families that look more like his own: “Christian, conservative, and Republican—in that order.” And when he opposes legislation that prohibits discrimination against LGBT workers, like he did in 2007 and again in 2015, he also jeopardizes their families’ economic security.
Even Pence’s intense devotion to his wife, which the internet mostly wrote off as eccentric codependency, works to undermine families. When he refuses to eat dinner or attend events with female staffers––allegedly to resist temptation from other women and to uphold the sanctity of his marriage––he denies them a professional opportunity that he makes available to men. One-on-one time with managers can lead to professional capital that makes salaries or promotions possible. Pence’s inability to treat women as professional counterparts, rather than objects of sexual temptation, excludes them from those opportunities for job growth. That brings us back to women’s financial security, and—once again—to their families.
Pence’s intense devotion to “traditional family values,” isn’t wholesome, or pious, or even just weird. It’s radical and dangerous. And less than 100 days into his vice presidency, we haven’t even scratched the surface.