Complications with Criminalizing Abortion

In the previous post, I demonstrated the LDS Church’s political neutrality on the debate over the government’s role in regulating and criminalizing abortion, even as the Church emphasizes the sanctity of life and counsels its members not to obtain elective abortions. Those who believe in criminalization of elective abortion (the pro-life position) should consider the repercussions of such a law. What are some of the costs and unintended consequences of compelling a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term? I don’t intend the following as an argument against the pro-life position. I simply hope that by exploring of some of the underlying implications of criminalizing elective abortion, we will realize that abortion policy cannot be viewed in a vacuum. The implementation of ethical pro-life laws would require a significant amount of social welfare programs, which most pro-life advocates vehemently oppose.

Medical Care for Poor Children and Expecting Mothers

Those who have given birth to a child understand that a tremendous amount of care is required both before and after a child is born and that the diet and health of the mother is invariably linked to that of the unborn child. Even though not all of those who obtain elective abortions are poor or are teenagers, tens of thousands of those who do obtain elective abortion each year do not have the financial resources to cope with the medical costs of pregnancy. The medical costs for those without insurance are excessive. Furthermore, there are additional costs for working women who have to take time away from their jobs, or perhaps lose their jobs completely, depending on how smoothly the pregnancy progresses. If a single woman with an unwanted pregnancy is compelled to carry the pregnancy to term, and ends up having to take a few months off without pay while she is on bed rest, who will pay for her living expenses? What if she loses her job? Since conservatives are typically opposed to government social assistance programs, how does the financial need of a woman who is being compelled to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term sync with the conservative view on eliminating these welfare programs? Are we as taxpayers willing to have some of our tax dollars assist the ultimately tens of thousands of poor women each year who would be compelled to carry unwanted pregnancies to term under pro-life laws?

Additionally, costly medical care is required for children and mothers after they are born. If a poor woman decides to keep the child rather than give it up for adoption, financial assistance would be necessary to pay for post-partum medical care. The pro-life position can be very myopic if it does not include assurances for the proper medical care of a newborn resulting from an unwanted pregnancy. How “pro-life” can we really be if all we care about is that the baby is born, but once the child arrives in the world, we are not equally passionate about ensuring they have a fair shot at a healthy life through proper care? If one opposes programs like SCHIP and Medicaid, which provide health insurance to poor children and children of the working poor, can that person accurately claim that he or she is “pro-life”?

Another unintended consequence of criminalization of elective abortion is the risky behavior of some women with unwanted pregnancies. If women who have no desire to be pregnant are compelled to carry the pregnancy to term, some would unfortunately have little or no incentive to make changes in their lifestyle to ensure that the fetus is properly nourished and protected from harmful substances. Women who smoke or drink alcohol may have difficulty in abstaining during the pregnancy. A large volume of research has clearly shown that tobacco and alcohol can often have severe adverse affects on a fetus, causing serious deformities and diseases. Deformed and chronically ill infants resulting from such unwanted pregnancies where the mother did not observe a proper lifestyle, require expensive medical care. There may be fewer who are willing to adopt such children with expensive health problems. Again, are those who are pro-life willing to have their tax dollars pay for the expensive care of children with such diseases as fetal alcohol syndrome?

Black Market Abortions

Inevitably, by prohibiting elective abortions, there will always be some women who will seek to end their unwanted pregnancy at any cost, rather than carrying it to term as required by law. In an America where elective abortions are banned, such women would pursue abortions on the black market. As has been the experience in societies where abortion is prohibited, many such black market abortions are unsafe and can easily result in severe and permanent injury or even death to the women.

Some may argue that such a woman has only herself to blame for being careless about protection while being promiscuous. If the woman is injured or dies as a result of a black market or illegal abortion, I have heard some argue that although that would be unfortunate, it is the woman’s fault for seeking an elective abortion in the first place. However, as one of the reader comments in Culture of Life Part I states, why does all the responsibility lie with the woman? What are the ethics of creating a black market situation where we know some women with unwanted pregnancies will die? By prohibiting elective abortion, a black market for elective abortions will certainly be created. But by removing elective abortion from the realm of regulated and standardized medicine, the procedure ultimately ends up in an unregulated and non-standardized state where no license, quality control, or professional standard is required.

Perhaps those who are on both sides of the debate can at least agree to work together on preventing unwanted pregnancies. Sustained efforts at reducing the overall number of unwanted pregnancies will reduce the number of abortions performed in this country. Studies have shown that publicly-funded family planning clinics have prevented 20 million unwanted pregnancies over the past 20 years, 9 million of which would have resulted in abortions.

So even while vying for pro-choice or pro-life positions on government regulation of abortion, those on both sides who believe in the sanctity of life should seek to educate the public on methods of reducing unwanted pregnancies, including comprehensive birth control education, which could include abstinence. However, any sex education curriculum that does not include comprehensive birth control instruction is woefully inadequate for preventing unwanted pregnancies. Though we may not like the fact of rampant sexual promiscuity, to neglect to educate our population on the methods of preventing pregnancies is only an invitation to more unwanted pregnancies.

The criminalization of elective abortion would result in other unintended consequences that need to be addressed by those who are proponents of prohibition. The above is not meant to counter pro-life arguments, but only to show that a comprehensive pro-life position must include consideration of many other factors, including some social welfare programs.

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