(This article was written by Hoi Polloi and first appeared on Daily Kos January 25, 2014)
On December 11, 2013, the state legislature in Michigan voted on a petition measure titled, “No Taxes For Abortion Insurance.” The petition, circulated by Michigan Right to Life collected signatures telling people this was to make sure tax dollars didn’t pay for abortions through the Affordable Care Act. Of course, anyone who take a few seconds to execute a Google search knows taxes haven’t paid for an abortion in the United States in 40 years. Nothing like lying to the public to push your pet agenda.
Another thing the petition did to Michigan was make sure private insurance – the insurance you’re paying for – also no longer covers abortion. This is another overreach of big government into the private lives of American citizens, but we’ll overlook that too when a small, religious agenda-driven minority forces their will on everyone else. The bad news for Michigan women is now if you are a victim of rape or incest, your private insurance won’t cover the cost of having a possible pregnancy terminated. That’s right, you have to plan ahead just in case you get raped. Women in Michigan must purchase a separate rider to their insurance plan, a private insurance plan that very likely covered the medical procedure already.
This latest anti-woman move in Michigan is part of the GOP agenda to deny women reproductive health care across the country while at the same time cutting may programs that would help poor women raise and support their families. Food stamp benefits, WIC programs, education, housing and on and on. In Michigan, taxes were raised on the poorest families while retroactive time limits started kicking people off of programs they relied on to survive with only a few weeks notice. Most recently in Michigan, Rick Snyder signed a bill that now ties school attendance to food and cash FIP benefits. Republicans continue to make it more difficult for the weakest and most vulnerable to survive – our children.
It’s counterproductive to insist women bring pregnancies to term while at the same time not offering any help in raising and caring for those children. Of course, in the United States, the so-called richest nation on Earth, we’re told we can’t afford all of that expensive child supporting stuff like maternity leave, child care, health care, education or food and shelter. We can force them to have the babies, but once they’re here, well, that’s the parent’s job to keep them alive.
If not enough money is the problem in the United States, then how do other nations with the same standard of living handle this problem? Actually, most developed countries do much better that the US when it comes to supporting families. For an example, lets look at Finland and how they take care of mothers and children.
Finland is about the size of the state of California with a population of 5.5 million. They enjoy a high standard of living, are in the Eurozone and their economy is on par with Germany, France and the UK. Their major exports are electronics, lumber and Angry Birds. In the 1930’s Finland faced a crisis. Their infant mortality rate was at epidemic levels; over 65 deaths per 1000 births. The government of Finland came to the conclusion that if they provided expectant mothers with what they needed to help care for newborn infants, more of them would survive. In 1939, the first boxes of baby supplies were delivered to expectant low-income mothers.
The program worked. It worked so well that in 1949 the baby box program extended to all expectant families in Finland regardless of income. Rich or poor, part of becoming a mother in Finland for the past 75 years includes a cardboard box containing over 50 items ranging from baby clothes, blankets, toys and a mattress that fits inside the box everything arrives in. Many Finnish babies begin their lives sleeping inside a cardboard box. This box enabled the infant mortality rate to drop from being one of the highest, to being the fifth lowest in the world. Finland’s current infant mortality rate is 2.8. The United States has the highest infant mortality rate of all industrialized modern nations at 5.4 per 1000 births. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower.
Finland didn’t stop helping families with the baby box. Finnish mothers also have 90 days paid maternity leave, and the first 30 days of that leave start before the new mom gives birth. Finnish women go on maternity leave because less stress in the new mother’s life means a healthier woman will give birth to a healthier baby. You might be thinking it’s much easier for a country of only 5.5 million people to be able to allow this policy, but this map proves otherwise. Even more populated countries – India and China – still manage to provide paid maternity leave for new mothers.
And it gets even better. All parents in Finland receive a per-child stipend from the government until the child turns 17 regardless of income. The child benefit is increased per child if the children live in a single-parent home. Every Finnish citizen also receives universal health care. Your medical bills are covered.
So now that Finnish mothers and babies have the help they need to not only survive, but thrive, what about education? In Finland, public education is free through the first four years of university. Get good grades, earn your Abitur and your college tuition is covered. There is even money to help with living expenses, although many Finnish college students will need to supplement with some financial help. The main point to remember is that many Finnish people finish their secondary educations without the staggering debt American university students face after four years. Imagine what life would be like in the United States if our citizens didn’t have to face enormous medical and education debts? There would be more money in our pockets to spend on what we need or want, meaning more money for the American economy.
Teachers in Finland enjoy a very different culture too. They’re paid professional salaries and treated like professionals. The education system shares nothing in common with the education system in the United States, except there are school buildings full of students and education staff. Teachers in Finland don’t face useless standardized tests or merit pay based on test scores that assess nothing. Unlike Americans considering career choices, many Finnish people consider the teaching profession a desired one. Most of all, teachers in Finland are treated with respect.
Being the typical American, you’re probably saying to yourself right now, “Sure, they get all those social programs, but they cost money. How much more taxes are they paying?”
Good question. Let’s take a look at individual taxes in Finland. Finnish taxpayers pay income taxes, property taxes, capital gains taxes, pension fees and corporate taxes. They also have a VAT tax on things they buy. Being part of the Eurozone, all of the taxes in Finland can’t exceed the standards set by the European Union. Income taxes progress from a rate of 6.5% to 30% based on income. The corporate tax rate in Finland starting in January, 2014 is 20%. VAT taxes are 24% with lower rates of 13% and 9% for food and restaurants. Pension fees are 23% of gross income, but the employer pays most of that. Capital gains taxes are 30% or 32% based on income. In the United States income taxes alone range from 10% to 39%.
What does this mean? It means that the Finnish pay a little more in taxes, but they get heath care, free public education through college, and a healthy start when they’re born. Finland has a truly pro-life policy that Americans can’t even imagine.
And what about abortion in Finland? It’s legal, and covered by their federally funded universal health care. Even with the incredible level of support for new mothers and their children, a Finnish woman still has the ability to be in complete control of her reproductive health.
Here in the United States the so-called Right to Life movement has never advocated for anything that would help parents raise healthy children. Instead, conservative Christians elect politicians who vote to cut support for women and children. Sequester cuts to WIC and welfare programs, cuts to SNAP benefits, huge cuts in public education, and right to work laws allowing multi-billion dollar profit businesses to pay slave wages, forcing families to rely more and more on welfare programs to help them survive. Those programs thanks to the GOP are disappearing. The good, compassionate Christian members of Michigan Right to Life lied on a petition that the Republican-dominated state legislature passed using a sneaky loophole. Michigan women are now forced to spend more money on their health care just in case they get raped. There is no verse in the Bible that says God allows people to lie when it promotes a political agenda.
The United States leads the industrialized world in child poverty. Another conservative Christian value Americans can be proud of. How can one in four children living in poverty be pro-life? It isn’t. That’s because in the United States the “pro-life” movement has nothing to do with preserving life, it’s all about punishing and shaming women for having sex.
See that dark blue country on the map directly above with the lowest child poverty rate? That’s Finland.