The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Red states with forced-birth laws bask in the right to fall behind

Demonstrators march in support of reproductive rights in Odessa, Tex., on July 9. (Eli Hartman/AP)
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Red America is bad for your health. If you live in a red state, your risk of getting and dying from covid-19 is higher than in blue states. On average, your life span is shorter, your chance of living in poverty higher, your educational attainment lower and your economic opportunities are reduced relative to blue-state residents.

Meanwhile, politicians in red states have effectively told diverse workers, high-tech businesses and entrepreneurial Americans to go elsewhere. They have suppressed voting for minorities, targeted LGBTQ families, upended public education with their panic over critical race theory (even though it isn’t taught in K-12 schools) and punished corporations that don’t kowtow to discriminatory practices.

And then came the abortion bans. Thousands, if not millions, of women of childbearing age might reconsider their residence if they want to avoid the potentially life-threatening bans — or if they simply want to be treated like competent, autonomous adults.

There are signs the reality of forced-birth laws are registering with those most affected. Reuters reports: “The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide has some students rethinking their higher education plans as states rush to ban or curtail abortion, according to interviews with 20 students and college advisers across the country.” While the evidence is anecdotal at this point, “in the wake of Roe’s overturn, college counselors said abortion has figured prominently in many conversations with clients, with some going as far as nixing their dream schools.” (State colleges in blue states might want to consider offering tuition to students looking to escape misogyny in their home states.)

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counterpointThere’s nothing pro-life about the Texas attorney general’s abortion lawsuit

Likewise, blue-state employers know they can offer something to employees that companies in red states cannot: the guarantee of personal physical autonomy. The New York Times reports:

For companies anchored in economically vibrant conservative states like Texas, Tennessee and Georgia, the rollback of women’s rights is no longer a hypothetical scenario but an immediate challenge. It represents a potential disruption to the calculus that has made Republican-led Sun Belt states a draw for big companies, which have tended to embrace the reduced taxes and regulations while treating local social policy as something of a sideshow.

The Times reports that blue-state governors have begun “depicting their abortion rights policies as a business advantage, reinforcing the appeal of the wealthier and more progressive states that many businesses opt to call home in spite of their taxes.” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) told the Times that his party needs to sharpen its message, arguing that President Biden and Democrats more broadly “should be talking about this first as an issue of individual rights and freedom, and second as an economic issue.”

At least Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo gets it. While discussing inflation and economic growth on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, she explained, “Look at workforce participation of women without a college degree. We have to be there for those women to get child care, to — you know, reproductive health is on everybody’s mind. That’s going to hurt the economy.”

No one expects MAGA governors such as Greg Abbott of Texas to suddenly recognize the connection between progressive social policies and economic success. He and his fellow forced-birth advocates are more likely to demonize “woke” companies that want to protect employees’ reproductive rights than to reconsider the economic implications of treating women like second-class citizens.

But the results may well confirm that MAGA cult ideology burdens red states in a variety of ways, from decreasing life expectancy to chasing women from the workplace to causing “brain drain” as college-educated workers head for states grounded in the 21st century. If that happens, it would not be the first time the archaic social policies in the South left it struggling to keep up with the more prosperous North. At some point, voters in red states might come to realize they are losing ground to blue states.

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