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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 5/20/19

America's Reproductive Slaves

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On Wednesday, the day it was announced that the U.S. birthrate fell for the fourth straight year, signaling the lowest number of births in 32 years, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law the most draconian anti-abortion law in the country. That the two developments came at the same time could not have been more revelatory.

The ruling elites are acutely aware that the steadily declining American birthrate is the result of a de facto "birth strike" by women who, unable to afford adequate health insurance and exorbitant medical bills and denied access to paid parental leave, child care and job protection, find it financially punitive to have children. Not since 1971 have births in the United States been at replacement levels, considered to be 2,100 births per 1,000 women over their lifetimes, a ratio needed for a generation to replace itself. Current births number 1,728 per 1,000 women, a decline of 2% from 2017. Without a steady infusion of immigrants, the U.S. population would be plummeting.

"The effort to block birth control and abortion is not about religion nor about politicians pandering to a right-wing base, nor is it a result of prudery, nor is it to punish women for having sex," Jenny Brown writes in her book "Birth Strike: Hidden Fight Over Women's Work." "It is about the labor of bearing and rearing children: who will do it and who will pay for it."

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Raising children is not a lifestyle choice. It is labor-intensive work that demands of parents, and especially women, huge physical, emotional, financial and time commitments. The wider society reaps the benefits of this work. It has a social and moral responsibility to compensate and assist those who raise children.

The birthrate decline is an indicator of the despair and hopelessness that define the lives of tens of millions of young Americans who struggle financially and see little hope for the future. Only by addressing this financial insecurity and desperation, by integrating back into society those who have been pushed aside, can the nation's death spiral be reversed.

In Sweden, parents are entitled to 480 days of paid leave upon the birth or adoption of a child; the government-funded subsidy is 80 percent of the parent's job pay for the first 390 days and a reduced amount for the remaining 90 days. Employers in Sweden pay a tax on salaries to fund parental leave. The unemployed are granted a parental stipend. Parents can split the leave between the two of them. Men take nearly a quarter of parental leave in Sweden, which has one of the highest birthrates in Europe.

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America's corporate state has no intention of funding programs and building institutions to ease the burden of rearing and nurturing children. Yes, the corporate state needs young bodies as fodder for the bloated military and endless foreign wars. Yes, it needs workers, especially a surplus of workers, to toil in menial, poorly compensated labor. Yes, it needs consumers to buy its products. But the corporate state, Brown argues, intends to achieve these goals "with a minimum of employer spending and a maximum of unpaid women's work." If women refuse to produce children at levels desired by economic planners, Brown says, then abortion and contraception will be banned or made difficult to obtain. Social Security and pensions will be abolished so the only financial protection from abject poverty for an elderly parent will be children willing to keep their mother or father fed and housed. Eight states dramatically restrict access to abortion, and legislatures in a number of other states are considering legislation to do so. Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia have only one abortion clinic.

The falling birthrate is the real reason women are being forced to become reproductive slaves. As long as wages are kept artificially low (nearly four in 10 middle-aged Americans have no emergency savings, and a third have less than $25,000 invested for retirement), as long as pensions are denied, children become, as in the developing world, the only form of retirement insurance. Policymakers assume that these assaults, coupled with the privatization and destruction of Social Security, will force women to up the birthrate. Brett Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court makes likely the overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Indeed, the Alabama law, which makes no exception for victims of rape or incest, is designed to be legally challenged and brought before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The outlawing of abortion will not affect the elites. I saw this in communist Romania, where abortion and contraception were generally illegal from 1966 to 1990 under an unsuccessful effort to boost the country's population from 23 million to 30 million by 2000.

As was the case in Romania, wives, girlfriends, mistresses, sisters and daughters of the elites in the U.S. will have easy access to safe abortions while other women die from procedures done in squalid backrooms at the hands of quacks charging exorbitant fees. Worldwide, almost 23,000 women each year do not survive unsafe abortions, primarily in countries where abortion is illegal or inaccessible. The death toll among Romanian women from unsafe abortions during the 1965-1989 reign of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who took harsh steps to raise the country's birthrate, was estimated at 10,000.

I spent two years with the Christian right in the U.S., often with members of the so-called "pro-life" movement, in doing research for my book "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America." These Christian fascists, whose heretical version of Christianity is the primary ideology used to justify the outlawing of abortion, have little regard for the sanctity of life. They enthusiastically bless the military and the dropping of iron fragmentation bombs on Muslim families and villages in the Middle East, fervently support the death penalty and absolve militarized police who gun down unarmed people of color trapped in our urban internal colonies. Their bizarre apocalyptic fantasies revel in the mutilation and suffering of nonbelievers, including Jews who do not convert to Christianity and those they dismiss as "nominal Christians." Once out of the womb, poor children are seen as not deserving of help, and 12 million of them go to bed hungry every night in this country.

The crusade for the unborn fires up Christian zealots and anti-abortion fanatics with righteous indignation that can lead to violence. It fosters a self-adulatory and repugnant moral absolutism. But its ultimate goal is to strip women of control of their bodies to reverse the decline in births, especially white births, as well as reinstate a tyrannical patriarchy.

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The ruling elites use code words such as "dependency ratio" and "entitlement crisis" to express their fear about declining fertility rates. To indoctrinate the public, they employ mass culture to disseminate propaganda, including that which drives the "right to life" movement. These fake moral crusades, always a part of the mass propaganda used to justify war, are covers to perpetuate and consolidate the interests of the elites.

The architecture of the corporate state is designed to dis-empower women. Most wages are not sufficient for one worker to support a family. This means that both the father and the mother must have income-producing jobs. If a parent takes time off to raise a child, the family income declines, usually by half, and there often is also a loss of health benefits, leaving the parent raising the child dependent on the spouse. This economic dependency makes it harder for a woman to leave an abusive or failed relationship, perpetuating the powerlessness of women that is at the heart of the system. By forcing poor couples to stay together, it frees the state from providing even minimal benefits. If each parent, for example, earns $15,000 a year, a couple often is priced out of social programs such as welfare.

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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