Speaker 1: Tick, tick, tick. Tick, tick. Tick, tick. Tick, tick, tick, tick.
Speaker 2: Welcome to the Waves Blades podcast about gender feminism and all the political turmoil that comes with smashing the patriarchy. Every episode you get a new pair of women to talk about the thing we just can’t get off our minds. And today you’ve got me Nicole Lewis senior editor of Jurisprudence and Sleep.
Speaker 3: Emmy Emily Peck and markets correspondent at Axios and also co-host of Slate Money.
Speaker 2: Today we are talking about reproductive rights. We’re talking about abortion. We’re talking about Roe v Wade. We’re talking about the Supreme Court and the leak that rocked the nation. I’ve been assigning and editing stories in response to Sam Alito’s horrifying draft majority opinion that would ultimately upend Roe v Wade and people’s constitutional right to an abortion.
Speaker 2: One of the things that really struck me about the opinion and there were so many things, but one of the major things is that Alito said he couldn’t assess the impact abortion has on society and in the lives of women. You know, it kind of makes you wonder why the court should get to make such sweeping declarations about an issue they don’t really understand. But here we are. So I want to make clear that actually we do have plenty of research about the impact abortion access has on society and for women. I want to share some of that pathbreaking research and analysis with you today. So, Emily, why is this issue important to you?
Speaker 3: Reproductive rights. I mean, they just feel like a core part of my humanity as an American. I was actually born in 1973, so I’ve never lived in a world without Roe versus Wade. And I have a daughter. And to think that she is going to grow up and live in a world without that bedrock is upsetting to me. I think she will have fewer rights, fewer options, and I will. That’s infuriating.
Speaker 3: Also diving deep into some of those economic studies, some of those studies you were just talking about, it’s aggravating, to say the least, to read Alito saying he doesn’t know what abortions impact was on women or society. That’s just that’s ridiculous. I mean, while there may be a real debate over the morality of abortion from a purely economic perspective, there really isn’t much question that access is good for the economy, for women, for society, and for families. And doing my reporting, I came to the conclusion that legalizing abortion was one of, if not the most meaningful economic policies of the past half century for women. So yeah, I’m mad. Nicole.
Speaker 2: So stay tuned. Coming up, Emily and I are going to try to contain our righteous anger and discuss what the research tells us about why having control over when to have a babies is critical. It’s not just for women’s well-being, but for our economy and for our democracy.
Speaker 2: Welcome back to the waves. Emily, I want to read for you the passage from Alito’s draft where he says the court can’t assess the impact of abortion. He says on page 61 that it is hard for anyone and in particular for a court to assess, namely the effect of abortion rights on society and in particular on the lives of women. The contending sides in this case make impassioned and conflicting arguments about the effects of abortion rate on the lives of women. Seeing this as a journalist, for me, this is your classic kind of false equivalence. Both sides argument that completely ignores that one side traffics in pseudoscience and religious ideology.
Speaker 2: But what really strikes me here is that he completely glosses over an amicus brief on this exact issue that was filed to the court by a pioneering economist who spent her career studying how reproductive rights affects people’s lives. And so over 150 economists signed onto this brief, which I’m assuming Alito must have just thrown in the trash. And so, Emily, you’re familiar with some of this work. Can you tell us a little bit more about what these economists found?
Speaker 3: The pioneering economist, I think you mean, is Caitlin Myers at Middlebury College. And she’s done some really good work, kind of disaggregating abortion from other things that happened to women over the past 50 years to see what legalizing abortion actually meant for women, mostly economically. The brief filed by the 154 economists really kind of brings all this research together and kind of a groundbreaking way, because this isn’t the kind of thing that economists were like buzzing about a lot in following women’s issues and gender and economics. I would say it’s an under-discussed issue.
Speaker 3: You hear a lot about equal pay. There was this paper on birth control that argued birth control was what pushed more women into the workforce in the seventies and eighties. But what Myers found is actually abortion had more of an effect on women’s labor force participation than birth control, which when you talk to her and she breaks it down, you’re like, oh, of course. You know, when the pill was just becoming available, it wasn’t available to every woman, certainly. And the women who were able to access it, it failed sometimes doesn’t always work. And when it didn’t work, there was abortion waiting in the wings.
