When Republicans in the General Assembly were attempting to push through their latest raft of abortion restrictions last year—their efforts culminated in a seventy-two-hour waiting period—state Representative Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, made this profoundly stupid comment: "We are multitaskers here in the General Assembly. I am absolutely an advocate for jobs, but we can do lots of the things. And actually, when we can have a few more little taxpayers born, why not?"
Ah yes, a few more little taxpayers. Why not?
Actually, Pat, there are so many reasons. For the first time in decades, for instance, North Carolina is among the worst states in the nation not only for the little taxpayers but for most of their mothers and fathers, too. That's due mostly to the laws that have come out of McElraft's ultraconservative General Assembly.
Sure, they hate abortion, but it goes deeper. For some conservatives, sex is a means to an end: procreation, in the context of (heterosexual) marriage. That's it. They display active hostility toward all of the other reasons people have for humping each other.
But if sex is for spawning and every little taxpayer-fetus is precious, wouldn't it follow that our lawmakers would be bending over backward (definitely not bending over forward, as butt play is obviously verboten) to give children and families the highest possible quality of life, especially poor women? Why are they doing the opposite?
Forty-two percent of all abortions in this country are performed on women who fall below the federal poverty line, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Last week, I discussed this divide with Leah Josephson, who chairs the board of the Carolina Abortion Fund, a Durham nonprofit that provides financial assistance to low-income women who have chosen abortion. The fund, founded in 2011, has "a strong reproductive justice focus," she says, which is "different from a reproductive-rights-and-health focus."
Reproductive justice means fighting against regressive legislation that makes getting an abortion in North Carolina more difficult—longer wait times, longer distances to travel, forced ultrasounds, forcing physicians to scare abortion-seekers. For Josephson, it also means being a partner in other justice movements that affect the lives of children and families.
"Like a parent afraid that their child of color might be victimized by police for their race," she explains. "Or these laws in other states that prosecute parents who are facing drug charges. Some of those judgmental restrictions are—philosophically, when thinking about enforcing values and standards as far as what a good parent is—frightening."
North Carolina offers plenty of examples.
Why would an immigrant family, for example, want to live here when the state erects barriers to enrolling children in school or determining their eligibility for Medicaid? Why would an LGBT couple want their kids to grow up where lawmakers have been overtly hostile to their right to be a family? What is the legislature saying to poor families by drug testing people before they are allowed to receive welfare benefits—which, presumably, help them care for their families? What's it saying when it slashes unemployment benefits following a devastating recession?
The worst thing is what lawmakers have done to education. North Carolina is forty-ninth in the country for teacher-pay increases over the last decade. Per-pupil spending has actually declined since 2008. So what does it say to prospective parents when the legislature is pillaging and resegregating the schools that are, according to the state constitution, meant to provide every child a free, quality education?
That's a pretty big fuck-you to all the little taxpayers-in-waiting.
People will continue to have and raise children in North Carolina, of course. The state has great cities, a temperate climate, and beautiful natural resources (though who knows for how long). Families with the means—and progressive local governments—will pick up the state's slack. Things will probably work out fine for white, educated, working adults like myself. Still, my husband and I have serious reservations about having a kid in a place that's increasingly antagonistic to gays and immigrants and Muslims and the less fortunate and, well, most everyone who's not like us. But it's the other little taxpayers—and the parents who wonder how they'll possibly be able to take care of them—we should be worrying about.
As good as McElraft thinks the legislature may be at multitasking, maybe she and her colleagues should spend more time focusing on how to improve those kids' lives and less time obsessing about my uterus. Then I'll think about giving them a new little taxpayer.
This article appeared in print with the headline "A Sexual War"