By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D. NRL Director of Education & Research
In the Guttmacher Institute’s 2004 study on the reasons women have abortion,* researchers drew conclusions that haunt me to this day. On the basis of in depth interviews with 38 women that followed surveys of over 1,200 women, researchers said, “[T]he language women used suggests that abortion was not something they desired…They say not having a child as their best (and sometime only) option.”
Really? Abortion was something aborting women do not really want? As their only option? What happened to abortion as a matter of “freedom of choice?”
Before going further, we must point out that whether this was a realistic or accurate assessment of woman’s circumstances is questionable. As far as we can tell, Guttmacher never asked these women or identified what resources they had available, what churches or local pregnancy care centers had to offer, what government programs were accessible, whether there were relatives to help care for the child, etc.
Guttmacher also failed to inquire as to what women knew about local adoption services, though several women volunteered that they wouldn’t consider or couldn’t “give away” their baby because that would be wrong.
So there are, in fact, alternatives to abortion, though it is unclear how much women are aware of or have access to them. It is obviously not something the abortion industry is keen on sharing with women.
But return to the original thought. Women (far more than the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute lets on) don’t want abortion, but often feel like it is their only option. How is it that, in the name of “choice,” women have ended up feeling like they have no choice at all?
The answer lies in understanding how the legal availability of abortion changes the dynamics of the situation.
Before abortion was legal in all 50 states and widely available, what did a pregnant woman do? What were her options? She might, in a ceremony celebrated and supported by the community, marry the father, bear the child, and go on to start a life as a family. If she chose not to get married, she might bear and raise the child on her own, but again probably with the help and support of her family and community.
There were, sometimes, in all honesty, prejudices and obstacles that had to be worked through, but most families eventually found ways to adjust and accommodate and actually welcome the new grandchild or niece or nephew when he or she arrived.
Adoption was a real and live option for women who needed it, as were homes for unwed mothers waiting to give birth. It may have been imperfect and creaky at times, but society had in place working solutions for women dealing with unplanned or crisis pregnancies.
The absence of ready access to abortion also meant that there was both a personal and societal expectation that men would bear some responsibility for the children they fathered. At a minimum, there was the expectation that they would offer (or be legally compelled to give) some financial support.
All that changed with Roe v. Wade.
States and communities no longer had to be as open to mothers, babies, or young families in difficult circumstances. Institutions like homes for unwed mothers, orphanages that, however imperfect, still provided critical services, were no longer necessities, and hence less easy to find. Expectations for churches, and local charities, which offered not only social services but mentorship, were lowered.
Men, and sadly, in some cases a woman’s family, could point a woman to abortion as a solution to relieve everyone else’s stress, to release them from expense and obligation, to make baby and problem disappear. Or they could not-so-subtly coerce them to abort.
And so, instead of having different life-affirming options–marriage, single motherhood, adoption, community support–abortion became for many of these women, not an option, but an obligation, the only “choice” they feel is really available or open to them in the particular community in which they live.
So, the legality of abortion forces an option on to the table that wasn’t there before, with the implicit social message that it is an acceptable (if not preferred) option. Its availability and its promotion by the abortion industry and its popular media allies have crowded the other options off the table.
The legality/availability means that the father (or in many cases the state) will pay for the abortion, but may well adopt the attitude that if the woman decides to have the child, she is on her own.
Unless someone tells her different (that’s one of the reasons for right to know laws), unless she encounters someone reaching out to her with personal support and practical assistance (the critical reason for pregnancy care centers), she may indeed feel that abortion is her only realistic option, and she may go do something that, in her heart of hearts, she does not want to do.
This is the legacy of “choice.”
Not freedom, not liberation, but the sense of a whole culture, a whole community, all your circumstances conspiring against your carrying your child.
There were more and better choices before abortion came along. And no one had to die.
* Lawrence B. Finer, et al., “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, September 2005
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