No, David Brooks, Fighting for Women’s Autonomy is not a Death Knell for Progressivism

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No, David Brooks, Fighting for Women’s Autonomy is not a Death Knell for Progressivism

Brooks’ argues that abortion is a losing political issue. It’s not.

Even putting politics aside, NYT columnist David Brooks is pedaling a false narrative that women can be safe, healthy and economically secure without also having reproductive autonomy.(Photo: PBS Newshour)

Last week started with the GOP failing to pass a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and ended with New York Times columnist David Brooks trying to convince Democrats that fighting for women's autonomy is a death knell to progressivism. Brooks’ rant is just the latest in an unrelenting attack on women’s reproductive freedom. White men will apparently never tire in their quest to convince women to sacrifice their own rights to advance others—as if that were even a possibility.

Brooks’ arguments reflect the misinformation and flawed framing that fuel opposition to “late-term” abortions, even among those who might otherwise consider themselves pro-choice.

Brooks presents women’s autonomy as a zero-sum game.

“But do we want late-term abortion so much that we are willing to tolerate President Trump?” he writes. “Do we want it so much that we give up our chance at congressional majorities? Do we want it so much that we see our agendas on poverty, immigration, income equality and racial justice thwarted and defeated?”

The cleaving of abortion from other progressive social and economic priorities—and especially from “women’s issues more broadly—has allowed conservatives to frame the debate in increasingly dangerous and divisive ways.

HARD PASS. Progressives must unequivocally reject the corrosive idea that women’s desire to control their own bodies is to be blamed for the Democratic party’s inability to talk about race, gender, and economics simultaneously. While Democrats have traditionally voted in favor of abortion rights, they have historically failed to center the voices and experiences of women who live the complexities of these issues every day. The cleaving of abortion from other progressive social and economic priorities—and especially from “women’s issues more broadly—has allowed conservatives to frame the debate in increasingly dangerous and divisive ways.

Brooks’ argues that abortion is a losing political issue. It’s not. Remember when Doug Jones was going to lose to pedophile Roy Moore because of his pro-choice politics? AND THEN HE WON? One recent poll suggests that Democrats could have more to lose than gain by abandoning their support of abortion rights.

Politics aside, Brooks is pedaling a false narrative that women can be safe, healthy and economically secure without also having reproductive autonomy. This faulty thinking is abrasive but not surprising when one considers that he wrote his entire column about abortion and FAILED TO EVEN TALK ABOUT WOMEN. Who does he thinks lives at the intersections of racism and sexism and xenophobia, and therefore suffers the most from conservative policies like cuts to public services such as health care and education?? WOMEN DO. Particularly poor women, women of color, and immigrant women.

And no, progressive women don’t “want late-term abortion[s] so much.” Women do want comprehensive health care. We want reproductive health services that allow us to control the timing and size of our families. We want pay equity and good jobs and benefits like those provided by nearly every other country in the world that proclaims to care about families.

Those of us who need to end pregnancies want to do so as early as possible, without the interference of politicians (especially those who increasingly don’t even believe that science is real). And sometimes we need abortions at or after 20 weeks, and we want to be afforded the dignity and respect to do what is best for our health and lives and those of our families.

Conservatives would have you think otherwise, but only one percent of abortions occur after the 20-week mark. The majority of women who end their pregnancies at that stage do so because of fetal anomalies not detected until later in pregnancy. Many of these women believe they are having healthy pregnancies until their 20-week ultrasound, when they learn their fetus has anomalies that are incompatible with life. You can read some of these heartbreaking stories here, or here, or here.

Conservatives have waged a whole-scale assault against reproductive freedom. Securing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks will only fuel, not dampen, their fire.

Other women are delayed in their decision-making because of the numerous barriers erected to block abortion access altogether. It’s an inconvenient truth that the abortion restrictions enacted by conservative state lawmakers have had the effect of actually pushing women to have abortions later in their pregnancies, with harmful results. Brooks shamefully and willfully ignores the stories and data that reveal the multiple dangers of 20-week abortion bans.

Brooks seems to suggest that if Democrats could just give on this one aspect of the abortion debate, the operatives and politicians who currently push forced childbirth (and don’t actually support children after birth) would relent. This is naive and foolish.

Anyone who has paid any attention to the last decade of anti-choice politics knows conservatives have waged a whole-scale assault against reproductive freedom. Securing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks will only fuel, not dampen, their fire. We are talking about the same people who want to ban abortion at six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant. They are the same people who are attacking Planned Parenthood, who are threatening family planning funding and empowering employers to deny women access to birth control, and who are trying to dismantle policies and programs that significantly improve the health and lives of women and their families.

This is not, in reality, a battle over abortion. It is a battle for women’s ability to control their own lives. Surrendering will not advance the line on any other fights, and losing it will stymie much-needed progress on many other fronts.

Brooks asks, if abortions past 20 weeks are so rare, “why are we giving them priority over all of our other issues combined?” Democrats voting against a 20-week abortion ban is not a prioritization of abortion rights over all other issues. It is an acknowledgement that reproductive autonomy is central to a progressive agenda that aims to extend dignity and freedom to all. David Brooks clearly isn’t here for that, which is fine, because you know what? Time’s up on men telling women what’s good for them. We know better.

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Andrea Flynn

Andrea Flynn is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, where she researches and writes about race, gender and economic inequality. You can follow her on Twitter at @dreaflynn.

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