Speaker 3: So that sort of birth control, combined with abortion, really increased women’s labor force participation and enabled women to delay motherhood. That means they could finish their education. That means they could progress in their careers and really pursue jobs and work that was more meaningful to them and more rewarding long term, like better jobs, essentially. And there’s other research also in the brief that talks about an increase in wages, particularly for black women, which I think we’ll get into more in the second segment. And, of course, benefits to the children.
Speaker 2: Who are.
Speaker 3: Ultimately born. Mothers saw reduced rates of poverty, reduced death rates. Kids flourish when there are less unwanted kids around at all. Just talking about it seems so obvious, but the brief really pulls together all this research that makes it clear like this abortion rate enables women to fully participate in society in a way they really hadn’t been able to before. And yeah, I think Alito threw it in the trash.
Speaker 2: You know, one of the things that really strikes me from what you’re saying is, one, just how obvious and kind of common sense some of these findings seem. And at the same time, how very few people were kind of were clamoring to really understand the impact, which suggests perhaps people thought this was settled and there would be no need to dredge up what seems obvious to women, maybe, and to people who loved women about the impact of abortion. But alas, again, here we are. Another thing that really strikes me from all of this research that you’re bringing up is just how much some of these outcomes are, things that the conservative and in particular the sort of Christian right actually really champions.
Speaker 2: Right. So they championed the notion of having homes that are more stable, people being able to sort of work and provide for themselves, like look down or have their stigma against children out of wedlock. And so abortion actually serves to offer some of these more I hesitate to call them holes them, but they’re these ideas about what our families are supposed to look like that are kind of conservative. And so it’s interesting to me.
Speaker 2: Another one being teenage pregnancy, that that’s something that has been so stigmatized. And I remember, you know, growing up in the late nineties, early 2000, just how much of a campaign there was to eliminate teenage pregnancy. It was sort of part of the popular. Miller Media at the time to write 16 and Pregnant on MTV, all these kinds of shows. And so this research is finding that actually, once again, abortion access means that we have less teenage pregnancies, something that conservative Christians, Republicans kind of harp on about. And so it’s just interesting that that contradiction, that abortion is actually a tool to making some of these things really possible.
Speaker 3: Alito says there are conflicting arguments on both sides, but in this case, the Mississippi attorney general made this like really I mean, to my mind, a weird argument where she basically said women have greater economic rights and more freedom now than they did when Roe v Wade first passed, which that’s true, but it’s in part because of abortion.
Speaker 3: And then she goes on to say, they don’t need this abortion right anymore because now it’s okay for women, you know, single mothers. It’s okay for women to have pregnancies, I guess, out of wedlock, it’s called or it’s okay to give birth because there are these laws where you can give up the baby right away, like leave it on the doorstep of the firehouse or something. I’m sorry, but she has the audacity to also say, because there are paid leave policies in the United States, which there are. And it was just a shocking counter argument. It’s just so clear there’s, you know, standing like if you want to go to the court and argue like morally you think this is wrong, okay, that’s a real argument. But to say that women have more freedom now, therefore they don’t need this is the same thing. You know, Justice Ginsburg was always quoted for saying, like, you don’t take the umbrella away in the rain storm. And that’s that’s still true. Now, even though we women are, you know, labor force participation is up, it doesn’t mean you get rid of this like core. Core. Right.
Speaker 2: So one additional thing. Right. So we’ve talked a bit about the economics, the importance of abortion, access on women’s lives and our ability to go to school and have better wages and care for the kids that we do have. But an additional point, something that’s really critical to consider is the impact of abortion, access on democracy and women’s ability to participate politically in society.
Speaker 2: Right. And so after the leak came out and and all throughout this debate, political scientists have been saying in an increasingly serious tone that restricting abortion rights is a sign of a backsliding democracy. Right. And so what this means is that in most democratic countries, restricting abortion access is kind of rare. It doesn’t actually happen that often. It’s very rare that we progress forward and then move so quickly and so violently backwards in time.
