Recently, there has been a push for states to adopt strict laws regulating abortion. This, of course, has sparked intense controversy, because it’s impossible to determine the exact moment a clump of sperm and egg cells changes into a person. I will not speak on that. However, what I will say is that these strict new laws are the wrong way to prevent abortions.
Laws that regulate abortions fail to address the issues that cause women to have abortions in the first place. These issues include lack of access to birth control, sexual assault and poor aftercare for victims, a broken adoption/foster care system, wealth inequalities that make children an unmanageable cost for some, and more.
I have a number of friends who are very staunchly pro-life. They do not ignore these problems or feel apathetic about them; I think what happens is they are so eager to stop abortions in the name of protecting innocent babies that they prioritize banning the procedure and decide they can work on the other issues later. This is not an effective approach. Here are # real, proactive ways to decrease abortions:
Support for Mothers and Parents
This is a broad topic, but a necessary one. There are people who would love to have children but feel restricted by a lack of support in their career, community, etc. Longer parental leave is a huge issue. In the United States, unlike most developed countries, paid maternity leave is not required by law in any circumstance. Some unpaid maternity leave is, but it’s still not very long. Maternity leave is a priority because the mother is recovering from a major medical procedure and is likely feeding the baby with her body; however, paternity leave is also incredibly important, because fathers also need to bond with the new baby and get used to the increased level of household tasks that comes with a new tiny human. Having to go back to work immediately after bringing home a new baby is a major emotional strain, but taking time off work without support and compensation is a major financial strain. This is even more difficult for single mothers, who don’t have a second person to provide income while they recover from childbirth.
Additionally, some parents do not feel financially ready to have children because of the enormous costs of child care. Day care costs have risen to an average of more than $9,000 per year, which is unmanageable for many families, especially when coupled with the various other expenses that come with babies–doctor’s visits, clothes, food, and other added costs. While some parents are able to reach out to friends and family members to offset some level of childcare costs or receive hand-me-down baby supplies, this is not always an option. Some people live far away from or have strained relationships with their families, sometimes the people in their support system also work long hours, and few people live in an extremely inter-connected community. It takes a village to raise a child, but not everybody has a village willing or able to help them.
More Effective Strategies for Dealing with Sexual Violence
For obvious reasons, victims of sexual assault typically do not wish to become pregnant after the attack. So, at risk of over-simplifying the topic, fewer rapes leads to fewer abortions. Things like ending rape culture and decreasing the negative stigmas that are put on victims is a long-term, but important, goal. Movements such as #metoo are helpful, but ultimately very slow moving in terms of real benefits. There are a number of tangible, proactive measures that can be taken to decrease sexual assault and violence. An important example is consent-based sex education, both in schools and at home. More comprehensive training and accountability for medical staff who assist with immediate aftercare is also essential.
But perhaps the most important aspect of this is punishing the attacker. (Punishment should be given both for rape and other types of assault such as “stealthing,” or secretly removing condoms against your partner’s wishes). Of every 1000 rapes, 995 of those cases see the offender walk free. Partially due to this, most rapists are repeat offenders, and most don’t see anything particularly wrong with their actions. They often see themselves as having toed the line rather than crossed it, or believe their victims deserved it. Real punishment, a jail sentence that is formidable enough to deter actions that would put them back in a cell, are absolutely necessary to stop violent offenders from repeating their crimes. Comprehensive education on the topic would act as a deterrent to first time attackers by forcing them to be aware of the fact that this crime is their fault, not their victims’ fault.
As mentioned above, having a baby is expensive. A simple, uncomplicated birth in the United States is well over $10,000 at the hospital. Any complications cause this number to skyrocket. Even with insurance, women and families wind up paying significant amounts out of pocket. Without insurance, many can expect to be deeply in debt before they even bring the baby home for the first time. Then there are numerous doctor’s visits both before and after childbirth to ensure the safety and health of both mother and child. These costs (and, to be honest, the frightening possibilities of complications that could occur) deter many women from wanting to continue a pregnancy. Making pregnancy and childbirth as safe and affordable as possible will decrease the number of abortions performed.
On the topic of medical care, preventing pregnancy in the first place is one of the best ways to prevent abortions. This means affordable birth control, even without insurance. Planned Parenthood is kind enough to give it to low-income women for free, but some people don’t live near a location or are afraid to go inside due to protesters by the door. There should also be better options for birth control for men. Men and women bear equal responsibility in preventing unwanted pregnancies, though usually society puts more pressure on women. Here’s a tip for heterosexual men who are against abortion; if you and your partner are not actively trying for a baby, insist on wearing a condom every single time you have sex. If you do not do this, then you have to sit back and let your partner abort as she pleases because you did not do your part in preventing the pregnancy.
Comprehensive sex education, for some reason, continues to be a controversial topic. Of course there is some information that should wait until an appropriate age, but by middle school and high school young people are already learning about sex (usually incorrect information) from their peers as well as the internet. While some are lucky and stumble onto positive, medically accurate online sources, many do not and wind up believing fallacies, like the myth that douching with soda after sex can prevent pregnancy. Only 13 out of 50 US states require medically accurate sex education, and many parents are uncomfortable with or opposed to giving their children a lesson on the topic, so children and teenagers who find misinformation often do not learn the truth until much later. This leads to unwanted pregnancies at a variety of ages, as well as other harmful side effects such as STDs and fear surrounding normal sexual activities that can last into adulthood and harm individuals and relationships.
Reform Adoption and Foster Care
Let’s say that a pregnant woman is okay with the physical and financial burden of pregnancy and childbirth but still doesn’t want to be a mother, and in an ideal scenario she would give up her baby for adoption to a nice family. This is not as easy as it seems. There are significantly more than 400,000 children in the United States foster care system, and on average children stay in state care for two years. Thousands age out of the system every year and are at high risk for homelessness and drug use. With so much suffering among children in need of a permanent home, it becomes hard to tell women to just put their baby up for adoption instead of having an abortion.
Though this is a massive issue, experts recommend the following as starting points for fixing the broken foster care system: First, strengthen families. Offer support and education especially to new parents who come from abusive or neglectful backgrounds, live below the poverty line, or have less family/community support. They also suggest better support for case workers and social workers, who are often underpaid and overworked, and who also need continuing education to keep up with trends and best practices to best help children and families.
At the end of the day, banning abortions without considering why women request that procedure is a fruitless effort. Only after reaching a place where these issues have been solved can we start to discuss laws that regulate abortions.