In early January, George Mason University Law Professor Helen Alvare testified before a congressional committee about the need for the federal government to “once and for all” remove itself from involvement with funding of abortions. Her testimony brought to light many truths, including one that is an embarrassment for a country and people that is as generous as ours. Alvare pointed out that “the well-off support abortion funding for the poor more than the poor favor it for themselves” – a reality that she called a “particularly unpleasant fact.”
Alvare cited a Rand study that was conducted with the support of the Packard, Hewlett, and Rockefeller foundations. It found that a majority of respondents who earn less than $25,000, and 55% of those whose education level was a high school degree or less, oppose “the government providing funding for abortion services to poor women.” And yet, sadly, those earning more than $75,000 favor abortion funding for the poor by 56%.
Other polls confirm that a majority of Americans with less formal education (and presumably less income) oppose government funding of abortions for poor women, as do a majority of America’s women. A 2011 CNN poll found that 66% of respondents (both men and women) who had never attended college, opposed “using public funds for abortions when the woman cannot afford it.” Sixty-three percent of respondents earning under $50,000 opposed it. Among women, 59% opposed public funding of abortion.
A 2010 Quinnipiac University poll found even stronger evidence of this opposition, with 68% of women, 69% of respondents with no college degree, and 68% of those earning less than $50,000 opposing “allowing abortions to be paid for by public funds under a health care reform bill.”
If the majority of women don’t support public funding of abortion, and the majority of lower-income Americans (those most likely to benefit from it) don’t support public funding of abortion, why does there continue to be a push by some segments of our society for government funding of elective abortions?
There are several arguments openly advanced in support of government funding of abortion. For instance, you will hear talk of the need for “reproductive justice” for women of color. One would think that with abortions on non-Hispanic African American women already making up 30% of all abortions (even though African Americans only make up 13% of the population), that public policy advocates would be sounding the alarm about these numbers, rather than pushing for making abortions more accessible to Black women. Similarly, abortions on Hispanic women make up 25% of all abortions, even though Hispanic women only make up 16% of the population.
But beneath the publicly-stated reasons for government-funded abortions, is there, for some, an unspoken reason underlying it all that none dare mention? None, that is, except for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In 2009, the New York Times published an in-depth interview of Ginsburg. In it, Ginsburg said she had been “surprised” by the Court’s 1980 decision upholding the federal Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal Medicaid funds for elective abortion. She was surprised because she had assumed that the Roe v. Wade decision was just the first step towards paving the way for government funding of abortions for “populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” She said:
“Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.”
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In a later interview, Ginsburg tried to walk back a bit from the comment. And she confirmed that her earlier comments were a reference to a general concern within society, and not meant to be ascribed to her personal views. Even so, it is nevertheless telling that a sitting United States Supreme Court justice, especially one that had travelled in feminist legal circles for years prior to the Roe and McRae decisions, gave voice to such a perception regarding Medicaid funding of abortion. As NRL News editor Dave Andrusko wrote at the time – did Justice Ginsburg reveal more than she intended to?
LifeNews Note: Susan Muskett is the senior legislative counsel for National Right to Life. This originally appeared at NRL News Today.