Speaker 2: Right. This has happened in other places. I’m thinking of Nicaragua and Poland, two countries that have restricted access and who are simultaneously truly in both an economic and really political crisis right now. And so if America if Alito’s opinion ultimately becomes the law of the land, you know, political scientists are saying, like, we can firmly add the United States to that list, that it’s not just an insurrection and January six and people trying to undermine the election, but it’s actually women’s rights and women’s ability to participate in in our society.
Speaker 2: That is a measure of our democratic health. So we’re going to take a break here. But if you want to hear more from Emily and myself on another topic, check out our Waves Plus segment. Is this feminist where today we’re debating whether getting a Brazilian butt lift is feminist?
Speaker 3: And please consider supporting the show by joining Slate. Plus, members get benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcast, no paywall on the Slate site, and bonus content of shows like Amicus Slate Money. That’s my show and of course, this one. To learn more, go to Slate.com, slash the waves plus.
Speaker 2: So like many other issues in our country, the abortion issue does not affect all women and all people equally. And this is something we saw very clearly. Right, to take it back to. Another major issue is still ongoing in the pandemic. There were so many people coming out and saying, we’re all in this together. You know, we’ll get through it together. And it became clear over time that the impact was most felt in poorer communities and in black communities and on frontline workers. And same is the case here. So women of color, poor women of all backgrounds and black women in particular have the most to lose if abortion goes away. And they’ve also benefited the most by having control over their reproductive lives. And so we want to dig a little bit deeper into that. And let’s start off maybe, Emily, if you could give us, you know, a lay of the economic landscape. Like what do we know about how abortion has impacted black women or women’s lives for the better?
Speaker 3: While we know that those impacts that we discussed in the top half of this episode doubly impacted black women, the research on wage increases for those who were able to get an abortion, it was black women who saw wages go up 10%. We know black teenage women were more likely to graduate high school, and according to research from the amicus brief, a 23 to 27 percentage point increase in their probability of attending college.
Speaker 3: One thing that in my reporting, economists pointed out to me, as black women have always worked, they’ve always had higher labor force participation rate than white women. So it’s not like when black women have children, they drop out of the workforce. They’re still working. But with abortion and with reproductive rights access, they can get better jobs. And that’s what you’re seeing in the data. You’re seeing more opportunity for advancement, educational attainment, all of that kind of like magnified for these women who are going to work regardless or more likely to work regardless. This is sort of doubly important for them.
Speaker 2: That this is really critical. Right, because it suggests that on the flip side, if abortion goes away, that some of those gains goes right with it, that black women are sort of back, I don’t want to say just square one, but that we are going to have a harder time raking in increasing wages, going to college, which we know has an incredible compounding impact on on the betterment of people’s lives. And that’s it’s kind of huge.
Speaker 3: We know that black women have higher rates of maternal mortality. We know that access to abortion decline, maternal mortality rates for black women, a huge drop, 28 to 40%. Like, whoa. So really like forcing women to give birth is also forcing them to risk death. One of the the most sort of groundbreaking abortion studies out there is this turn away study where they basically looked at about a thousand women across the country. Some were not able to get an abortion in time to meet the gestation deadline, like whether it was like 20 weeks or some places, it’s it’s less than that.
Speaker 3: So they studied what happened to the women who were turned away and wound up giving birth versus the women who were able to access an abortion. And I wrote a bit about the economic piece of that study. And they found the women who were were forced to give birth, you know, had higher rates of bankruptcies, evictions, leans. They were in just dire financial straits. They also found that the women forced to give birth among that group to died and among the group that access to abortion, no one died. So that kind of gives you the sense of of the stakes here. And since black women are already sort of like have, I guess, higher stakes or more risk, this just puts them at even higher risk.
Speaker 2: Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s one of the things that’s so shocking to me about some of the maternal mortality research, is that it’s black women from all class backgrounds. Right. But it says something about just the severity and the seriousness of racism, structural and otherwise in our lives, that it’s that even if you’re a surgeon and you’re you’re Serena Williams and you go to the hospital and you’re giving birth, that doctors might not believe you, they might not give you the same level of care. And so, you know, when we think about some of the more vulnerable women, women who are struggling with housing access or, you know, working a low income job, just the effects and the consequences are so much more dire and really compounded.
