by Elizabeth Broadbent
She gets pregnant. She looks at the positive test and thinks some version of, “Oh, no.” She can’t possibly be pregnant right now. So she schedules an appointment at the local abortion clinic. When she gets there, she’s met by people chanting the rosary. She hears offers of a crisis pregnancy center. A man approaches her, tries to talk her out of an abortion. But she’s scared. She takes the arm of the clinic escort and lets the woman lead her past the protesters. She goes inside where, with sadness and relief, she kills her child.
This is the narrative that the mainstream pro-life movement lives by. Woman has unprotected sex. Woman gets positive pregnancy test. Woman shows up at the clinic, the last-ditch effort of the movement to save her child. More often than not, they fail.
They fail because many don’t understand what’s happening with the woman. She’s not married (85.3%), but she may be living with someone (25%). You don’t have to tell her that abortion stills a beating heart; she’s had a baby before (45.8%). She knows exactly what she’s losing when she goes into that clinic, because she had to arrange childcare to get there. She probably lives in a metropolitan county (50%) and she’s three times as likely to be on Medicaid than other women. She also is likely to identify as Protestant (37%) or Catholic (28%).
But let’s break the situation down even further. She’s having an abortion for three reasons: a baby would interfere with work or school; she can’t afford a baby; she doesn’t want to be a single parent or she’s having trouble with the father of the baby. Being more likely to be on Medicaid means being more likely to poor, emphasizing that she can’t afford to have a baby.
The political arm of the mainstream pro-life movement would solve the problem of abortion by passing laws to make it illegal or difficult to obtain. After all, if a woman can’t walk in the clinic door, she can’t kill her child. That’s the point where they would intervene in the narrative: at the crisis point.
What if, instead of political intervention at the crisis point, we attack the root causes of abortion — we stop abortion before that desperate walk from the parking lot to the clinic? This would mean, first and foremost, attacking poverty: the type of grinding poverty that leaves you unable to afford another child’s clothing or daycare. It means raising the minimum wage to a living wage, and making sure that a woman takes home the same pay as a man. According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator,
“The minimum wage does not provide a living wage for most American families. A typical family of four (two working adults, two children) needs to work nearly two full-time minimum wage jobs each (a 77-hour work week per working adult) to earn a living wage. A single parent with two children needs to work the equivalent of three and one half full-time jobs (139 hours per work week), more hours than there are in five days, to earn the living wage on a minimum wage income.”
And keep in mind that most women who seek abortions are single or not living with the father of her child. She literally can’t afford to have a child, especially if she has one already. WIC or SNAP won’t buy non-food necessities, like pots and pans, soap and cleaning products like dish detergent, toilet paper and diapers. In fact, many women have to resort to reusing diapers.
Aside from monetary concerns, women are afraid a child would ‘interfere’ with work or school. That’s because we have no comprehensive maternity care in the United States. Women aren’t guaranteed time off work without losing their jobs — while many get the standard unpaid 12 weeks, there are exceptions for small businesses. They can only dream of paid maternity leave of even a measly six weeks. The US is the only country, aside from Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea, not to mandate paid maternity leave. Other industrialized countries offer even paternity leave; Sweden gives new mothers a princely 480 days per child. We could prevent abortions by simply offering women more time off to care for their newborn infants, especially paid, making it easier for them to fit a new baby into their lives.
Moreover, once the baby is born, we have poor access to quality daycare. According to The Washington Post, a 2007 survey by the National Institute of Child Development rated the majority of daycares to be “fair” or “poor” — only 10% provided what they called “high-quality care.” Workers are “poorly paid and minimally trained.” Even worse, “State regulators don’t have enough people to inspect facilities regularly — and often face pressure to keep appalling centers open anyway.” Still, childcare remains perilously expensive for many families. In California, which performed 17% of all abortions in 2011, the cost of an infant in daycare is equivalent to 40% of the median income for a single mother. Access to affordable “high-quality” care for all mothers would make it easier to fit a[nother] baby into a busy life of work and school.
And if a full 85.3% of abortion-seeking women are not married, it would seem that marriage is a protective factor against abortion — a stable marriage, one in which the mother and father aren’t at loggerheads. Therefore, it would seem important to promote marriage: to fund government programs that help it to work, to offer free and accessible counseling programs. Programs like PREP Online, funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (and currently restricted to lower- and middle-income couples) are proven to help strengthen marriage and relationships.
Moreover, a full 40% of women who choose abortion don’t have children already, and are likely to choose adoption. Where’s the nationwide push to adopt, both from foster care and privately, the massive campaign of destigmatization, the laws in place to protect the right of the birthmother to see her child? If we can make adoption a viable option — an option that comes with maternity coverage — we can decrease the number of children killed by abortion.
There’s plenty we can do to lower the number of abortions in this country. However, most of the work needs to be done before that crisis walk. Aligning yourself with political parties that decry publicly funding maternity leave and quality daycare only increases the number of abortions. Until we can work at the root causes of the evil, we will never eliminate abortion in America. The crisis method catches a few women. But far more can keep their babies with more help: decent healthcare, more money, better places to live, quality daycare and relationship counseling. These are the ways we will lower abortion numbers in America.