Quick Response #19: Legislate Against Poverty, not Abortion

In this Quick Response video, Emily Albrecht explains that the idea that we can reduce abortion significantly by legislating against poverty and allowing abortion is a red herring. Even if financial motivators are a commonly cited reason for choosing abortion, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

NOTE: We had a small editing mistake. Partway through the video, Emily is saying “it’s not obvious for what percentage abortion was motivated ONLY by financial reasons,” but the video cut is missing the word “not.”

Watch all the videos in ERI’s Quick Response series here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLsN8Ay8poS-It-dWSmblq1ZufOH-MVj1L

Related Links:

Guttmacher’s data on reasons women choose abortion: https://www.guttmacher.org/journals/psrh/2005/reasons-us-women-have-abortions-quantitative-and-qualitative-perspectives

The Equal Rights Argument: https://youtu.be/louYc-9cvE0

Script Text

“Don’t just treat the symptom without addressing the root cause.” That’s the attitude a lot of people have when we talk about opposing legal abortion. They argue that abortion is REALLY just a symptom of poverty; disproportionately, it’s poor people who get abortions, and therefore you shouldn’t stop abortion directly—they say that would just hurt poor people—you have to instead stop it indirectly by ending poverty first.

(intro sequence)

Let’s start by making this pro-choice argument as strong as we can. In a 2004 Guttmacher study, 73 percent of women cited “the inability to afford a baby now” as a reason they got an abortion. This was one of the highest responses, but most women selected multiple reasons for their abortion. Clearly, feelings of financial inability have some role in motivating abortion choice.

However, it’s just as clear that 27 percent of women surveyed did NOT say the financial cost of the child was a major factor. There can be some argument about whether some women could make the choice to get an abortion because of poverty without selecting inability to afford a child as a reason, but it seems fair to say that around a quarter of abortions, at least, are not motivated by poverty.

That makes sense, because it’s not just poor people who get abortions. The idea that abortion is just a result of poverty makes false claims about who does and doesn’t seek an abortion. Even if we eradicated poverty, AND if eradicating poverty had the effect implied by the pro-choice person making this argument, we’d probably still have over a quarter of our current abortion total every year.

But that doesn’t account for the fact that women usually cited multiple reasons for their abortions, and those other reasons aren’t going away just because poverty does. It’s not obvious for what percentage abortion was motivated ONLY by financial reasons, but since the median number of reasons given was four, and 89 percent of women gave at least two reasons, we can guess that it’s at most in the single digits. So, working against abortion just by entirely solving poverty would probably make a minimal impact on the actual number of abortions.

Of course, all this sidesteps the most obvious problem with the argument: just because you’re poor doesn’t make it okay to kill someone! If the fetus is a person, it would be wrong to kill that person EVEN IF doing so would prevent you from going into poverty or get you out of poverty.

If this comes up in your conversation, I would recommend doing a little common grounding about the real difficulties and stressors of parenting without financial resources. Then, I would Trot Out a Toddler: after setting the stage, ask if it would be morally acceptable to kill a toddler for the financial reasons used to justify abortion. At this point, you should be ready to make the Equal Rights Argument to explain why you believe the fetus is a valuable person like us, so if it’s wrong to kill a toddler for financial reasons, abortion must be wrong too.

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