After they're born, compassion ends

February 14, 2005|By Cynthia Tucker

ATLANTA - At least Sonny Perdue, Georgia's Republican governor, practices what he preaches. A conservative Christian and an opponent of abortion, Mr. Perdue and his wife have matched word with deed over the years by volunteering as foster parents who take care of abused or abandoned infants.

But there isn't much of that going around. There has long been an odd cognitive dissonance in the anti-abortion movement, a strange disconnect of values. Many family-values-loving conservative Christians are staunchly opposed to programs that would help poor children get health care or day care or decent housing. It is as if they adore the child still inside the womb, but despise him as soon as he comes screaming into the world.

With the re-election of President Bush, many conservative Christians believe they are close to their goal of overturning Roe vs. Wade. And in GOP-dominated legislatures across the country, there is a renewed zeal to roll back reproductive freedoms. In Georgia, GOP legislators have introduced a repugnant bill that not only would require a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion, but also would require medical personnel to give women scientifically dubious information - that abortions increase the risk of breast cancer.

But the same Georgia Legislature, facing budget constraints, is also busy cutting or squeezing programs that would help a poor mother to raise her child if she decides against abortion.

One example is the state's landmark PeachCare program, which provides health care to children of the working poor. Although the waiting list is long, Mr. Perdue himself has proposed curbing growth in the program.

Mr. Bush, who says he "values life," exhibits a similar cognitive dissonance. Though he is expected to appoint Supreme Court justices committed to overturning abortion, his new budget takes a sharp ax to programs that would help poor children - including public housing programs and public health.

Few of the nation's best-known evangelical Christians emphasize social justice for the poor. That makes self-proclaimed "progressive evangelical" Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, stand out.

In a recent critique of Mr. Bush's budget proposals, he noted that the "cost of deficit reduction is mostly borne by those least able to bear the burden - the lowest-income families in America - rather than by those most able to afford it."

But many conservatives would dismiss Mr. Wallis' argument as "class warfare."

Five years ago, political scientist Jean Reith Schroedel, a professor at Claremont Graduate University, published a book - Is the Fetus a Person? - that examined state policies throughout the country, comparing their restrictions on abortion with their support for poor children. She found that the states that imposed the most restrictions on access to abortion were also those that put the least money into health care or day care or housing aid for poor children.

"Pro-life states are less likely than pro-choice states to provide adequate care to poor and needy children. Their concern for the weak and vulnerable appears to stop at birth," she wrote.

So if conservative Christians are going to insist on lecturing pregnant women before they get access to abortion - frightening them with grim tales of future emotional distress - they should also counsel them on the realities of raising a child with few financial resources.

The brochure might read something like this: "If you are poor and you keep this child, you won't have the money for decent day care. You'll have to choose between paying the electric bill and buying antibiotics for your child's ear infection. And don't even think about opening a savings account to pay for his college education."

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun.

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