The Guttmacher Institute’s estimate that if current rates continue, one of every three American women will have had an abortion by age 45 spawned a blog speculating that, given those statistics, many avid Pro-Life women must be having abortions. A response to that blog cited a link to a site listing scores of anecdotal accounts of Pro-Life women hypocritically accessing abortions for themselves or their daughters.
I’m not surprised the abortion issue might spawn a little hypocrisy. Abortion is an emotional topic and everyone is convinced theirs is the only moral position. Politicians and lobbyists use it as a hot button issue to support their own interests. Currently, health insurance companies are fighting health care reform with rumors that government plans will use tax dollars to fund abortions. My evangelical sons and my Molly Mormon daughter side with pro-lifers. My liberal daughters consider the pro-life campaign a plot by men to control women. My little old aunt opposes abortion because she thinks any woman who indulges in sex for any reason except procreation is a skank who deserves what she gets.
I don’t know any pro-choice advocate who thinks abortion is good; it is a sad procedure that deals with an area of ethics and morality most of us prefer leaving to God. Ending unwanted pregnancies is not a modern invention—desperate women have attempted abortion with varying degrees of safety and success for centuries.
Current abortion statistics reveal that only13 % of abortions are performed for medical reasons such as to protect the health or life of the mother or because of a defective fetus. About 1% are due to rape or incest. All but the most radical pro-lifers consider these legitimate reasons to terminate a pregnancy. That leaves over 86% of abortions performed for reasons more difficult to understand. Without knowing why women have abortions, we can only deal with the symptoms, not with the problem.
What do we know about women who have abortions? According to the Guttmacher Institute, they tend to be very poor, young (50% are under 25), unmarried and/or in troubled relationships—women who are not in a position to offer adequate care to a helpless baby. Sixty percent have other children to care for. A legitimate question to ask is, does it benefit the babies or society as a whole for these women to give birth? And if the state concludes that women in adverse circumstances must go through with unwanted pregnancies, then does the state not have a responsibility to provide funds for medical treatment, counseling, education and social support for these mothers and children?
Health and safety, concern for the sanctity of life, and protection of the helpless are the most common reasons given for the state’s right to regulate or prohibit abortion. Concern for the woman’s health and safety in terminating a pregnancy is a major argument for legalized abortion. If we rescind legal abortion but do nothing to address the problem of unwanted pregnancies, we can expect that many women will opt for illegal, dangerous abortions. This will protect neither the fetus nor the mother.
A controversial report by Steven Levitt of Stanford Law School and John Donohue of the University of Chicago theorized that half the drop in the crime rate in the 1990’s can be attributed to the legalization of abortion in 1973. They reason that many of the aborted babies would have been born to impoverished mothers and would have likely grown up to commit crimes. While this link can’t be proven, it is sobering to realize the effect that babies born to poor, troubled women who cannot care for them has on society.
Arguing over laws to restrict or regulate abortion is about as helpful as reasoning with a cranky two-year-old. Rather than wasting rhetoric on pro-life/pro-choice arguments, we need to examine the reasons women seek abortions and work to reduce the causes.