Friday, July 09, 2010

Is Abortion a Class Issue?

Recently, I’ve been reading a number of articles by anti-abortion advocates discussing the “racial genocide” of legalized abortion. I think the argument is that, because abortion rates are higher in the black community, advocates of legal abortion are promoting the genocide of that community. It’s a problematic argument, for both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, for reasons that would seem obvious, but apparently aren’t.

I don’t know if it’s ‘epistemic closure’, but I suspect you have to be a conservative for the argument to resonate; or, more accurately, be anti-liberal, since the underlying message seems to be that liberals are glaringly hypocritical: they’re allegedly concerned about the black community, while accepting higher abortion rates in that community.

But I’m not entirely sure why pro-lifers are making this case, when the data they’ve highlighted suggests instead that both sides of the ‘debate’ are looking at the wrong issue by focusing on the laws. A few points stand out: 1. the black community has a fairly high level of Christian evangelical religiosity; 2. it has a higher poverty rate than the general population; and 3. it has a higher abortion rate than the general population. So it seems a logical inference that abortion is a social issue; that a woman who has very little means to raise a child might be more likely to have an abortion than one with means. This seems logical to the point of being common sense, and suggests that pro-lifers and pro-choicers are mistaken in focusing on the laws.

Curious about this, I looked up the statistics at the CDC and they claim about 73% of women who have abortions are living below the poverty level (earning $9,570 or less per year). According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, 75% of women who have abortion cite lack of money to raise a child as one of their reasons for having an abortion. So, at the very least, class is an issue here. But, of course, it's not part of the discussion.

The problem I have with the abortion “debate” is that both sides are perfectly right, but discussing two completely different topics. Pro-lifers are right that abortion is tragic and ethically abhorrent. If you believe in a soul, it’s an obvious tragedy; even if you don’t, it is basic biological fact that every individual of our species is unique and unrepeatable. Therefore, deciding that one individual may not exist is clearly fraught with ethical problems that pro-choice people need to acknowledge more openly.

Conversely, you need only be mildly libertarian to think that the state shouldn’t be allowed to intrude into people’s private reproductive decisions. Shouldn’t people who champion individual liberties over state intrusion see Roe V Wade as a victory? More importantly, every study I’ve read on the topic says that abortion rates did not greatly increase after Roe V Wade, and that making abortion illegal does not greatly reduce the number of abortions. Abortions, or induced miscarriages, are very easy procedures to do. Much like setting a broken bone, you wouldn’t want to do it yourself, but if you had to, you probably could. There is a very long and sad history of abortion, induced miscarriage, ‘exposure’, and infanticide; typically correlating to times of material need. So it’s not inconceivable that making abortion illegal would do little to change the overall rate of abortion.

In other words, if you’re pro-life, and focused on the legal issue over the social issue, it seems to me that you’re not addressing abortion as such; just the social imprimatur: you’d rather that society not approve of abortions and they be clandestine- but not necessarily that there actually be less of them.

If you’re simply opposed to abortions as such, you need to focus on the social question: fight for a higher minimum wage, provide free day care and pre-natal care, improve living conditions for lower-class women, promote sex-ed for poor teens, and even think about establishing scholarships for the children born to low-income women who made what you see as the right choice. You need to add incentives to birthing and childrearing, because that’s what will reduce the number of abortions. Otherwise, you’re only addressing the visibility of abortion.

As for pro-choice people, if you’re focused on the legal issue and access, and ignoring the social issue, then you’re really only concerned with the ‘choices’ of one class. There is a difference between choices and options; a lower-income woman facing an unplanned pregnancy has options, but not actual choices. Until there is a much higher base level of income and living standards across society, the poor will lack real choices. And, in general, I think the left needs to focus almost entirely on the social question and drop the neo-liberal idea that doing so is impossible or “anti-capitalist”, when in fact it’s just the opposite.

Finally, here’s something fascinating: if the right addressed abortion as a social issue, they’d find common cause with the left. It is possible then to imagine a time in which abortion was legal, but almost nobody had them.


Holly said...

One aspect of the abortion debates that has often troubled me is the overemphasis, often to the point of exclusion, on the actions of the mother. Her body, her choice, her moral failing, her whoring around, her lack of means to raise a child, her child, her right, her responsibility for her actions.

And believe me, I am a big fan of personal responsibility.

But what rarely seems to be truly examined in these things is the life of an unwanted, ill-timed, unaffordable child. Maybe I'm alone in all the world in this belief, but I don't believe every life is a miracle. I believe this planet is CRAWLING with the stuff. I believe the "miracle" of human birth happens something like 216000 times every damn day. Not a miracle, by any stretch.

Does that make any given one less precious? Yes, actually, it does. No, I'm not in favor of eugenics, although when I'm really cranky I can see the appeal. But it seems to me really unfair to bring someone into this world already behind the 8 ball. Knowing they can't be properly taken care of, or have a big disadvantage. Class, by the way, is a huge disadvantage. Especially in the US, where people like to pretend it isn't an issue. (I find that attitude very harmful.)

Obviously, abortion isn't always the answer to any doubtful situation. Pro-abortionists are not really a group.

I agree with a lot of what you said, and I like the idea of a society where abortion is openly available and generally not used. That'd be a society with a lot more social and economic coping skills, and a lot less religious guidance.

Holly said...

Sorry, I swear I didn't actually miss the point of your question. The short answer is.... it's a class issue if you need to make sure your lower class / worker class can keep reproducing at a sufficient rate to restock the working class. Otherwise you'll need to have some kind of economic crisis and bust some of the middle class down to refill the ranks.

And, no, that wasn't a joke.

Rufus said...

No I think we're getting at the same point. You're saying that some situations are so crappy that it might be best not to bring kids into them, and I'm saying that, if the pro-life people worked at ameliorating those situations- instead of bitching about women's decisions- there might well be a lot less abortions. And, I see what you mean about the lower class not reproducing itself- it actually probably is not, which is giving a lot of impetus to quietly accept illegal immigration. In general, all the developed countries are failing to renew their populations.

allsilco said...

I'm currently writing a paper about abortion as a class issue, so I'm with you all the way.

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Fuer Za Hispana said...

I live in the poorest city of the country were 90% are Hispanics, 15% VOTE but 60% are registered. A place where teen pregnancy is high and all the abortion clinics are closed and the only way to get these services if you are financially disadvantage is either crossing the border to mexico or going the flea market and buying medication to self induce. If you have the financial means you can drive 400 miles one way pay your transportation, hotel stay for 3 days and have your employer approve your leave. Why close these services to a social class living in a particular area?