In a bizarre, rambling campaign speech to the Texas Alliance for Life last month, a Republican candidate for Texas attorney general told anti-choice supporters that the millions of “children” aborted since Roe v. Wade would have made a nice Republican voting base, if only their parents had been unable to abort them.
Railing against the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States in 1973, Barry Smitherman, who is currently the Texas Railroad Commission chairman, said that while he sees a number of economic advantages to forcing every pregnant person to carry their pregnancies to term, there’s also a nice political bonus for him and his party: Over the last 40 years, 55 million theoretically un-aborted Americans and their 27.5 million hypothetical offspring “would vote Republican” if they had been born.
The man is baldly arguing for forced pregnancy so that he and his political allies can win elections.
To publicly fantasize about how nice it would be to force millions of people to give birth to what you believe would be your own personal army of supporters is nothing short of appalling. Pregnant people are not incubators for future voters—they are living, breathing, sentient humans, and they have a legal right to abortion if they choose it, even if it’s inconvenient for Barry Smitherman’s political career.
Of course, de-centering and ignoring the experiences of pregnant people is nothing new for Republicans, and Texas is no exception. This summer, just before the Texas legislature voted to pass HB 2, an omnibus anti-abortion bill that is expected to close all but six abortion clinics in the state, state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) wondered aloud to the senate gallery, “Who speaks for the baby?”
In this case, it’s clear that Barry Smitherman thinks he does. But of course, there’s no way of knowing how millions of never-existent voters would vote, or whether they would vote at all, or what the United States as a nation, let alone as a democracy, might look like with—using Smitherman’s numbers—82.5 million more residents.
It may be, as Jonathan Tilove argues in the Austin American-Statesman, that Smitherman’s never-existent voters would very likely have been, demographically speaking, people of color and therefore unlikely to vote Republican:
But, if Smitherman and Blakemore [his spokesman] really believe that an America – and a Texas – with far fewer abortions would benefit them politically, they – and perhaps many Texans – misunderstand the demographics of abortion in America, which disproportionately affects black and brown communities (and the poor), something that might be more apparent were it not masked by the growth of those communities – relative to the white population - despite abortion.
Which does throw a bit of a wrench into Smitherman’s fantasy of farming out women’s bodies for a fresh crop of GOP voters.
In his speech, Smitherman praised HB 2, which he said solves “the problem” of pro-choice politicians holding office, because “a supporter of life is a supporter of the Bill of Rights. A denier of life, is … well you get the idea.” So, if “the problem” is Barry Smitherman not being elected, then the obvious solution, according to Barry Smitherman, is that more people should be forced to give birth to all the Republican babies that Barry Smitherman deserves.
But besides the fundamental stupidity of Smitherman’s fetus farm fantasy: To treat the issue of abortion as an interesting politico-intellectual exercise, as an opportunity to move a few pawns around on the board and see what happens, is an especially crass and reprehensible display of unexamined privilege in light of the fact that HB 2 will kill Texans.
It will kill those who seek illegal, unsafe abortions, and it will kill those who do try to carry pregnancies to term in a state where the maternal mortality rate has, horrifyingly, quadrupled in the last 15 years as fewer and fewer Texans—mostly rural, low-income, and of color—have access to specialized reproductive health clinics and prenatal care.
Because HB 2 doesn’t operate in a vacuum, it doesn’t affect all people equally, and it will disproportionately affect low-income Texans and Texans of color, who cannot drive or fly hundreds of miles to the nearest legal, licensed abortion facility. Some low-income Texans and Texans of color will certainly die when they seek out illegal, unsafe abortion because they no longer have access to reputable, responsible abortion providers in licensed facilities. This is not speculation; it is extrapolation based on established historical fact. When abortion is inaccessible or illegal, people who want to end their pregnancies will try to do so, and they will not always survive.
The egregiousness of Smitherman’s remarks go well beyond anything we saw this summer at the state capitol, when at least the rhetoric of “raising the standard of care” acknowledges that there is a pregnant patient involved in an abortion procedure.
To hypothesize—or in Smitherman’s case, fantasize—about 82.5 million never-existent voters with nary a mention of their would-be parents’ loss of bodily autonomy and outright oppression by the state is the very worst kind of fetus fetishization, wholly ignoring the living, breathing, sentient humans who would be forced to produce these hypothetical voters either if abortion is made illegal or when, as we are seeing in Texas, legal abortion becomes so inaccessible as to be fundamentally unavailable to anyone but the wealthiest, whitest of citizens.
Then again, voting itself looks to be the future purview of the privileged, as Texas prepares to enact racist voter identification laws and defends the creation of gerrymandered districts expressly designed to disenfranchise people of color.
The question, as odious as it is, is not “How would un-aborted Texans vote?” but “Could un-aborted Texans vote?” But moreover, when low-income Texans and Texans of color are rendered infertile or killed as a result of laws like HB 2, I seriously doubt we can expect to see vast numbers of their offspring turning up in any voting booth at all, casting votes for any political party whatsoever.