Last week was the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Some pro-life commentators marked the occasion by pointing out that over 50 million pregnancies have been terminated since the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling.
I believe in gender equality. My wife and I have an egalitarian marriage. I support equal pay for equal work. I believe women are every bit as capable of leadership as men—in every sphere of life, from the boardroom to the church.
I also consider myself pro-life, though I like to think that “pro-life” means more than just opposing abortion. For me, neither Roe v. Wade nor 50 million abortions are cause for celebration.
Still, as we mark this tragic milestone, I find myself wondering:
What if these 50 million unborn children had been allowed to live? What kind of life would they have had?
Consider the fact that many women choose abortion out of economic necessity, perceived or real. More than 40% who had an abortion in 2008 lived below the U.S. poverty line ($10,830 for a single woman with no children). The claim often made by pro-life groups that most abortions are “elective” doesn’t take into account the realities of being a single woman trapped in poverty.
Imagine trying to get by on less than $11,000 a year. Now imagine trying to raise a child on that.
By even the most conservative estimate, up to half of these 50 million kids would have grown up in dire economic circumstances, with severely limited access to nutrition, health care, education, and economic opportunity.
Please don’t take this as a chilling attempt to rationalize abortion. It’s not. What I’m asking is, would those of us who call ourselves “pro-life” have taken care of these kids? Would we have insisted that we as a society make sure they experience the very best life has to offer?
Pro-lifers argue (convincingly, in my opinion) that it’s unfair to penalize a fetus simply because it was “unplanned.” But if that’s true with respect to whether that fetus is allowed to be born, isn’t it equally true with respect to what kind of life a child has after he or she is born? If a child who results from an unplanned pregnancy is innocent, doesn’t that child have the right not just to be born, but to have a decent life, too?
Now imagine another 25 million children had been born into poverty over the last 39 years, as would have been the case if Roe v. Wade had never happened. There would have been significantly higher demand for government assistance — ironically, at a time when many conservatives who rightly lament the tragedy of abortion are also insisting on deep cuts to these very programs. The increased demand on private charity would have been substantial as well.
So would we have risen to the occasion?
Would we have considered it a fair tradeoff? A bit more government welfare, a bit more charitable giving — in exchange for fewer (or no) abortions?
In ancient Roman cities like Ephesus, it was common to discard unwanted children (usually girls), leaving them to die in the local dump or to be picked up by slave traders. It’s been reported that some Christians would comb the dumps, rescuing unwanted children. They didn’t just work themselves into a fit of righteous indignation; they gave of themselves, bringing life where death had previously reigned.
I’ll never forget the day in college when my political science professor, a registered Democrat, stunned his mostly conservative students (myself included) by saying, “You want to be pro-life? Fine. But put your money where your mouth is. Instead of spending it all lobbying against Roe v. Wade, use some of it to give that teenage girl who’s pregnant and scared another option.”
I know there’s a lot of debate over the effectiveness of government welfare at discouraging abortion. Still, the question remains:
If those 50 million children were alive today, would we as a society have expended ourselves to give them a real shot at a decent life?
Have we been just as pro-life outside the womb as we are in it?
4 thoughts on “50 million abortions later, the question we still aren’t asking…”
Great post, Ben. Sadly, the debate over abortion has been reduced to a series of black-and-white, mindless, emotionally charged buzzwords that are used to stigmatize the “other side” and preclude any meaningful discussion of nuances (and yes, there are many). It’s human nature to take this approach to tough, complex issues, but we do ourselves a major disservice when we oversimplify a topic as serious as abortion. And the “pro-life” camp undermines its credibility with someone like myself (who has long wrestled with this issue) when they invest more time demonizing those who disagree than they do asking the critical questions you outline in this post.
Thanks Peter! I would add that a consistent pro-life ethic demands we also take another look at issues from capital punishment to foreign policy…not just abortion. Love your blog, btw.
I’ve always been troubled by the fact that we like to clothe ourselves in the “pro-life” label without giving any regards to what this means in the issues beyond abortion, or with regards to what you’ve addressed here. If the pregnancy was terminated voluntarily for ANY reason – what was the potential alternative situation, and what can we do to help with the many problems that could arise from someone *not* choosing abortion as well.