Answering Objections to Abortion Ban Obligations

I wrote, yesterday, about an Indiana lawmaker who plans to propose a full abortion ban in the next legislative session. I noted that if lawmakers are going to ban abortion they should also cover women’s medical expenses, require paid maternity leave, subsidize childcare costs, and make higher education and job training programs more affordable. After all, I argued, if they’re going to require women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, that’s only fair.

Of course, abortion opponents have objections to this argument. They want to see abortion banned, but they do not think lawmakers are at all obligated to defray any of the financial needs mentioned above. There are, in my experience, two primary objections: First, women should not have sex if they’re not in the position to have children, and if they do, it’s their job to deal with the consequences. Second, women can always give children they don’t believe they’re in a position to raise up for adoption, so there’s no need to defray the costs of childrearing. These objections are worth addressing.

Sex Is a Part of Life

It’s all well and good to say that women shouldn’t have sex if they’re not prepared to have children, but real life doesn’t work like that. Human beings have a strong sex drive, and sex is an important part of most adults’ lives. Even abstinence-only sex education does not appear to change when teens begin to have sex. Regardless of whether lawmakers think they should be having sex, most women will have sex whether they feel they’re prepared to raise children or not. Some of those women will inevitably become pregnant.

We could help prevent women who are not financially prepared to raise children from having unintended pregnancies by ensuring that they have access to longterm birth control, including IUDs and implants. These methods tend to be both the most effective and the most expensive. Numerous studies have shown that when teens and low-income women are offered free access to longterm birth control, the rate of unintended pregnancies they experience drops. However, lawmakers who impose restrictions on abortion tend to oppose offering women free or low-cost longterm contraceptives—contraceptives that allow women to most effectively choose when they are or are not ready to have children.

I have seen abortion opponents argue that women who have sex when they aren’t in a position to have children and become pregnant should face the consequences—i.e., struggling with the financial costs of raising that child. However, the woman isn’t the only one who suffers in this situation; the child suffers too. Besides, this framework positions the child as a consequence to be borne. When has that framing ever worked out well? If lawmakers take steps to ensure that these women can afford to raise the children they will now be required to raise, they can help ensure that that childrearing will be a joy (and not a punishment)—for both the woman and the child.

Finally, whether or not lawmakers approve of the sex a given woman was having, they’re the ones requiring her to carry an unintended pregnancy to term. Lawmakers may view women who become pregnant unintentionally as irresponsible, but in fact, banning abortion takes away an avenue for exercising responsibility—women who abort are often doing so because it is the “responsible” thing to do. In taking away abortion, lawmakers are making the choice to require that woman to continue her pregnancy—and if they’re going to force a woman to bear a child she otherwise need not bear, they have an obligation to ensure that she can afford to raise it.

Adoption Is Not Magic

When I point out that attempts to restrict abortion should be coupled with social programs to ensure that women can afford to raise the children that result from unintended pregnancies, I am frequently informed that a woman does not have to raise a child she bears—she can give it up for adoption. This is presented as a win-win—women don’t have to raise or financially provide for children that result from pregnancies they didn’t intend to have, no abortions required. There are several problems with this response.

To begin with, let’s not underestimate the invasiveness of pregnancy. Pregnancy comes with a variety of health risks. Some women spend months on bedrest.  Even absent major medical problems, women who have jobs that require a lot of standing may find the last few months of pregnancy trying—and then there’s childbirth and recovery. We don’t force women to become surrogates for a reason. While abortion opponents might argue that this is simply part of the package—that when you have sex you open yourself up to the possibility of undergoing pregnancy—abortion renders this untrue. Women can still choose. If lawmakers ban abortion, it is that ban, and not women’s decision to have sex, that will ultimately force women to undergo pregnancy whether they want to or not.

There is a reason the rate of domestic infant adoptions has decreased: Single women who become pregnant and carry to term now choose to keep their babies, rather than giving them up for adoption. Today, 40% of all births are out of wedlock. Having a baby outside of marriage no longer carries the same level of stigma it once did; today, women who become pregnant out of wedlock and choose to carry it tend to keep the baby rather than giving it up. Given this context, take steps to ensure that these women can raise their children themselves rather than assuming women in tight financial situations will give their babies up for adoption?

Forty-nine percent of abortion patients are below the poverty level. I am severely uncomfortable with requiring a woman to choose between raising a child in grinding poverty and giving it up. I understand that women have long faced this choice. I understand that women who do give infants up for adoption often do so because they believe their child will have a better life in an adoptive home than what they could give them. I am in no way denigrating that choice. I know many people who are adopted, or who have adopted. I am absolutely in support of adoption. However. In our country, we have a history of coercive adoption. I do not like that history. I believe in choice, and that means raising that child should at least be an option—and that requires ensuring that there are social programs in place to defray some of the most prohibitive costs involved in that undertaking.

Finally, not every baby is adoptable. The majority of abortion patients are women of color. While healthy white infants are often in high demand, babies with disabilities or medical problems, or babies of color, may wind up in foster care rather than in the arms of a couple desperate to have a child. Our foster care system is chronically underfunded, and outcomes are often poor. Proponents of adoption argue that adoption offers women with unintended pregnancies the chance to know that their children are in loving homes, but this is not always true. After all, our foster care system is full of children who are legally adoptable, and yet not adopted. Infants may fare better, but this is not a universal given, and would not necessarily remain true if the adoption market were flooded with new infants.

Conclusion

Any argument that women should close their legs if they don’t want the expense of raising children, or that women who can’t afford to raise children should simply give their baby up for adoption, rests on a number of problematic assumptions. Women who might choose abortion if the procedure is available would not necessarily choose adoption if required to carry that pregnancy to term. Any attempt to require women to deal with the expenses of raising an unintended child as a consequence of having sex when they weren’t financially prepared to raise a child punishes the child as well as the woman. This is not that complicated.

No lawmaker—in Indiana or elsewhere—should be allowed to even talk about banning abortion without someone pointing out the incumbent obligation to ensure that women faced with unintended pregnancies they must now carry to term are financially able to adequately care for and raise that child. Oh—and I’ll add mental healthcare to the list I outlined in my previous post.

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