Where Will the Parents Come From?

Peter Boninger/Stone Sub —Getty Images

I read a New York Times debate about the adoption tax credit yesterday.  It struck me as a topic worthy of thoughtful discussion but paling in importance compared to larger questions like why does adoption cost so much in the first place.  Bigger even still is, if the Republican platform to outlaw all abortion comes to pass, where will all the parents come from?

The miracle of birth is full of mystery.  When I was pregnant, I marveled that anyone could ever be born at all.  It seems to go against all odds.  One thing that is not a mystery, thanks to scientific inquiry, however, is the conception process.  Human life does not begin at conception any more than a test tube full of my blood has a life of its own.  Human cells? yes.  Human life? no.

What about the human soul?  Do humans get souls at the zygote or blastocyst stage?  When an embryo or fetus or baby?  That question brings religious belief into a medical discussion. I don’t know the answer.  It’s a mystery to me.  Bring me someone who believes souls are imaginary and someone else who believes every sperm has a soul and I’ll let them try to convince each other.  Neither will be able to prove his beliefs to the other.  If you have ponderings on how humans grow into their souls, I invite you to share them here.  I promise I will respect your thoughts, and I won’t demand you prove anything.

Is it wise to base public policy on religious beliefs that are held only by some and that no one can prove?  Legislating public policy based on its practical consequences seems to be firmer ground. I was wondering about the practical consequences of restricting abortion access, so I did a little googling.

There are 117,000 domestic infant adoptions a year.  A rule of thumb is three families are waiting for every family that adopts, so about 300,000 more families want infants.  Half of US pregnancies are unintended, and of those somewhat less than half, or 1.3 million, end in abortion annually.  Adoption would not be the answer for more than a million unwanted babies every year.

There’s nowhere for babies to go but to the mothers who didn’t want them.  The reason women choose abortion is less emotional ability to care for a baby than economic ability. And who knows better the demands of raising a child than mothers? 72%  of women seeking abortions are already mothers. That’s 10% more than in the years before the economic collapse.  42% of women seeking abortion live below the poverty line already and another 27% have income low enough to qualify for Medicaid.

What is the social impact of outlawing abortion?  Check my math here, but it looks to me like 42% of 1.2 million (allowing for 0.1M adoptions), or 500,000 infants, will be born into poverty every year.  Add that to the 22% of US children already living in poverty. Some of the 78% of kiddos living less than $4,000 above the poverty line will fall below it simply by virtue of the addition of a new household member.  If that’s half of those qualifying for Medicaid but not poor, 230,000 children technically above the poverty line will slip below it with the birth of a new sibling.  Obviously, the infants born into those newly poor families will also be born into poverty, so add another 160,000 babies for a total of 890,000 children entering poverty.  Every year.  The US presently has 73 million children.  If abortion were outlawed, the number of children in poverty would rise more than 5% every year.

Forget compassion for children, what’s the economic impact on US taxpayers?  64% of the 1.6 million unplanned births were paid by public programs, primarily Medicaid, at a cost of $11.1 billion.  Adding another 900,000 Medicaid births (69% of 1.3 million averted abortions) would nearly double the public cost to $21 billion.

Of course, that is merely the cost of being born.  The costs of childhood poverty are far reaching and top $500 billion per year.  Citizens crying for a bigger tax base and smaller safety net could accomplish both by decreasing poverty.  Limiting access to family planning is a step in the wrong direction.

Join the conversation.  How do you weigh the ethics for and against forcing poor women to have babies they know they can’t afford?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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The M-Word

Middle class.  Isn’t that what this year’s presidential election is all about?  Not so fast, says Jim Wallis.  He is the CEO of Sojourners, an organization promoting faith in action with a Christian take on social justice.  Here’s what he has to say about 2012 election politics:

Jesus didn’t say “What you have done for the middle class, you have done for me.”

As we enter into the final stretch of the upcoming elections, we need to talk about the “P” word – Poverty.  Both political conventions talked a lot about the middle class, but what you didn’t hear much about was the poor and marginalized.  “Opportunity” was another key word at both conventions this summer.  As Christians, we must be clear that creating new opportunities must include poor children and low-income families.

We are called to care for the least of these, but how does that translate in selecting our public servants?

Jim Wallis addresses this question in his Sojourners feature article, “How to Choose a President,” and a free “Why Voting Matters” downloadable voting guide.   Click here to learn about Sojourners and here for the current magazine issue.

Entitlement” seems to be emerging as another of those presidential election key words, as discussed in the last post’s comments.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the Jewish tradition of tzedakah both suggest a human desire for self-sufficiency, not dependence.  Are there as many poor people abusing the social safety net as voters trying to justify eliminating it would like to believe?  The truth is, most citizens do feel entitled to safe roads, clean water, 911 emergency assistance, hazardous weather alerts, mail delivery and so on.  Let us not leave out education.  Even those educated exclusively in private institutions benefit from a well-educated populace.  And let’s be honest, most private educational institutions depend on government grants, tax exemptions or tuition aid—government benefits enjoyed for the most part by the rich.  Where is the line between entitlement and the marks of a just and civil society?

One dynamic emerging out of the current election politics is the humorous (and somewhat disingenuous) trend toward everyone considering themselves middle class.  What counts as middle class?  The answer is inflated by taxpayer self-interest.  Self-interest aside, however, could you agree to define the middle class as those with household income not in the bottom 25% or in the top 25% but in the middle 50%?  If so, then according to IRS 2009 tax returns, middle class families have income less than $66,000 per year.  More than that puts you in the top 25%.  More than $154,000 puts you in the top 5%.  Some notable 2012 election candidates are arguing that the middle class extends into this top 5% group.

Is it simply a matter of retaining popular tax deductions or escaping the “fair share” levied on the rich?  Or is there more to the desire to be “middle class” than that?  Do over-the-top lifestyles celebrated in the media skew our perceptions?  Is it a herd mentality that makes us comfortable in the middle instead of in the extremes?  Or does a simple lack of diversity awareness allow us to presume we’re in the majority even when we’re not?

Join the conversation.  What opportunities extended to the poor and marginalized would actually lift up and benefit the middle class?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.