Speaker 2: And I wanted to take a second, you know, to link this back to some really basic American history. So Dahlia Lithwick wrote a piece kind of connecting the dots between the 14th Amendment, which, you know, equal protection under the law. Right? That everybody should be treated the same way. And the connection to forced birth, I think you used that phrase. And so one of the. She found is that it was a very clear and very deliberate by the people who are considered the architects or the framers of the 14th Amendment. That one of the things they were trying to prevent or guard against was anybody, anywhere but black women in particular being forced to reproduce that. That was such a fundamental feature of American slavery that they said, well, what does it mean to be free? What would it mean to have liberty and autonomy? And being able to control your reproductive capacity is central to that idea.
Speaker 2: Right. And so it’s sort of a dark and really fascinating thing to me to think that we are here now talking about what happens to poor women and to black women if they lose this access. And it’s just something that’s so deeply woven into our history, into our supposed values about liberty and freedom and autonomy, things that we, you know, talk about holding dear. This is a direct shot at really all of that.
Speaker 3: That’s painful to think about. And the one thing I maybe hasten to add is that I do see a lot of people saying, don’t worry. You know, if you live in New York, you’re going to be okay. If you have money, you’ll be able to afford this. Like, don’t worry about your daughter. You’ll always pay for her to go wherever she needs to go. But I think it’s really important, like everyone is losing this, right? Everything has become more difficult. I’m not going to stay in my little New York bubble all the time. I’m going to have to travel. You’re going to have like this affects everyone. I think that’s important to point out, too.
Speaker 2: You know, we really want to disabuse people of that notion that they will somehow be protected because of privilege or class or money. Let’s really understand what we’re looking at more clearly. Right. This is just the first right to potentially fall. Right. That the framework that Alito sets up, the way that they’re going about it suggests to us who are people who are watching the court and the legal community that they actually have many other rights in their crosshairs. And so if we stop paying attention because we say, oh, it doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t apply to me, well, that may be true today, but it might not be true tomorrow and in the coming weeks. Right. And so I think it’s really critical that even if you don’t have a uterus, that you really plug in and pay attention to what this draft is suggesting, what it’s telling us. We are going backwards. We are not headed into some sort of like new reality in which, oh, the same sort of structures remain in place.
Speaker 2: There’s a great dismantling kind of happening here, a legal dismantling. And so I think it is truly very critical that people understand and I hate to feel like I’m being alarmist, but there are other rights that hang in the balance that are related to ROE and related to some of the arguments that were made in these cases that really do just finally fundamentally affect, I would say, where the organization of our society.
Speaker 3: I said at the top of this show that I was mad. I’m not even sure how I’m processing that anger yet. But Nicole, how are you dealing with your anger?
Speaker 2: So what do you do with anger? That’s a great yeah, I have some thoughts. It’s hard to actually stay angry. It’s hard to have all that stress in your life. It just makes you sick. It just doesn’t really work that well. And so I think there’s just lots of ways that we have to practice feeling the anger and noting the anger, transmuting the anger, channeling it into something productive or positive.
Speaker 2: Last night I make collages and so I spent a little time making a collage writing. It’s a paper collage. I think I cut out a lot of things from actually the nation. And so it’s like a fire plume with a hand and a guy holding a shotgun and two sets of eyes. One of them’s also on fire and the fire is crying, is very sad and kind of dark themes, just finding ways to make beauty an experience, art to connect to others, to know that people are kind of fighting on the ground, are struggling together, that there’s a long history of people, you know, fighting for rights, losing them, getting them back. There’s definitely something unique about what’s happening now. The United States has really been made by successive struggles for it, for power and for access. And I think that that will surely continue.
Speaker 2: Before we head out, we want to give some recommendations. So, Emily, what are you loving right now?
Speaker 3: Okay. I was going to go with something highbrow that I’m reading or watching, but if I’m going to be totally honest with you and all the listeners right now, I’m loving gummy bears so much I am eating them all the time. I find them extremely comforting and delicious. I like all different varieties. I like the Haribo a lot, the gold bears. But I’ll also go sour. I’ll go worm instead of bear kola. I’m really all over the map. They just. They. They bring me joy and comfort.
