Commentary Race

Rand Paul Is Here to Micromanage Your Family Size, Ladies

Amanda Marcotte

In the same week, Rand Paul praised his sister for having six kids but denounced a hypothetical woman on assistance who has only five. The contrast lays bare the hypocrisy and prejudice of the anti-choice movement, and shows how conservatives use children as weapons against women.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is a man with a lot of highly specific and frankly confusing opinions on whether or not caring for children is a difficult, expensive task and a massive tax on resources. If you are a woman tasked with giving birth to and raising offspring yourself, then the answer is “no.” For individual women, Paul is so confident that it is no burden for you to have and care for children that he not only opposes abortion, but he has routinely advocated for cutting off taxpayer money that goes to preventing unintended pregnancy. When asked recently about whether or not there was a “war on women,” he went out of his way to praise his sister for being fecund, saying, “My younger sister is an OB-GYN with six kids and doing great.” The implication was clear: If his sister can handle six kids, then the rest of you have no excuse.

But at the same time, Rand Paul also believes that children are so incredibly expensive that women should be punished for having more than a “certain amount.” He recently gave a speech during which he endorsed capping the number of benefits that women receiving federal assistance could get based on how many children they have. “Maybe we have to say enough’s enough, you shouldn’t be having kids after a certain amount,” he said, adding, “I don’t know how you do all that because then it’s tough to tell a woman with four kids that she’s got a fifth kid we’re not going to give her any more money. But we have to figure out how to get that message through because that is part of the answer.”

It’s telling the number of kids that is “too many” if you receive assistance just happens to be five, one short of the six children that Paul applauded his sister for bearing. The most obvious explanation for why six kids is “doing great” for one woman and evidence that you “shouldn’t be having kids” for another has everything to do with the class assumptions he brings to the table—and, let’s face it, race assumptions, because Paul’s conservative audience no doubt buys into false stereotypes that equate “welfare moms” with women of color. Juxtaposing these two quotes, the clearest thing that pops out is that Paul believes some people have children who are valuable, and they should have more of them; he even takes umbrage at the idea that women might curtail that a bit to put more resources into their careers. Then he turns around and suggests that other people’s children are not really worth investing in. Some kids are for giving the world to, others are for starving. He couldn’t have been clearer.

None of this is news, of course. Conservatives love to talk about how every life is “precious,” but when it comes to the lives of low-income people and their children, conservatives demonstrate that they don’t care about those lives much at all. The only time the “life” of someone in a low-income household matters is when they are in the embryonic stage. Indeed, considering how many women get abortions because they’re protecting their already existing children, it’s clear that the conservative position is that the life of an embryo is worth more than the life of an existing child. But Paul’s open praise for one woman for having six kids, and his damning of another hypothetical woman for having five, lays this kind of nastiness out in the open, making it impossible for observers to deny.

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Emphasis, by the way, on “hypothetical,” because Paul’s assumption that women “on welfare” keep having kids to get more benefits is patently false. As ThinkProgress notes, people who receive direct assistance do not have larger families than average. In addition, Paul’s simplistic worldview, which holds that there are people “on welfare” and people who are not, is just wrong. Few people set out to be on public assistance. For most families, getting food stamps, unemployment, or even Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) support is hardly a lifelong affair, but something that only happens for periods of your life, in between jobs. A woman can have five children and live in a middle-class home and then get divorced and require assistance. That same woman Paul had praised then becomes a cautionary tale he uses to scare his right-wing audiences about the supposedly hyper-fertile poor using up all the taxpayer money.

And, of course, the fact that Paul has actively fought to strip away every tool that low-income women have to limit their family size makes this entire charade even more cruel.

This also demonstrates how much the conservative discourse about women and when, how, and why they have children is about how “children” exist primarily in conservative rhetoric not as human beings with needs, but as weapons to use against women. The wealthy or middle-class woman who has a big family is there to shame other, better-off women for choosing smaller families or not having children at all. And as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have made clear, having a disabled child is often used as a sharp political tool to shame other women for their choice to have abortions—the implication being, “I could do it, what’s your excuse?”

This is why it’s so fundamentally dishonest to use the term “pro-life” to describe the anti-choice position. “Pro-life” insinuates a respect for children that isn’t there. “Anti-choice” better encapsulates the way that children are reduced to weapons to guilt-trip and punish women for making sexual and reproductive choices that conservatives don’t approve of.

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