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.