The Zika virus is the latest predicate for the argument that we need to make abortion more available to poor women. It’s just tragic all around. Abortion advocates trade on fears that poor women would give birth to children suffering microcephaly, though a review of Colombian and U.S. medical resources indicates that the link is quite uncertain.
Though Zika is new, the argument tying more legal abortion to the plight of poor women is old. And it always goes like this. Step 1: Find a health problem that poor women or their children suffer disproportionately more then other women. Step 2: Recommend abortion as the solution. Step 3: Include self-deprecating language about how the person making the argument is a woman of privilege who is not at risk of the aforementioned health problem and who is therefore promoting abortion strictly altruistically. Step 4: Round up the usual suspects. These inevitably include the Catholic Church, pro-life politicians and uncaring men. Special disdain is reserved for pro-lifers who cannot demonstrate that they recently tried to adopt a disabled child. Step 5: Recite a litany of the programs and opportunities that would allegedly preclude the “need” for abortion among the poor but that are expensive and unachievable over the short run—hence the continued resort to the cheaper and quicker abortion solution.
Yet no matter how often it is repeated, the “merciful” case for abortion fails.
First, poor women have never wanted abortion as much as more privileged women have wanted to provide it for them. This finding has been constant for years, and the situation in Colombia is no exception. Poor women have fewer abortions per pregnancy than women of greater means. This is despite (and because of) the hundreds of millions of federal dollars (domestically and internationally) spent on contraception targeted to them.
Second, abortion really does cause women’s suffering, even or perhaps especially on the grounds of the child’s disability. This is not a debating or debatable point any longer. We are well past anecdote on this matter. And no one knows it better than the Catholic Church, with its Project Rachel ministry to thousands and thousands of women after abortion. A few weekends ago I spent time with several women who had experienced abortion following rape. Ten, 20, 40 years ago…it doesn’t matter. They regret the loss of the child bitterly. They just do, and it makes all the sense in the world.
Third, one has to wonder at what point advocates of more legal abortion will acknowledge not only that opponents are taking care of women and children before and after birth in extraordinary numbers, but that “pro-choice” organizations are doing almost nothing. It is extraordinary, really, this false—and ironic—accusation. I call it the “lazy slander of the pro-life cause.”
Fourth, a fair, empirical review of the literature urges caution at the very least, before commencing a full-on contraception-will-fix-it campaign. No matter one’s theological opinion about contraception, the net health effects of contraception are uncertain. There are the increased rates of nonmarital and unintended pregnancies among the poor who receive free contraception, as noted above. There is the Department of Health and Human Services’ admission that the current array of contraception (the same array the government would foist upon the Little Sisters of the Poor) is unpopular with women (40 percent annually leave their method), dangerous especially for obese women (36 percent of the population) and ineffective at surprising rates (failure rates of 9 percent to 30 percent). There is also the fact that nearly five years after the preventive services report that provoked the H.H.S. contraception mandate, the government’s preventive services body has yet to adopt its recommendation to list contraception. Then there are the nearly annual settlements, amounting to billions of dollars, paid by pharmaceutical companies to women harmed by contraception or to their surviving families.
Finally, there is the poignant fact that one cannot recommend abortion on the grounds of the disability of the child involved without making an awful statement about the value of the lives of all disabled people. It cannot be helped and even by itself should shut down the “merciful” case for abortion.