In December, Gov. Wolf vetoed Senate Bill 3, which would have made it illegal to perform abortions as of 20 weeks and minimize the practice some call “dismemberment” abortion. Normally this is an issue I and other economists would steer well clear of in our writing because of how culturally and politically charged it can be on both sides.
Lately, however, the abortion debate has veered sharply into the realm of economics, putting it squarely on my radar. This year, several proponents of abortion rights have touted abortion’s ability to improve economic outcomes for disadvantaged mothers.
I love economics. I teach economics. The field of economics allows me to put food on my table. But even I can acknowledge that some issues are about a lot more than economics. Whether we should or should not limit abortions in the United States is much more than an economic question dealing with dollars and cents. It strikes at the dignity of the human person and who we are as a country and a society.
For just a minute let’s set aside the partisan rancor on both sides of this argument and make a simplifying assumption. Let’s assume that no one wants to see a child’s life end in abortion, but at the same time, we all want what’s best for women and their families. How do we go about accomplishing those things?
The first step may be to acknowledge that abortion is not a solution to an economic problem, but economics can be a solution to the problem of abortion.
Economics does play a large role in many abortion decisions. A study from the Bixby Center at the University of California, San Francisco, found, for example, that about 40 percent of women it studied cited financial reasons for their decision to have an abortion.
However, trying to improve someone’s economic situation by encouraging them to have an abortion is like trying to help someone lose weight by encouraging them to cut off a limb. It may be effective, but the solution will be worse than the problem.
Fix someone’s economic situation and you’ll have a lot more luck stopping abortions than you’ll have promoting abortions to fix someone’s economic situation.
Legal arguments to limit abortion are important, but the most effective way to reduce abortions is to convince mothers that they don’t need them in the first place. That will only happen when mothers feel supported and cared for by their communities.
If the focus of progressive economic policies is really the health and well-being of all Americans, then Democrats should be looking for more ways to help parents say yes to life, not promoting abortion as a way to limit poverty.
This is an area where we as pro-lifers need to step up our game as well. We as a nation need to do more to support mothers and their children both before and after birth. Too often many of us fall into the temptation of focusing solely on the legal aspects of abortion.
The number of groups out there providing this support and care, without abortion, to mothers who need it is immense, but it is still not large enough. While much of this support can be extended privately through our churches and nonprofits, some also has to come publicly.
This means making sure that women’s health-care providers who counsel against abortion get just as much support, if not more than, those who counsel in favor of abortion. There seems to be a misconception in the U.S. that Planned Parenthood is the only organization offering health care to low-income women. This is false.
Public support also means policies that move Americans out of poverty, promote paid family leave, and make child care more available and affordable.
Too many women choose abortion because they don’t feel that they have the support or resources to raise their child once it’s born. That’s a choice that no woman should ever have to make and something that we as a society have the power to do something about.
The way to truly empower women, economically and beyond, is to give them every opportunity to say yes to life and not to reduce having a child to a utilitarian economic decision.
If we can find a way to get more support to mothers before, during, and after pregnancy, then we may be able to end the abortion business the old fashioned way, by reducing demand. That’s an economic argument I hope we can all get behind.
Editor’s note: This story was edited after publication to remove a reference to a piece written by Gov. Wolf. We regret the error.