Failed promises of abortion

Posted: Jan 27, 2003 12:00 AM
Thirty years ago last week, the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, transforming abortion from a crime into a constitutional right. Thirty years later, it's a good time to reflect on what we were promised by abortion rights advocates and what we have gained.

Abortion, we were promised, would protect children from the horror of being unwanted and abused. Instead, after Roe, rates of child abuse and child poverty continued to soar, driven primarily by increased rates of family disintegration. In Newark, N.J., headlines scream about a child who is starved to death in a fragmented, fatherless and dysfunctional family. This is progress?

Cases like these are a grim reminder that abortion, if not a cause, has certainly proved no solution to abusive and neglectful parents.

Abortion, we were promised, was the key to progress for women. Women could have no meaningful rights unless we had the right to terminate a pregnancy. Thirty years later, abortions are disproportionately acts of the poorest and most vulnerable women among us. Half of all women having abortions, according to The New York Times, have had more than one. This is progress?

Since 1972, the feminization of poverty intensified, driven to a significant extent by dramatic, unexpected declines in the likelihood that a pregnant single woman will be able to make a stable marriage. Economists George Akerlof and Janet Yellen suggest that abortion was a technology shock, reducing the expectations of men and women about male responsibility in the event of pregnancy. This is progress?

Indeed, despite the repeated contention that women cannot be free or equal unless we are freed from responsibility for the lives our bodies make, a 1999 study by V.K. Pillai and G. Wang in Social Science Journal tried and failed to find any correlation between United Nations measures of social, economic or political equality for women and legalized abortion. Across the globe, there appears to be no relationship between economic and political rights for women and abortion rights.

What abortion does deliver for women is the ability to routinely engage in the sexual practices of the worst kind: meaningless sex with uncommitted partners, aka sexual liberation. The irony for women is that these risky sexual practices are not even very enjoyable. For women, recent research confirms, sexual satisfaction depends primarily on the emotional quality of her relationship with the man she is letting inside of her body.

Perhaps the biggest achievement of the anti-abortion movement in America is that, 30 years after Roe v. Wade, it is still vigorously, prominently here. Most Supreme Court decisions acquire legitimacy with age, but even Americans who support legalized abortion remain deeply uncomfortable with this act. According to an analysis of public opinion on abortion by Gallup, a majority of Americans have taken the middle position, saying abortion should be legal "only under certain circumstances." In the mid-'90s, public opinion abruptly shifted in a pro-life direction, apparently in response to the partial-birth abortion issue. Today, according to Gallup, only about a quarter of Americans think abortion should be legal in all circumstances.

Majorities of Americans support legal abortion only for medical, not social, reasons. Yet this year, in the richest society human beings have ever known, one out of four of our young will be killed before birth. This is progress?

In a June 2000 Los Angeles Times poll, Americans were asked to choose between these two statements: "Abortion is the same thing as murdering a child," or "Abortion is not murder because the fetus really isn't a child." Fifty-seven percent of Americans likened abortion to murdering a child.

Americans who support abortion do so reluctantly because they think it is a necessary evil. In the long run, reversing the abortion culture launched by Roe will require persuading Americans that pitting mothers against their unborn children is not a good way to help either.