David Frum (Surprisingly?) Gets it Right on Abortion

Perhaps because he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, I don’t often expect to agree with David Frum.

However, in his latest piece over at CNN.com, he “gets real” about abortion and I think gets it right.  As most activists for protecting access to safe and legal abortion as an issue of women’s health know, and have been pointing out for years, Frum states:

If you’re serious about reducing abortion, the most important issue is not which abortions to ban. The most important issue is how will you support women to have the babies they want.

As a general rule, societies that do the most to support mothers and child-bearing have the fewest abortions. Societies that do the least to support mothers and child-bearing have more abortions.

Frum goes on to give examples about maternal health policies and practices from Germany as a prime example of a nation with socialized medicine and generous health benefits, and one of the world’s lowest abortion rates.  And, he points out:

Even here in the United States, where parental benefits are much less generous, abortion responds to economic conditions. In the prosperous 1990s, abortion rates declined rapidly. In the less prosperous ’00s, abortion rates declined more slowly. When the economy plunged into crisis in 2008, abortion rates abruptly rose again.

I’ve noted here on this blog how Bryce Covert highlighted this economic reality over at The Nation earlier this year.  Frum continues:

These trends should not surprise anyone. Women choose abortion for one overwhelming reason: economic insecurity. The large majority of women who chose abortion in 2008, 57%, reported a disruptive event in their lives in the previous 12 months: most often, the loss of a job or home.

Of the women who choose abortion, 58% are in their 20s. Some 61% of them already have a child. Almost 70% of them are poor or near poor.

Three-quarters say they cannot afford another child.

It is important to note, in contrast to what anti-choicers and blog trolls will say, that this is not a cavalier decision a woman makes, and not one that paves the way for killing children if you lose your job.  Only Pat Robertson would jump to that nonsensical conclusion.

Frum gives examples from the Netherlands and why immigrant women’s abortion rates have been rising:

They chose abortion because they had become sexually active within male-dominated immigrant subcultures in which access to birth control was restricted, in which female sexuality was tightly policed, in which girls who become pregnant outside marriage are disgraced and in which the costs and obligations of childbearing loaded almost entirely on women alone.

Thus, globally:

Abortion is a product of poverty and maternal distress.

Not only can we do something to alleviate these things, we have in living memory in this country a keen understanding of what life was like when abortion was not safe and legal:

 A woman who enjoys the most emotional and financial security and who has chosen the timing of her pregnancy will not choose abortion, even when abortion laws are liberal. A woman who is dominated, who is poor and who fears bearing the child is likely to find an abortion, even where abortion is restricted, as it was across the United States before 1965.

Regardless of political persuasion, if we do in fact get real about abortion and reproductive justice, rather than getting hyperbolic, we can all get it right.

Pic via



About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Frank

    Meanwhile 6000 innocent unborn children have been killed this week, 97 % due to reasons of convenience. No morality, no excuse but hey keep trying to justify the unjustifiable. You should be so proud!

    • http://stanmanx.com Matt S


      I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

      • Frank

        It means exactly what we think it means:

        1. the quality of being convenient; suitability.
        2. anything that saves or simplifies work, adds to one’s ease or comfort, etc., as an appliance, utensil, or the like.
        3. a convenient situation or time: at your convenience.

        The facts are the facts.

    • pagansister

      Weren’t those the numbers you used earlier this week? Surely they must have changed by NOW! Jeeze, Frank, you really need new arguments or something.

      • http://stanmanx.com Matt S

        I can’t help but wonder if we’re failing the Turing test…

      • Frank

        The facts don’t change. While you are looking for something new another 6000 innocent unborn children were killed this week.

    • Jake

      The abortion issue is not so morally simple as murder vs. not murder. No one, born or unborn, has the right to another person’s body. No court in the US would require a drunk driver to give a kidney to a pedestrian the driver hit – not even if the pedestrian would die without it. The court couldn’t even demand the driver give up a pint of blood. If our society refused to demand this of a drunk driver then it is lunacy to demand a raped woman carry the rapists’ offspring to term.

      Our society holds a person’s ability to control one’s possessions so sacred that it is perfectly acceptable for a homeowner to shoot a trespasser dead to prevent the theft of his TV. If we, as a society don’t bat an eye at this, then how do we justify denying a woman agency over her own body.

      I have no right to your body, not even if my life is the price.

  • http://towardfatherhood.com j oliver


    I’m new to this conversation and have some questions, if you will allow…

    Abortion is called “an issue of women’s health” early in this piece, but the following discussion seems to center around “cost and obligation.” Is unwanted pregnancy viewed more as a matter of physical health, or as a watershed fiscal event?

    What does the phrase “do the most to support mothers” mean in a practical sense? My support of the rhetoric could exist indefinitely as mere lazy moralism…but what action does the ideal aim to inspire?

    The final quote suggests, “A woman who enjoys the most emotional and financial security and who has chosen the timing of her pregnancy will not choose abortion.” A governing body has the means to assist with financial stability, but that’s less than half the battle. How does a government or society go about manufacturing or managing emotional security and good decision-making? Can health policies and social opinion address our complex emotional framework, or affect the [wise or unwise] decisions it drives? I wonder if even Frum’s highly educated opinion is yet another acute oversimplification.

    Thank you for your words, your passion, and your patience.
    j. oliver

  • Karen

    So today Randall Terry put up a disgusting ad claiming that Obama’s election will bring bloody jihad, with lavishly illustrated death and destruction. (This time it was the muslims, not abortion doctors that set him off.) What is it about these guys — the anti-abortion guys– that makes so many of them feed on anger and confrontation?

    Can you help me with that Frank?

    • Frank

      I do not support violence or lies to support the value of life. The truth about abortion is more than enough. No need to lie. There are extremists on both sides.

      Are you suggesting that everyone who is pro-life is anti-Muslim?

      On a side note I can understand how the wanton killing of innocent life could make someone very angry. Its a righteous anger but violence and lying are unacceptable.