Speaker 2: As what we need. And in these times, I love it.
Speaker 3: And this time.
Speaker 2: As for me, I just binged a cute series on Netflix called Bonding Happened to Stumble Upon It, wasn’t looking for it. It’s about a dominatrix and her best friend. And they’re navigating their relationships and consent and kink and intimacy and stigma and figuring out who they are in the world. And it’s honestly just delightful.
Speaker 3: Oh, that sounds awesome, man. Heard about.
Speaker 2: That. It’s like two seasons, 16 minute episodes. It goes by like that. It’s a little pick me up. So we couldn’t leave you on this heavy topic without offering some constructive ways to engage. And so I want to shout out an incredible resource, a national network of abortion funds. So in the short term, while we are working on reclaiming our political power to cement this right once and for all, people are going to need abortions and so they have to pay for them. So National Network provides a list of funds across the country. Their website is W WW dot abortion funds dot org. And be sure to check out this great video on the site by graphic artist Molly Crabapple and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi.
Speaker 1: That’s it.
Speaker 2: That’s our show this week. The wave is produced by Shannon Rafter.
Speaker 3: Shannon Polys is our editorial director. Alicia montgomery is vice president of Audio.
Speaker 2: We’d love to hear from you. Email us at the waves at Slate.com.
Speaker 3: The waves will be back next week. Different hosts, different topics, same time and place.
Speaker 2: Thank you so much for being a Slate Plus member. And since you’re a member, you get this weekly segment. Is this feminist? Every week we debate whether something is feminist. And this week we’re talking about Brazillian. But let’s.
Speaker 3: Okay. Before we get to answer the question, we should say this was a New York Times Magazine piece about, well, Brazillian but lives and how popular they are, especially in Miami, and how these houses have cropped up, where after women get these butt lifts, which I believe is surgery, just they take fat out of other parts of your body and put it in your butt to make it like perkier and bigger. Right.
Speaker 2: Totally. To snatch your waist and plump your cheeks.
Speaker 3: Plump your cheeks and snatch your waist. And then there are these houses where you go to recover and you lay on your stomach. And the Times magazine story just has these photos that are a little I mean, graphic, I suppose. Is it feminist? I mean, I don’t know. I mean, you should be able to do whatever you want with your body. That feels feminist to me. At the same time, seeing these pictures, these women laid out on their stomachs with like, you know, these body cinching kind of wraps around them to keep everything together. Post operation seems almost like medieval with, like, blood stains on them and that kind of body. I don’t know if mutilation is the right word, but that just doesn’t seem feminist to me. But. But what do you think?
Speaker 2: Or modification, at least, if not mutilation. Yeah. You know, a friend. A friend and I were talking about this the other day, and, you know, she was like, Aren’t we pushing for a world in which people can take their body and, you know, know that it’s theirs and do what they want with it? And that’s the kind of bodily autonomy that we’re pushing for. And, you know, on one hand, sure. Of course, like we want people to feel like their body is theirs and they have, you know, choice and agency over it. I just had to stop and sort of ask like, you know, what are the conditions in which women are thinking that they need to achieve a certain physical form in order to be here in a certain way?
Speaker 2: So some of the women we’re talking about, you know, this was the first step before they felt like they could get their lives together or the first step before they could apply for a loan or start a business plan. And I just said, hah. So in some way they’re saying the world won’t take me seriously or take me as seriously if I don’t look like this. And I just thought, well, that I can’t be feminist. That doesn’t seem right to me at all. You should be able to apply for a loan and look however you look as a woman. Right. Do you not have to be beautiful or have the most idealized, idealistic figure? And none of that should really matter. Right. So there’s something there for me where I’m like, I’m not so sure. I’m not I’m not so sure that it’s coming from a place of personal empowerment and so much a place of sort of feeling like you have to acquiesce to these really intense beauty standards. You know, most people just don’t look like that.
