Is ending poverty the best way to end abortion? If people were really serious about being pro-life, would they support new social welfare programs?
It’s a common piece of rhetoric from the pro-abortion left–usually intended to cast shade on the character and motivations of the pro-life movement. But occasionally, it comes in the form of friendly fire from the few remaining pro-life Democrats. It’s the latter that you can find in a recent blog post at the Jagged Word in which Graham Glover questions the integrity of pro-lifers who don’t support his social programs:
But if you really hate abortion, if you really want the hundreds of thousands of abortions that occur every year in America to end, then you should support policies and laws that end, or at least seek to radically reduce, poverty.
If America is truly is a Pro-Life nation, then our policies and laws should focus not only on making most abortions illegal. Rather, they should focus first and foremost on ensuring that women are not forced to make such a life-altering decision.
To that end, I want you to imagine a different America. An America whose policies and laws support life well beyond the act of making abortion illegal.
Imagine if every American woman who was pregnant didn’t have to worry about how she was going to pay for her and her child’s medical care during and after the pregnancy. If you can imagine this, then you can imagine a nation that insures every one of its citizens from conception to death.
Imagine if every American woman who was pregnant didn’t have to go to bed at night wondering how she was going to feed herself and her child during and after the pregnancy. If you can imagine this, then you can imagine a nation that guarantees a living wage to every one of its citizens.
Imagine if every American woman who was pregnant didn’t have to be anxious about how her pregnancy will affect her career. If you can imagine this, then you can imagine a nation that has more generous maternal leave policies and begins to have a serious conversation about paternal leave.
Imagine if every American woman who was pregnant didn’t have to rely solely on the income of her unborn child’s father to provide for them. If you can imagine this, then you can imagine a nation that finally addresses the gross income disparity between men and women.
And finally, imagine if every American woman who was pregnant but wasn’t sure if she was ready to be a mother had the assurance that her child would be placed into a loving foster or adoptive home. If you can imagine this, then you can imagine a nation that puts is money and its rhetoric where its mouth is by radically expanding foster and adoptive services and supporting them in ways far beyond what our budgets currently allot.
If the millions of Americans that hate abortion can imagine these things, if we can support policies and laws that make these things a reality, then maybe, just maybe, more women will choose not to have an abortion. And that’s what the Pro-Life Movement is truly about. A culture that supports life. A culture that encourages life. A culture that enriches life.
Hate abortion? Me too. Hate abortion? Then support policies and laws that end poverty.
Given that it’s a Christian blog, I suppose thinking you’ll end poverty also means imagining that Jesus never told us the poor would always be with us. But let’s ignore that for a moment and focus on the heart of the question: Is the pressure created by poverty the primary reason people abort?
If you look at the world primarily through the lens of sob stories, then this argument will be compelling because you’ll see abortion the same way: Women in horrible situations forced to make a kind of Sophie’s choice between murdering their children or ruining their lives. But if you could provide enough support that having a baby wouldn’t strain her resources, then you could relieve some of that pressure and remove or at least reduce the temptation to abort.
There is one glaring problem with this point of view, however: We cannot imagine children who don’t require tremendous self-sacrifice from their parents. Abortion, on the other hand, is fundamentally selfish. It is simply killing your own child so that you may continue to live as you wish.
Having children is always both extremely rewarding and extremely difficult. They interrupt our lives in a radical way and completely reorient our priorities away from ourselves and towards them. There are many ways to raise children, but none of them entail living the same way you lived before they were born. In a very real sense, parents have to give up everything for our kids–our time, our talents, our treasure–and we only ever recover a portion of that. And that’s true whether we’re poor, middle class, or wealthy. If we could avoid that sacrifice at all, it would be at the expense of being disengaged from their children’s lives and therefore missing out on this great blessing which dwarfs what we possessed before they were born. Parents will always need to be selfless because children are a treasure that we can only acquire at great price. Moving someone up the economic ladder changes very little about this reality.
Nowhere is this made clearer than in Glover’s suggestion that we “Imagine if every American woman who was pregnant didn’t have to be anxious about how her pregnancy will affect her career. If you can imagine this, then you can imagine a nation that has more generous maternal leave policies and begins to have a serious conversation about paternal leave.” Our children will always affect our careers no matter how long our leave periods are. Does working overtime stop being problem if we only returned to work when our children were 4 years old? Do we no longer need flexibility in our schedule once they turn 7? Do we stop considering how our career decisions affect our family when they’re 12? If you are willing to murder your own child for the sake of an unaffected career, then there is no amount of social assistance that will make this temptation bearable for you.
In the face of the enduring sacrificial commitment that loving your children entails, all these policies are a matter of plucking a few proverbial straws off of camels’ backs. None of them change the fundamentally sacrificial nature of parenthood or the fundamentally selfish nature of abortion.
Now, one might object that even removing a few straws will prevent a few backs from being broken. I do think it’s plausible to believe that there would be the occasional circumstance when the rendered assistance is just enough to tip the scales away from choosing death. Should we then pursue these policies because saving even a few lives is worth any price?
The problem is that those straws aren’t just disappearing. These policies do nothing but take the straws off of some backs so that they can be lain on others. For every occasional abortion prevented because of a generous leave policy, another abortion will happen because the mother is working too much overtime to handle a child. For every occasional abortion prevented because of welfare, another abortion will happen because the people tasked with paying for other people’s children feel as though they can’t afford one of their own. If, as Glover supposes, a lack of resources is the primary motivation for abortion, then the cost of policies that take resources from people and give them to others will be measured in lives as well as dollars.
But the problem doesn’t end there. This isn’t our first rodeo, and we’ve seen exactly what leftists do when their policies fail to bring about the desired results. When the Glovers of the world get their policies enacted and see that the poor remain with us and abortions continue to be committed, they nearly always respond by doubling-down on those policies. Make the leave policies more generous! Spend more on health care! Redistribute more straws! In the end, the various costs of these programs will become so high that poverty will increase rather than decrease and–by Glover’s logic–increase abortions rather than decrease them.
But as we’ve already noted, Glover’s logic is flawed. It is not poverty, but rather selfishness that causes abortions because parenthood is never cheap. And what’s the most effective way of making people more selfish? Giving them a strong sense of entitlement. And that is what lies at the heart of Glover’s policies–reinforcing the belief that people are entitled to generous leave policies; reinforcing the belief that women are entitled to equal pay for unequal work; reinforcing the belief that we’re entitled to never be economically uncomfortable. Being the sinner I am, I know very well how painful entitlement and self-centeredness make parenthood. Whetting our appetites for self by trumpeting that we aren’t handed enough free stuff to be parents makes the temptation to abortion incalculably greater.
So the aspersions that Glover and others cast on pro-life conservatives fall flat. Not only can you really truly oppose abortion without embracing leftist social policies, you can do so a lot more effectively.