After taking a few paragraphs to concede that it's unlikely that Catholics will stop calling abortion evil or that feminists will stop calling it a right, and firing off some of the tired old "they only care about children before they're born" rhetoric at the pro-life movement, Mornings Minion sketches out the following rather familiar line of thinking:
...[I]t is quite clear to me that abortion is related to poverty and prevailing social conditions. Declines in abortion in the US occurred most rapidly during times when poverty rates were falling– most notably under the Clinton administration.... Look at some of the statistics: 57% of women opting for abortion are economically disadvantage, and the abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women). And when asked to give reasons for abortion, three-quarters of women say that cannot afford a child.None of this is new to those who are used to the "seamless garment of life" argument (a garment which is too often a rather brazen attempt to rename a turncoat), but since this piece of clothing gets trotted out every so often, perhaps it's still worth asking the obvious question:
And yet, the political pro-life movement often ignores this aspect. Not only that, it often uses the abortion issue to cover some less savoury aspects of policy. Note that when supposed pro-life candidates are elected, we see little impact on abortion, but a major advance in economic policies that foster upward redistribution. And too often, the pro-life lobby contents itself with minor victories that have little direct impact on abortion, but do rally political support. Case in point: I am pretty certain that S-CHIP will do more to lower the abortion rate in the US than the partial-birth abortion ban, which everybody pretty much agrees will do almost nothing.
It is also the case that banning abortion often does not really impact on its incidence. Ireland has a robust abortion rate, even though there are no abortion providers in Ireland, because travel within the EU is so easy. I often wonder if a repeal of Roe v. Wade, when the issue gets pushed to the states, will have much impact on abortion? Personally, I doubt it, except for the very poor who cannot travel to states that allow it. And while I believe the repeal of Roe would be good, simply because I cannot accept abortion as a “right”, I believe a political strategy focused solely on this goal is fundamentally misplaced. We need to create the conditions that would encourage women not to have abortions in the first place.
Does the author really imagine that the only solution to sin is prosperity?
We live in the most wealthy country in the world, with one of the highest abortion rates in the world. Is our problem really that we're not wealthy enough?
Not only the average citizen of our country, but the poor of our country are far, far wealthier than they were 100 years ago. And yet, as we have become wealthier, the institution of the family has collapsed, illegitimacy has become a pandemic in the lower economic reaches of society, divorce has become commonplace, abortion is common -- used by some parts of society as a last resort, and by others almost as backup-birth control. (The stats I've seen on abortion repeat customers are pretty terrifying.)
And yet the problem, we are told, is that our country is still too poor to have a lower abortion rate? The claim is, quite frankly, so ludicrous that it's hard to believe the author even means it seriously. Sadly, though, I think he does. So far have some progressives gone down the determinist rabbit hole (without, in most cases, even realizing it) that I fear convinced Christians progressives like this author really do believe that economic redistribution is the shortest road to moral improvement.
Now, at the same time, it should be made clear: morality is also not built strictly by governmental fiat. If the "war on drugs" has shown anything, it is that making something illegal without a social consensus against it does not result in a vanishing of the behavior. (I'm not against illegal drugs remaining illegal, and indeed I suspect that drug use would go up in some very undesirable ways were it made legal, but it certainly underlines the point that making something illegal doesn't make it go away.)
However, in the case of abortion, I think there's a strong case to be made that its legality and status as "normal medical practice" is one of the things that causes it to be so widespread. While most people intuitively feel that lighting up a joint isn't going to directly affect many people beyond themselves, there is a fairly widespread feeling (which even forty years of pro-abortion rhetoric been unable to destroy) that abortion is not a nice and desirable thing. (Every so often, when dipping into the left-leaning blogsphere or media, one runs into frustration that abortion is so infrequently portrayed positively in movies or television.) The status as "legal" and "just a normal medical procedure" can be used to dull that innate moral sense, but the moral sense is still very much there. That is why I think we would indeed see a significant drop in abortion begin if abortion were removed from its supreme-court-imposed shrine in our judicial system.
While Americans do not have a universal respect for the law (think of how many people truly respect the speed limit or the drinking age), there is a very real way in which legality is used to define cultural moral norms. Going even to the limited sort of restrictions found in most of Europe would indeed make a difference in that.
The other element of change which is necessary to reduce abortion in our society is cultural, religious and moral. We will need to reach some sort of cultural conclusion as to what abortion is and whether it is wrong. The current churning of the "culture wars" is not only a sign that this is an undecided point, but also a sign of how unstable our culture is right now. In some senses the last century has suggested to many people that human nature is malleable, and that things may be right now which were not right before -- that humans may be something different than we thought before -- and that long held understandings about the human person and morality are simply "out of date". Where we go, as a culture, as a species, in the coming decades and centuries will start to make the answers to these questions clear.
And this really, is where Mornings Minion is farthest of the rails with his "economy first" approach to morality. If you look at the posts by the secular feminists who had come down like a sack of bricks on Vox Nova, and started this whole discussion, you can see that their understanding of the need for abortion springs from their view of the human being as homo economicus -- economic man (or since these are feminists, should I say "economic person"). Abortion must always be available, they argue, because without the combination of legal abortion and available birth control, a woman cannot control her body enough to compete equally with men in the economic world.
This presents a view of what the purpose of humanity is that is fundamentally incompatible both with traditional Christian beliefs and with the facts of our existence as a species. We are not, fundamentally, economic creatures who only reproduce when we find it profitable to do so. We are biological creatures who reproduce when we have sex. We are rational creatures who can think about the results of our actions. We are religious creatures who contemplate the question of where we go when we leave this mortal world, and what to teach our offspring about the meaning of life and death.
Until we sort out these questions and recognize ourselves for who we are, no amount of government redistribution of wealth will change the incidence of abortion.