Speaker 3: Yeah, and it’s an interesting contrast. The same issue of the magazine had a piece from a woman who got breast reduction surgery who said for most of her adult life and after she got breast, like when she was 12 or something, she felt like she couldn’t do anything to change them because it wouldn’t be feminist to, like, change the way her body looks like she should be able to be in her body and have have it accepted for whatever it is.
Speaker 3: And then finally in her thirties, she realized, you know what, I can’t do certain things that I want to do. I can’t go running easily. Men are always leering at me and treating me like a sexual object, like I don’t I don’t want this anymore, so I am going to alter my body. And she framed it as a feminist act. And I was trying to like square the circle between the two stories. And in both cases, it’s like women’s bodies are these. Things that are getting a reaction and you’re trying to use surgery as a way to alter that reaction?
Speaker 2: Totally. I mean, in my head, as you were talking, I was like, yeah, women’s bodies are like they’re like a battleground. They’re like a side. Right? It’s like we’re. Being pushed and pulled and manipulated and told. And, you know, sometimes we want to take all of that back, all that, like, power and disconnect and. Right. And then say, I’m going to I’m going to be the final decider of what my body looks like and how it operates in the world. And there’s something to that for sure.
Speaker 3: Yeah, that’s empowering. Yeah. You don’t have to just be kind of trapped in the body and feel like it doesn’t express who you are in some way, you know?
Speaker 2: But again, I think as soon as I have that thought, I’m like, I think seeing those photos and being reminded that that public, like every woman is kind of going in in some ways for like, look, no two women will look the same, of course, but you’re literally going in for this same aesthetic. It’s almost like there’s something. So like the word that’s coming to mind is like mechanized or capitalist about it, that it’s like you go in one body, we smash you together, you come out and you body and it’s like it just feels a little too inside of.
Speaker 2: Maybe it’s capitalism. Maybe that’s why I’m struggling. Because I’m like, okay, we’ve decided that this is the body type that has the biggest, quote, market value. You’ll get the best load and the most followers on Instagram if this is what you look like. So just like go and there’ll be 50 other women at the end of the day who, who kind of resemble your body all look sort of similar sort of in the same frame. But I can’t help but think that someone like Kim Kardashian made popular. And so there’s just something so materialistic. So about it for me as well.
Speaker 3: Women have always sort of done painful things so that they could look the way you’re supposed to look. There’s always been like some ideal Kim Kardashian kind of type, right, that you had to wear high heels or certain kind of lipstick or corsets or I mean, there’s all kinds of stuff throughout history. But the piece now and maybe I’ll just sound like an old lady, but like now you have to get like thousands of dollars of of surgery and like, get all bloody for it. And I don’t know, it just seems very severe what you have to do now to sort of reach the standard that’s been set.
Speaker 2: I think that’s right. I think that’s right. I have another friend. We talk about that all the time. Like when we were young, the pinnacle of beauty was like super low rise jeans and lip gloss, baby hair extensions. Right. Like maybe. But it was not Botox and lip fillers and bbls. It just wasn’t. And so there’s an intensity, I think every you know, where women we have bodies. So just thinking about like, how does it feel for me to show up here and feel like constantly I’m failing at some beauty norm or a beauty standard, that that is totally unnatural. That feels tight. That feels hard. It doesn’t actually make me want to achieve it. It kind of makes me want to smash it. That’s good.
Speaker 3: That’s better than seeing, you know, like scrolling through your Instagram and being like, why? Why don’t I look like that? Like, what’s wrong with me? You know?
Speaker 2: Oh, I feel that way, too, but I just. Oh, the smashing comes from a place. Yeah. I just don’t want to feel those sucky feelings. Right, knowing that, like, I’m just. I’m not. I’m just not going to spend my money that way, you know?
Speaker 3: Yeah, I might put on a pair of heels maybe for a night, but I’m not going to go spend $10,000 to get a two to get a butler.
Speaker 2: No, I’m just not like the pictures were kind of scary. It’s like like part of the story, right. Was how how difficult recovery is. And many people maybe don’t expect or plan for it. So the reason that these houses exist is to provide a safer place for women to heal. And it doesn’t always go right, which is terrifying to me.
Speaker 3: Is there something you’re dying to know if it’s feminist or not? We love to hear from you. Email us at the waves at Slate.com.