Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Can a Really Big Carrot End Abortion?

Last week, Jay over at Pro Ecclesia linked to another piece by the Catholic law professor (and at least formerly avowed conservative) Douglas Kmiec in which the professor outlined how he though Obama could bring an end to the "clash of absolutes" which has dominated the abortion debate for so long.

Kmiec advocates that Obama endorse the "95-10 Initiative" which has been put forward by Democrats for Life. The aim of this initiative is to reduce abortion 95% over the next ten years. Who could not be in favor of that? Heck, if I thought it seriously within the power of the Democratic Party to reduce abortion by 50% in ten years, I'd pretty seriously consider voting for them. Is it time for me to consider changing my voter registration? Perhaps not yet.

So what exactly does this 95-10 Initiative consist of?
Preventing pregnancy is an important part of reducing the abortion rate in America. There are several ways to address prevention, but there is no clear consensus because of ethical, religious or personal reasons. There are several bills before Congress that address pregnancy prevention. While we have not endorsed a particular bill, we support finding the most effective way to reduce unplanned pregnancies. We cannot deny that abstinence is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy, but we also cannot turn our heads and pretend that our children are not engaging in risky behavior or the fact that contraception is not 100 percent effective. The Federal government has made a commitment to support prevention efforts and allocated a record $288.3 million in FY 2005 for family planning under title X. The program provides access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them. A priority is given to low-income persons.

The Federal government has not made that same commitment to those who wish to carry their children to term. We support helping pregnant women many who believe abortion is their only option. Congressman Lincoln Davis (D-TN) and Pro-life Democrats in Congress who share this same commitment will introduce the Pregnant Women Support Act, a comprehensive bill to provide support for pregnant women who want to carry their child to term. Some of the programs included are: establishing a toll-free number to direct women to places that will provide support and Pregnancy Counseling and Childcare on University Campuses, requiring doctors to provide accurate information to patients receiving a positive results from prenatal testing and counseling in maternity group homes, making the Adoption Tax Credits Permanent and Increase Tax Credit The legislation would eliminate pregnancy as a pre-existing condition, supports Informed Consent for Abortion Services, increases Funding for Domestic Violence Programs, requires the SCHIP to cover pregnant women and unborn children. It further provides free home visits by registered nurses for new mothers, incentives to reduce teen pregnancy and provides protection for pregnant college students who wish to continue their education.
So unless I'm missing something: the two things which are intended to reduce abortion by 95% are an increase in funding for both abstinence-based and contraception-based programs to avoid "unwanted pregnancies", and an significant increasing in funding (active and through tax credits) supporting adoption and providing services to single mothers.

Is that even vaguely realistic?

I must admit, I'm very, very skeptical. Imagine you had unlimited financial and human resources to throw at the problem of providing enough support to women with "unwanted pregnancies" that they would not abort. Truly unlimited. Could you provide enough support that there would be a 95% reduction in abortions?

Well, one thing you could clearly not do is reduce how physically arduous pregnancy is. (Watching the intrepid MrsDarwin, this is rather top-of-mind for me lately.) You gain weight. You get sick. You're tired all the time. You have trouble getting around. And labor and delivery are clearly not fun. I in no way think that these difficulties justify abortion, but if you're dealing with someone who does not think that abortion is morally wrong, and who really didn't want to be pregnant in the first place, I can see why the physical effects of pregnancy (even if there were no financial or familial or career hardship at all involved) would seem like a good reason to abort. And there's nothing that financial incentives could do to reduce that.

But let's say that our hypothetical woman with the unwanted pregnancy is not daunted by pregnancy itself -- she's worried about what having a child will do to her plans in life. Can enough support be provided to her that she sees adoption or single-parenthood as being a better option than abortion? I'm not sure.

If you don't have either a conviction that abortion is wrong, or an inability to practically and safely get an abortion, what makes adoption a better option? Either way, you have no kid to look after in the long run, but with adoption you have to go through pregnancy, and you have the knowledge that you do indeed have a child out there, who doesn't know you. So it seems like short of a conviction that abortion is wrong (or an inability to get one) abortion is probably more attractive unless there's some sort of big benefit you get for putting your child up for adoption. One could provide such a benefit, say some sort of large monetary compensation for putting a child up for adoption, but if one did that, one would have the side effect of encouraging women desperate for money to have "extra" children, and also put a strong financial incentive on women/families that would otherwise want their children to give them up for financial gain.

Let's leave that for a moment and instead consider a woman in an unwanted pregnancy who doesn't like the idea of adoption, but might be open to keeping her child if she can get enough support that it won't be a major burden on her life. Can we provide enough support to her that single parenthood looks like a better option than abortion? Certainly, if she believes that abortion is wrong, or has a desire to be a mother, then we can remove the obstacles that seem to make that impossible. But if she doesn't think it's wrong and is not enthusiastic about becoming a mother unless it means no setbacks in her existing plans, the situation becomes much more difficult. Even in a stable, married family parenthood involves a lot of sacrifices. Being a single parent is, by nature of not sharing the work, even harder. So if we were to somehow overcome all those difficulties, we'd actually be making it easier and more attractive to be a single parent then to be a married parent. It doesn't take a whole lot of imagine to recognize that if that were even possible, which I rather doubt, it would mean mounting a fullscale assault on marriage.

But let's return to the first half of the 95-10 Initiative, the pregnancy prevention program. This seems to contain the usual contradictory "abstinence works best, but let's push birth control as well" approach. As it concedes, all forms of contraception have a failure rate even if used well. If used inconsistently or incorrectly (as is clearly possible or even likely when we're dealing with the young, the uneducated, and the poor -- the three groups with the highest abortion rates) the rate at which those using birth control get pregnant becomes much higher.

And, of course, the more we encourage people to use birth control (and the more we try to reduce the difficulties associated with single parenthood, as discussed above) the less scary we make the consequences of pre-marital of sex look. So by pushing birth control and making single parenthood easier, we make it likely that more people will be sexually active before marriage, which in turn means more people getting hit with the birth control failure rate.

Looking at all this, I can't see how this proposal would reduce abortion much at all, much less 95%. It's a valiant attempt, and very well intentioned I am sure, but I just don't see how it could achieve much of what it hopes to achieve. That's because, at root, if you really don't believe that abortion is wrong, you don't have much of a reason not to have one. And if you don't think that having sex outside of marriage will result in seriously bad consequences, you're a lot more likely to try it.

That's not to say that we shouldn't be providing help to those brave women who decide to follow through with unexpected pregnancies -- especially young or single or poor women who stand to suffer the most for making the right decision. We should do all that we can to help them. But if we want to see a significant reduction in abortion and in unwanted pregnancies the only way to achieve that is through words and deeds that convey having sex outside of marriage is wrong (and also a very bad idea) and that abortion is very wrong indeed. And it's hard to insist that abortion is wrong while at the same time insisting that it should be legal, widely available, and state funded.

I do very much want to see a viable pro-life movement within the Democratic party, even if that would decrease the electoral success of my own preferred party, but I don't see how you can get anywhere with it unless you go at the root of the matter and insist that abortion is wrong and should not be available. And that means going up against the Democrats (and Republicans) who are pro-choice.


Anonymous said...

I find it hard to take 'pro-life' Democrats seriously in general. Perhaps I am too much of a single issue voter, but it seems to me if you actually care about pro-life issues, you have to support pro-life politicians. Otherwise, you are just engaging in wishful thinking, and essentially making pro-life concerns a 'nice-to-have' feature rather than a deal-breaker. I wish the Democratic party was more receptive to pro-life ideas; but it certainly is not, regardless of proposals such as 95-10 (or cherry-picked arguments about abortion rates falling under Democratic presidents).

In any event, I would not hold my breath for either Obama or any other Democratic presidential candidate to sign on to the 95-10 proposal. As to the substance of the proposals, I would be inclined towards Darwin and Douthat's take:

"I would describe it as a grab-bag of modest proposals, some of them creditable, that might reduce the abortion rate by 10 percent over 95years."

Anonymous said...

darwin, it's illuminating to consider this posting in light of your 21APR posting "The Chasm." There is indeed a chasm within the D party: on one side is the old guard of the party, the Pelosis and Clintons and Kennedys, who think that abortion is an unmitigated good and who would rather die than allow any suggestion that there is anything wrong with it or any reason to consider reducing the number of abortions. On the other side is the younger generation of D's, the Obamas and Reids and others who either have anti-abortion voting records (like Reid) or who are actively trying to find ways to reduce the incidence of abortion (like Obama). It's clear which direction the party is moving.

I don't believe that the D party will ever become wholly anti-abortion, not as long as a solid majority of the public continues to believe that abortion should be legal. But they are softening their stance on this issue, and those of us who oppose abortion (as well as those of us who are disgusted with the R party and are now casting about for an alternative) would do well to acknowledge that.

Anonymous said...

Of course this proposal is rubbish and merely boobbait for truly stupid pro-lifers. It is on a par with Bill Clinton's "I want abortion to be safe, legal and rare." (How did you do on that safe part for the aborted child Bill, not to mention that rare part?)

During the time period that government handouts exploded, the 1970s, abortions also exploded. It is simply fallacious that most abortions are caused by poverty, except perhaps a poverty of love. I have just passed my 10 year mark serving on the board of directors of my county's crisis pregnancy center, and I am currently president of the board. Women who come to us for financial and material help almost never intend to abort their child. Those who do wish to abort most frequently cite an unwillingness to bear a child independent of financial circumstances.

The idea that expanding the welfare state could eliminate 95% of abortions is simply an insult to the intelligence of all thinking pro-lifers and is mere election year cover for Democrats running in pro-life areas.

Darwin said...

Anon (the first),

That's an awesome quote from Douthat.

Anon (the second),

I would like to think that you are right, though I must admit that when I venture onto sites populated by partisan Democrats my own age (29) I find the vast majority to be very loud abortion supporters.

That said, the internet is clearly not a fully representative sample in life. Otherwise, we'd have to conclude that most Catholics were militant conservatives in regards to both liturgy and politics -- which we know is not the case.

So while I hope you're right, I'll believe it when I see it.



The one area I'd see plenty of financial and practical resources being a mind changer is in a situation where a woman does not want to abort, but her boyfriend or family is threatening not to support her at all if she doesn't. In that case, the crisis pregnancy centers are indeed key. But it requires that the desire to keep the child already be there.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2,

"on one side is the old guard of the party, the Pelosis and Clintons and Kennedys, who think that abortion is an unmitigated good and who would rather die than allow any suggestion that there is anything wrong with it or any reason to consider reducing the number of abortions. On the other side is the younger generation of D's, the Obamas and Reids and others who either have anti-abortion voting records (like Reid) or who are actively trying to find ways to reduce the incidence of abortion (like Obama). It's clear which direction the party is moving."

I'm not sure this is right (although I'd rejoice if it was). Kennedy after all, was pro-life, as late as 1976 he said things along the lines of abortion shouldn't be acceptable in civilized countries. Secondly, how do you square your description of Obama with his record (i.e. opposing the Born Alive Infant Protection Act in Ill.- which passed the U.S. Senate 98-0). Obama says nice things, but his record is worse than the Clintons and the Kennedys.

Anon 1

LogEyed Roman said...

Darwin and commentors:

I really like this entry and the comments. I have a very strong opinion on a few factors in this situation.

While a huge reduction in abortions would of course be welcome:

1. The 90/10 proposal could not possibly achieve any substantial reduction in abortions.

2. If by some miracle it did, it would only delay the reckoning.

3. If by TWO miracles it reduced abortion by 95%, for which I would fervently thank God, the ultimate reckoning would probably be worse, whatever form it takes.

First of all, as has been pointed out, simply throwing money at it would not effect a substantial number of cases. Consider Europe, where the anti-fertility culture is far more pronounced: Among women who have more support (the nanny state, with huge medical and support benefits, etc.) are nevertheless having catastrophically too few children. And abortion is big over there.

For another thing, the pro-abortion crowd includes a huge number of totally dedicated people. There is a huge, multi-billion dollar abortion industry which is not going to go down gently into that good night. A 95% reduction in abortions would put a huge number of people out of work, and they are going to fight with everything they can to encourage pregnant women to get abortions. Couple them with the zealots who treat abortion as something sacred, and any challenge to it as blasphemy (though they would never use the religious language, they do show the religious fervor). Now add the far end of the bell curve--the eugenicists (of which there are plenty, though they are being stealthy about it), the humanity-haters who see reduction in birth as the only way to "save the Earth"; and the various haters of anything remotely resembling the traditional family. There would be Hell to pay; all these people add up to a huge interest group, widespread, and with lots of financial and political resources. Does the bill include all the measures necessary to placate and/or forcibly subdue these people? Their resistance would be far more extensive and determined than that of all these women whom we wish to persuade not to get abortions. And correct me if I'm wrong but the bill doesn't really address that at all, does it.

On the other side, never mind the lamentable lunatic fringe. We in the pro-life side will of course be happy to see any reduction in the abortion rate. And 95% would be truly worth celebrating. And some of the less zealous would in fact be placated. But seriously, the bulk of the pro-life community would be gratified but hardly "placated." Instead of settling in and not bothering anybody any more, there would be a concerted movement to eliminate that last 5%, wouldn't there?

One thing I have observed on the part of the pro-abortion camp has to do with their failure to consider the humanity of the babies being aborted: They fail to appreciate that the main motivation of pro-lifers is not to oppress women or push a particular anachronistic religious or societal ethic but to save children from being murdered.

If the abortion rate (I'm not up on the statistics) were to be reduced from 1 million to 50,000 per year, that would be wonderfu. But I believe those who hope to calm everyone down are in for a shock if they think the pro-life community are going to say, "Oh good, on 50,000 children a year murdered instead of one million, we can live with that, let's close the local chapter of our pro-life lobby and go home and read the Bible" are sadly mistaken.

It would be like the pro-slavery people thinking that they could make some improvements in protection of slaves from excessive brutality on the part of their masters, and then expect the Abolitionist movement to go home and leave them alone.

At bottom, the "clash of absolutes" is just what's going on, and while I welcome any reduction in abortions, measures like 95/10, which seems to be intended not so much to save lives as to calm the situation down, are quite useless. Worse than useless, because they tempt people to a false sense of progress. They putty over the real problem.

That's even if it had a snowball's chance in Tartarus of working even partly or temporarily, which I am convinced it does not.

I believe the abortion issue, as part of the bigger live vs. death issue, is becoming what Bruce Catton called "The indigestible lump" when he referred to the slavery issue, as part of the larger race issue, that lead to the American Civil War.

Civil war, in the sense of actual armies marching around against each other, is not what I anticipate. I don't think our society is going to survive this conflict without being drastically changed in ways I cannot imagine.

I hope there is as little additional violence as possible in the process. But of course, since Roe vs. Wade, we have already murdered more of our fellow Americans than the number of people killed in the Nazi death camps and the number of people taken into slavery to America, combined.

God help us.

LogEyed Roman

sdecorla said...

I actually really like a lot of this 95-10 initiative. I do share your skepticism that it would reduce the abortion rate by 95% over 10 years, but I’m not as gloomy about it as you are.

I also disagree with the inclusion of contraception education – like you, I think pushing contraception only contributes the “contraceptive mentality” and may lead to more abortion if the contraception fails. But the rest of it sounds pretty good to me.

I absolutely believe that abortion should be illegal. But I think that we not only need to recognize the humanity of the unborn child and protect it, but we also need to address the root causes that make women to feel like they have no other option than to have an abortion. It seems like conservatives focus on the former and liberals on the latter, but we really need to focus on both.

In fact, a lot of these proposals are exactly the sort of thing my favorite pro-life group, Feminists for Life, advocates, while at the same time being 100% committed to making abortion illegal.

I also should mention that crisis pregnancy centers are doing a lot to help reduce the abortion rate already (I volunteer at one). They are almost exclusively run by pro-life volunteers. Ironically, a lot of pro-choicers are opposed to these centers, even while claiming to want to reduce the abortion rate.

I suppose a lot of this debate hinges on what role one believes the federal government should have in this, and whether women in crisis pregnancies are better served by government programs or by charities. My view is that it doesn’t have to be either/or; we can do both.

One major problem with the pro-choice view is that it pits women against their own children. The reality is that the rights of women and the rights of their children are intimately intertwined. What’s good for women is good for their children, and vice versa. This is true whether you’re talking about breastfeeding (good for both women and children) or abortion (bad for both women and children).

That leads me to what I think is the biggest problem with your post – you underestimate the maternal instinct. I have to disagree with this: “if you really don't believe that abortion is wrong, you don't have much of a reason not to have one.”

No one wants to have an abortion, even those who don’t think it’s wrong. Frederica Mathews-Greene said it best:

“For the question remains, do women want abortion? Not like she wants a Porsche or an ice cream cone. Like an animal caught in a trap, trying to gnaw off its own leg, a woman who seeks abortion is trying to escape a desperate situation by an act of violence and self-loss.”

Being a mother has made me more pro-life than ever, and also very, very cognizant of how incredibly strong the mother-child bond is, even when the child is still in the womb. I seriously doubt that the vast majority of women would have an abortion because of the physical difficulties of pregnancy, even severe difficulties. The vast majority would say it was absolutely worth it. (Though some may be pressured to abort for “health reasons” by misinformed doctors).

I also have a very hard time believing any woman would have multiple children and give them up for adoption purely for financial reasons, unless she was really desperate, as in the kind of desperation that drives some women to prostitution. I would imagine that giving a child away would be the emotional equivalent of amputating your own leg without anesthesia.

BTW, the whole Frederica Mathews-Greene article is here: It’s great.

Darwin said...


Your viewpoint strikes me as the normal and human way to respond to abortion. Certainly, it ties with what MrsD and I have experiences of pregnancy and childbirth.

And as I say, I do think that providing help to support people in adoption and single parenting as a result of "unwanted pregnancies" is a very good and important thing. (Local crisis pregnancy centers are one of our major donation areas.)

But I guess the thing that points me in the other direction (to the more heartless bits of analysis you point to) is that every so often on far-left sites I'll read stuff by women who say things like, "Abortion must be legal because I'm revolted by the idea of pregnancy and if I ever got pregnant I'd want an abortion" or "A fetus is a parasite that lives off your body and no one has a right to force me to keep that." Also, I seem to recall reading that at this point the majority of abortions are on "repeat customers".

So while it's clearly the case that many women feel truly trapped and only need the help of a crisis pregnancy center to make keeping their children seem possible -- it seems like there must be others who very much do not feel that way. I don't understand it, but it looks to me like it must be the case.

So while I would support all the efforts mentioned in the second half of the 95-10 Initiative (in regards to helping pregnant women) it seems to me that it won't work without _also_ emphasizing the truth of what abortion is, and why it's evil. So my concern with Kmiec's idea that Obama could move the pro-life movement forward is that even if Obama was willing to support the 95-10 Initiative (which frankly, I doubt) I don't think it would do much good if it was being pushed through by people unwilling to witness long and loudly to the evils of abortion.

Deuce said...

Ugh, it's impossible to take the proposal seriously, because it's not serious.

First of all, why should anyone care about reducing the number of abortions, unless they believe that abortion is unjust killing? And if you believe that abortion is unjust killing, it makes no sense that you would merely advocate making it marginally more convenient to choose alternatives, rather than also trying to make it illegal.

It's a pretty sad statement on the state of the Democratic party that the best policy their token "pro-life" organization can come up with is nothing more than a bait-and-switch tactic to help Democrats get elected by snookering gullible pro-lifers into believing that they are interested in reducing the number of abortions.

CMinor said...

I'm by no means an authority on the history of U. S. social policy, but this proposal sounds like Great Society v. 2.0 to me. Anybody else get that deja vu feeling? Anybody who supports it, can you please explain how it's gonna be different this time?