The Supreme Court’s controversial overturning of Roe v. Wade has exposed stark divides in the nation. Millions of woman will lose the right to bodily autonomy not because the court had a compelling case to leave the right to have an abortion up to the states, but, as Linda Greenhouse pointed out in her excellent piece on the matter, its conservative majority could.
Pro-lifers — a label that seems hypocritical when considering those who need medically necessary abortions will face more barriers in some states, putting their lives at risk — have lauded the decision as a victory for the unborn, or as many conservatives have echoed in some fashion “giving a voice to the voiceless.” Pope Francis after the decision, albeit without directly referencing it, urged families to reject “toxins of selfishness, individualism, today’s culture of indifference and waste” and to “not to ‘look back’ to miss your former life, your former freedom, with its deceptive illusions.”
However, all of this is underscored and undermined by the ugly elephant in the room that few are talking about: This decision will force more woman to take unwanted pregnancies to term. This will leave some to take care of children they can’t afford or support, while many other children will become wards of the state, putting even more stress on overwhelmed state foster care systems.
Social programs seem to be where conservatives’ commitment to family and children seem to end. In fact, The Associated Press found that states with the harshest abortion laws were among the “hardest places to have and raise a healthy child, especially for the poor,” noting weak social programs were a key contributing factor. Their analysis measured “the percentage of children in poverty; participation in the Women, Infants, Children federal assistance program; the rate of child abuse or neglect; women experiencing intimate partner violence during pregnancy; low birth weight; women receiving no prenatal care in their first trimester; and uninsured children in poverty.” It found that “generally, states with preemptive abortion bans or laws that greatly restrict abortion access showed the worst rankings.”
Furthermore, a comprehensive 2003 study from the Guttmacher Institute found that the legalization of abortion as a result of Roe v. Wade led to a decline in births and adoptions, while notably improving outcomes for those who were born, noting “abortion legalization may have led to an improvement in the average living conditions of children, probably by reducing the numbers of youngsters who would have lived in single-parent families, lived in poverty, received welfare and died as infants.” For adoptions specifically, the study suggests abortion legalization might have reduced the number of children relinquished to foster care for adoption. Based on this, it is reasonable to expect in states that ban abortion to see an increase in childhood poverty and an influx of new kids entering their foster care systems; the latter will exacerbate existing shortcoming in these systems.
Abortion bans will force women to give birth if they don’t have the means to travel to a state that allows the procedure, which will force many to give birth to children they’re not able to support. The so-called Turnaway Study, a long-term analysis that followed nearly 1,000 women who sought an abortion across 21 states over a decade, found that 61 percent of those who were turned away from having an abortion were living in poverty, and were more likely to be poor over the next four years, though they rarely surrendered their children for adoption — a route pro-lifers often cite as an all-too easy alternative to abortion (it’s not).
At a time where full time minimum wage workers can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country or a one-bedroom apartment in 93 percent of U.S. counties, not everyone has the financial means to support an unexpected child. Having a child is a serious decision that demands family planning, a consensual desire to have kids and a lifelong commitment. It’s not a decision the state should be making for people, and taking that choice away from women will only lead to negative outcomes, especially in jurisdictions that neglect social programs that give families the support they need.
This hypocrisy of banning abortions while also failing to support families is precisely why a 1996 clip of George Carlin’s standup has been circulating online. Carlin has remained relevant even 14 years after his death because his comedy was grounded in a strong critique of our society and its rhetoric that can be applied to present issues:
“They’re all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you! No nothing! No neonatal care, no day care, no Head Start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing.”
As a former foster child, I’ve witnessed firsthand what happens when birth parents aren’t able to raise their children, and the unfortunate truth is that blocking access to abortion will not magically make those that want or need them able and willing to raise children they’re not ready to have.
The only way to meaningfully encourage more people to start families is to economically empower them.