“The Daily Show” Doesn’t Do Its Homework
by Rachel MacNair
On September 27, 2021, comedian Trevor Noah offered What Happens When a State Bans Abortions? in his ongoing segment, “If You Don’t Know, Now You Know.” What I know after watching it is that Trevor is competent at giving the conventional talking points in favor of abortion availability, the ones we’ve heard for decades.
There are rebuttals to what he said. He’s entirely lacking in curiosity as to what those might be. As for the idea that there are empirical studies addressing his points, that doesn’t seem to occur to him or his writers.
The one new part was about Uber and Lyft drivers in Texas being afraid to take people to Planned Parenthood at all. He had some good jokes on that. He also seems to be unaware that subjecting such drivers to civil suits isn’t in the heartbeat bill itself at all. It’s in the interpretation of “aiding” that opponents of the bill came up with. How ironic – the impact is because of pro-choice interpretations, not pro-life ones.
Trevor Noah Asserts: The Law Won’t Stop Any Abortions
Everyone knows the law won’t prevent all abortions. But the argument it won’t prevent any – indeed, the argument it won’t prevent a substantial number – crashes up against what empirical studies show. The vast majority of studies of any form of abortion regulations are done by people who oppose those regulations, so there’s not a pro-life bias in most findings.
For more details and references, see Chapter 15 of Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion, a chapter I wrote and a book I edited.
Here are highlights:
Women who ask and are turned down
Back when committees could decide whether women got abortions, one study followed women who were turned down, mainly in Czechoslovakia. Many mothers changed their minds, as over a third – 36% – denied they had made the abortion request, and 73% were satisfied with how the situation was resolved – that is, giving birth to their children. A few had placed the children for adoption, and the vast majority of mothers were raising the children themselves, countering the idea of major problems caused by an abortion not happening.
In the U.S., the Hyde amendment suddenly removed most federal Medicaid abortion funding. So funding was available one year and not the next. Also, funding stopped in some states and not in others since some states put their own funds into abortions for the low-income. This created a natural experiment – meaning all the requirements of an experiment were in place and researchers only needed to collect the data.
From one year to the next, abortion rates among the low-income served by Medicaid went way down in those states where Hyde took effect compared to those states where the state government continued the abortion funding.
But in each state, the childbirth rate stayed the same or went down.
To explain this, consider that abortion has a fairly unique feature. If I don’t brush my teeth, I’m the one who gets cavities. Even if cavity-filling is free, I’m motivated to avoid it. The same applies to a woman whose behavior can lead to pregnancy. Yet it doesn’t apply to the man who engages in the same behavior. If the government takes care of the bill, the activity is free to him, without consequences.
This would be irrelevant if the woman entirely controls her sexual relationships. It becomes relevant when she doesn’t.
Even outside male-dominated relationships, having an abortion require money becomes relevant to a couple’s decision-making – when to have sex, or how much trouble to take to get a condom first.
Distance of Facilities
Women in counties further away from clinics have a lower abortion rate than those nearby. This was shown early on in Georgia in the 1970s, where Atlanta was the place to go. Texas has been even clearer: the “supply-side” requirement of a 2004 law impacted only abortions past 16 weeks, and those dropped by 68%. With the 2013 law that led to several clinic closures, there was a 13% decrease in the state’s abortion rate in the year following.
Studies done in various ways suggest that higher monetary costs do indeed decrease abortions.
The most commonly observed immediate impact of parental involvement requirements is a drop in the first-trimester abortion rate among minors, but not among teenagers who aren’t minors (aged 18 and 19). This was found along with no increase in the birthrate in each of several different states. There appears to be no difference as to whether it was only parental notification or instead parental consent that was legally required.
On a side note, one study found states with parental involvement laws were associated with an 11% to 21% reduction in suicides among females 15-17 years old. No similar impact was found on males in that age group or on older females.
Trevor Noah Asserts: Stopping Abortions Can Be Done with Better Supports for Mothers
No kidding. We at the Consistent Life Network have held this for a long time.
But Trevor speaks as if Texas were doing nothing. In fact, the state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into a long-running program to help its pregnant women.
You can argue it could be done better. You can argue that certain social policies are also crucial. You can argue it’s inadequate. I for one would certainly like to see more.
But “inadequate” isn’t “absent.” Treating it as merely absent is an assertion that’s so easily refuted as to suggest anyone who does so hasn’t researched it at all. It’s easily googled.
I assert: Women Don’t Become Pregnant Unless a Man is Involved
The idea that men who think women are supposed to be sexually available to them would benefit greatly from vacuuming women out and making them re-usable – this is totally absent from Trevor’s presentation. But he’s presented on the point before. This tweet, still available online, refers to an earlier Supreme Court decision which ruled against some previous Texas abortion regulations:
I’ve often thought the astonishing sexism of his remark ought to have been career-ending, but of course it wasn’t. Abortion was the topic at hand, so someone who feels a sense of male privilege over women’s bodies writing only to male readers presumed to have that same sense is given a free pass.
Most of the time, he’s a good man. I usually enjoy his comedy, which I watch regularly. But this is one of many cases I’ve observed where I conclude abortion has a toxic effect on otherwise good men.
The Segment Privileges Some Women’s Experiences over Others
Women who’ve had abortions are a major portion of the pro-life movement – no one active in the movement can fail to know this, because it’s so prevalent. Women who feel traumatized, bullied, unsupported, conned – these women’s voices are every bit as relevant to the debate as the ones whose experience backs up The Daily Show’s view.
Here’s a continuum of women considering whether or not to get an abortion:
The segment shows one extreme in the continuum, and yet presents it as if it were everybody. That means deliberately ignoring so many women’s lived experiences.
If you’re puzzled as to why the pro-life movement is still so strong after all these years, that’s a major reason. You can’t make these women go away by pretending they don’t exist.
If the intention is to educate, as the title implies, and if the topic is what actually happens in a state with abortion bans, then to the writing staff of The Daily Show I say: please do more homework. I’ve given you some leads here, and with your research skills I expect you could find more, if only you could try to be thorough on the stated topic.
For more thoughts from Rachel MacNair on similar topics, see our posts: