…but I thought they were selfish sluts

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Guttmacher has a new study out about why women have abortions. And, shocker: Women list concern for their existing children and a desire for better parenting conditions among their top reasons for terminating pregnancies.

Women’s sense of responsibility for their existing and future children influences their decision to seek an abortion, according to “‘I Would Want to Give My Child, Like, Everything in the World:’ How Issues of Motherhood Influence Women Who Have Abortions,” by Rachel Jones et al., published in the January 2008 issue of the Journal of Family Issues. The majority (61%) of U.S. women who have abortions are already mothers, more than half of whom have two or more children. In many cases, women choose abortion because they are motivated to be good parents. Women who have no children want the conditions to be right when they do; women who already have children want to be responsible and take care of their existing children.

Anti-choicers like to draw lines between “women who have abortions” and “mothers.” What they fail to recognize is that more often than not, women who have abortions are also mothers; and women who aren’t yet mothers when they terminate pregnancies will often become mothers in the future.

“We found that consideration of motherhood issues in abortion decision-making falls into two broad areas: responsibilities for existing children and the ‘ideal’ conditions of motherhood,” says Rachel K. Jones, senior researcher with the Guttmacher Institute. “Among those women with children, the most commonly cited reason for choosing to have an abortion was the concern that having another child would compromise the care given to existing children. Women felt that they were already stretched thin financially, emotionally and physically—and they wanted to put the children they already had front and center. Two-thirds of women who gave this answer were at or below the poverty line and received little help from their partners.”

No one wants to be in a position where they’re faced with the choice of abortion. It always means that something has gone wrong — a woman is pregnant when she doesn’t want to be; a wanted pregnancy went wrong; her health or life is threatened; or her circumstances somehow changed to turn a wanted pregnancy into an unwanted one. But as much as the circumstances surrounding abortion are almost universally less than ideal, you can bet that women are damn grateful abortion is an option.

So as much as it’s crucial for abortion to remain available and accessible, pro-choicers generally agree that decreasing the abortion rate is a good thing, provided that the decrease means that fewer women have the need for abortion (and not that fewer women are able to access it). And that is where we run into problems with anti-choicers, who, despite their stated hatred for abortion, seem to do everything in their power to make abortion more common.

This study illustrates one aspect of that. Many women are having abortions because they can’t afford to have more children; the women themselves are saying that they can barely afford the children they do have. Mothers are stretched thin, emotionally and financially. And yet the “pro-life” Republican party opposes nearly all measures that would actually help low-income parents.

Universal healthcare? They’re against it. Expanding children’s healthcare for low-income families? Against it. Increased birth control access? Against it. Affordable day-care? Nope. Welfare? No. Early childhood education? No. Education in general? No. Medically accurate sexual health education? No No No No.

Would implementing progressive social policies totally decrease the need for abortion? Of course not. But it would surely go a long way to help. And it’s no coincidence that the countries with the most progressive health and human welfare policies also have the lowest abortion rates; it’s no coincidence that countries like France saw their birth rate pick up when they implemented wide-reaching family-friendly policies. It’s no coincidence that general well-being and women’s empowerment go hand in hand with reproductive justice.

In addition, many of the women surveyed made direct and indirect references to the “ideal” conditions of motherhood, expressing the view that children are entitled to stable and loving families, financial security, and a high level of care and attention. Because the women were unable to provide those conditions at the time, they did not feel they were in a position to have a child or, if they were already mothers, an additional child.

“Many of these women were already raising children in situations that were less than ideal, and when faced with the possibility of bringing another child into this environment, they preferred to wait until they were in a better situation to be good parents,” says Jones. “These women believed that it was more responsible to terminate a pregnancy than to have a child whose health and welfare could be in question.”

Without being asked directly, several of the women indicated that adoption is not a realistic option for them. They reported that the thought of one’s child being out in the world without knowing if it was being taken care of or by whom would induce more guilt than having an abortion.

Women are talking. It’s time to start listening and responding accordingly.

Author: has written 5267 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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31 Responses

  1. Daisy
    Daisy January 14, 2008 at 1:35 pm |

    Universal healthcare? They’re against it. Expanding children’s healthcare for low-income families? Against it. Increased birth control access? Against it. Affordable day-care? Nope. Welfare? No. Early childhood education? No. Education in general? No. Medically accurate sexual health education? No No No No.

    This is probably the thing that confuses me most, but it does lay their agenda bare…this isn’t about “the babies” at all–or they would be tirelessly working for these things. Why aren’t they?

    It just infuriates me.

  2. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe January 14, 2008 at 3:08 pm |

    Oh, but God will provide, right?

    And if He doesn’t, that just means you’re undeserving.

    It must be nice to have a simplistic worldview with all the answers.

  3. KMTBerry
    KMTBerry January 14, 2008 at 3:18 pm |

    Everything IN this study is not only OBVIOUS to anyone who has ever needed an abortion, but SHOULD be obvious to ANYONE with a BRAIN.

    Women have abortions BECAUSE they don’t have the financial and social elements necessary to be good parents. If they had these things, they wouldn’t NEED an ABortion.

    In MY life, the main reason I ever needed an abortion is simple simple simple: No Partner. Also known as the gentleman in question taking a powder.

    Yet how much propaganda is directed at young men? LIKE NONE!!!! It is seen as ALL THE WOMAN’S FAULT, always.

    I have said this elsewhere, but if they want to pass a law, pass a law that says: If you are found to be the genetic father of an infant, you must pay the mother twenty grand a year for eighteen years.

    THe Anti-abortion folks would STFU IMMEDIATELY. OH THE HORROR OF DEMANDING THAT THE MALE SHOULDER HALF THE RESPONSIBILITY!!@ THE HORROR!!!

    Because the female is asked to do exactly this PLUS full time childcare, even though the two are mututally exclusive. ANd everyone acts like it is not insane at all.

  4. Eve
    Eve January 14, 2008 at 3:37 pm |

    I keep trying to imagine a woman with children, who gets pregnant unexpectedly, and feels she can’t afford to raise another child. Do the anti-choicers really want her to go through pregnancy and childbirth and then give the child up for adoption? What do they think she should tell the children she already has? A full explanation would cause them to feel guilty. “Mommy can barely afford to feed you, honey, so I’m giving this new baby away to someone else.” Yeah, not feeling it.

  5. annejumps
    annejumps January 14, 2008 at 3:50 pm |

    Daisy, because you’d better just modestly and humbly work with what you’ve already got and not ask for handouts from your betters. Tsk tsk!

  6. viceabbess
    viceabbess January 14, 2008 at 4:13 pm |

    I agree wholeheartedly with the arguments made in this post- to the well presented points I would add these two:

    - Anti choice leadership tends to be very wealthy and have business interests in companies that pay workers low wages (think Wal-Mart). Hence their being against the policies that would promote healthy income for the working class- they want an uneducated, uninsured class of working poor to act as the serfs for this neo-feudal global economy.

    - Notice that all this trump about birth rates tends to come from white people- who don’t want more babies of any color, they want more white babies. Falling birth rates are great- it means that women are more educated (these two tend to go hand in hand, at least in research I have seen) and that we are having less environmental impact, since the current world population is several billion persons higher than our planet would ideally support.

  7. Lotte
    Lotte January 14, 2008 at 4:30 pm |

    I have a number of evangelical Christian friends who oppose abortion, but also support comprehensive sex education and social programs. I feel sorry for them, because their ideological consistency leaves them no one to vote for.

  8. Dianne
    Dianne January 14, 2008 at 4:38 pm |

    A full explanation would cause them to feel guilty. “Mommy can barely afford to feed you, honey, so I’m giving this new baby away to someone else.”

    Not to mention making them worry that they’ll be next up on the auction block. “If you couldn’t afford the baby,” the child might reason, “you can’t afford me either and will give me away some day.” Lovely way to raise your children. Almost as good as keeping the baby and everyone starving, physically or emotionally.

  9. pumpkin
    pumpkin January 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm |

    The article and this post are excellent – could not agree more. Which is why I got so utterly infuriated when the world’s head of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote an article decrying how lightly women take abortions. a) No we don’t and b) what is important is, like this article shows, we take childbearing and raising a child SERIOUSLY. Which is far, far more important. I wrote about it here, which will take you to his article, but I think feministe, unsurprisingly, was far more eloquent!

  10. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe January 14, 2008 at 6:30 pm |

    That article by the Archbishop of Canterbury was a bunch of mealymouthed mush about how difficult life is and how hard decisions must be made and how absolute positions don’t fit all circumstances and blah blah blah snore.

    I suppose that’s better than a thunderous condemnation of anti-life whores, but not by much. This is not an issue that’s susceptible of compromise: Either women are permitted to terminate their pregnancies or they’re forced to bear children against their will. Come down on one side or the other so I’ll know whether to support or fight you.

  11. SarahMC
    SarahMC January 14, 2008 at 6:45 pm |

    While I am thankful for this study I think it’s important we continue to insist that even those women who *just don’t want to have a baby* deserve reproductive freedom. It’s good that we highlight the results of this study, but we don’t want to be perceived as saying, “Look! These desperate women are already mothers! They fall into the madonna side of the madonna/whore dichotomy.”

  12. Rebecca
    Rebecca January 14, 2008 at 7:35 pm |

    SarahMC said what I was thinking and couldn’t quite articulate. Some of us would have abortions whether or not we could afford the munchkin simply because we don’t want kids in the first place and truly consider the pregnancy an accident that should be remedied asap.

  13. JackGoff
    JackGoff January 14, 2008 at 7:57 pm |

    Universal healthcare? They’re against it. Expanding children’s healthcare for low-income families? Against it. Increased birth control access? Against it. Affordable day-care? Nope. Welfare? No. Early childhood education? No. Education in general? No. Medically accurate sexual health education? No No No No.

    Because paying taxes is the same as stealing. See, redefining words as you see fit makes you not seem like a heartless piece of shit! Totally!

  14. Ailurophile
    Ailurophile January 14, 2008 at 8:24 pm |

    In Mother Nature, anthropologist Sara Blaffer Hrdy notes that, historically, most women worldwide have abortions, or commit infanticide, because either she can’t raise another child and give enough to her existing children (especially when an infant is born when an older child is still nursing); in hunting-gathering and horticultural societies, it’s “first come first served” where children are concerned. Or she has no family support – no husband or parents or other relatives nearby.

    In other words – EXACTLY THE SAME REASONS these women are choosing abortion. Women, under non-patriarchal conditions, don’t choose to have children when they can’t care for them adequately. In most egalitarian societies, women have three or four children spaced several years apart.

    Incidentally, Hrdy reports that only 7% (IIRC) of societies have specifically female infanticide. The vast majority of abortion and infanticide occurs because the woman feels she can’t care for her child adequately, or it will take resources away from her existing children. If we want to talk “natural” then pro-choice is “natural!”

  15. kate
    kate January 14, 2008 at 9:37 pm |

    Among those women with children, the most commonly cited reason for choosing to have an abortion was the concern that having another child would compromise the care given to existing children. Women felt that they were already stretched thin financially, emotionally and physically—and they wanted to put the children they already had front and center. Two-thirds of women who gave this answer were at or below the pove

    Exactly why I chose to have an abortion performed at 22 weeks along, which I regretfully delayed due to pressure from people I thought at the time were supportive friends.

    And I’m glad others have brought up the adoption issue when faced by a woman who was in a situation like mine; no, you don’t just go around carrying a pregnancy to term and explain to your young children you are giving it up because you can’t afford it. The ‘option’ was absolutely out of the question and most often when the question was posed to me, my explanation caused serious consideration — most had never considered the fact of my existing children and their emotional well being during such an event.

    Much less the financial sacrifice that my children would have suffered as I had no health insurance and absolutely no option for paid family leave and there was in no way whatsoever money coming from my ex husband for the existing children, nor was it looking like a dime would come from the ass I made my bad choice with.

    Probably if I had a dollar for every man who has impregnated a woman and never had to wink a minute about it or spend a dollar on the termination, adoption or upbringing, I’d be a lot better of than I am now.

  16. Donna
    Donna January 14, 2008 at 10:16 pm |

    But but but… everyone knows that when a woman gets herself pregnant and doesn’t want to be, she should take responsibility for her slutty actions by carrying to term! Now this so-called “study” is saying that having an abortion is a form of taking responsibility, can even be the most responsible option, and can benefit childrens welfare?
    Satan’s lies!

  17. mythago
    mythago January 14, 2008 at 11:31 pm |

    kate, I’m so sorry.

    Eve – that’s exactly what they think. To them, women are much like farm animals. You know, if you take a calf away from its mother, she freaks out for a few days but then forgets she ever had a calf, and won’t recognize it.

    this isn’t about “the babies” at all–or they would be tirelessly working for these things. Why aren’t they?

    Because they want somebody else to pay for their morality. It’s the modern monarchy complex.

  18. donna darko
    donna darko January 15, 2008 at 3:23 am |

    I knew it! and predicted it last year. Actually, I just read a lot and figure things out.

  19. Dana
    Dana January 15, 2008 at 4:56 am |

    While I am thankful for this study I think it’s important we continue to insist that even those women who *just don’t want to have a baby* deserve reproductive freedom. It’s good that we highlight the results of this study, but we don’t want to be perceived as saying, “Look! These desperate women are already mothers! They fall into the madonna side of the madonna/whore dichotomy.”

    Nicely written as usual :D

    It’s funny, my mother had an abortion a couple of years ago (she’s had me, my baby brother and sister who are 14 and 16 years younger than me respectively, three abortions and three miscarriages :(), and it was almost at sixteen weeks. I remember being somewhat horrified.

    Now quite frankly I don’t care how pregnant you are. I think it’s working at a shelter for a year. You see so many unwanted animals killed for no good reason, and you tell yourself it’s better than being neglected or abused or simply loved until they get bored of you and dump you. And eventually you think that it applies very well to parents.

    If you want to be a parent, which is more than a lack of hating the idea but also can be for planned or accidental pregnancies, that’s wonderful! Otherwise, don’t have the baby. Unless you really really feel adoption is the best thing and there is definitely a great home out there, and you could live with it.

    I just feel very strongly for informed decisions, even if made once the unthinkable (accidental pregnancy) has already happened

  20. Kat
    Kat January 15, 2008 at 9:09 am |

    I had an abortion for this very reason. I was a single mom of one child at the time. I found out I was pregnant. My partner was wishy-washy at best, and when we found out it was twins he bailed altogether. Things started getting very scary. I remember sitting at my desk at work, not working, just crunching numbers in my little household budget spreadsheet, projecting how two more would affect us, and never being able to balance it. I didn’t have a car that would fit 3 car seats. I couldn’t afford 3 daycare payments. The time off of work alone would throw us into a spiral. And I worried that if I had to be hospitalized (I had complications with my son) who would take care of my son? How would he manage without me? When you are a single mother, you are the only one giving your child stability. Their world can implode when you are taken out of the picture. And in his case (he has a disability) stability was even more important so he didn’t lose connection with the services he got. I had the abortion. It was sad, but it was a huge relief.

  21. The Raving Atheist
    The Raving Atheist January 15, 2008 at 12:13 pm |

    Perhaps the solution can be found in the Sherry F. Colb essay linked above: build a moral consensus in favor of infanticide centers to dispose of infants up to six months old. If a mother truly “can’t” afford to raise it (or bear to place it for adoption), painless euthanasia would certainly be preferable to a slow death by starvation. Additionally, a certain percentage of children who would have otherwise been aborted would be saved if the woman’s financial circumstances change in the interim.

  22. JackGoff
    JackGoff January 15, 2008 at 9:14 pm |

    RA, abortion is imminently preferable to any disingenuous alternatives involving infanticide you and your moronic ideological counterparts can come up with. Abortion doesn’t deal with a born human, and that’s the point. You think a person who can’t afford another child will pay for everything that comes with a pregnancy? I get your tongue-in-cheek horseshit with “can’t”, but seriously, STFU if you are going to pretend to be an idiot.

  23. JackGoff
    JackGoff January 15, 2008 at 9:15 pm |

    Then again, maybe you aren’t pretending.

  24. wolfgang
    wolfgang January 17, 2008 at 2:45 pm |

    RA- huh? Why wouldn’t a woman go for the painless euthanasia of her offspring when she found out she was pregnant, instead of waiting until she’d gone through 9 months of morning sickness and all the other physical, emotional and financial stress of pregnancy and birth? Why wait until the fetus is fully developed, able to survive outside the womb, and sensitive to neglect and pain? Sorry, despite what the billboards say, a fetus is NOT a baby.

  25. Mike the Mad Biologist
    Mike the Mad Biologist January 17, 2008 at 7:04 pm |

    Women Who Have Abortions Are Mothers…

    61% of women who have abortions already have children. So much for the ‘irresponsible slut’ propaganda….

  26. Women Who Have Abortions Are Mothers [Mike the Mad Biologist] | NewAge.org

    [...] already have children. So much for the ‘irresponsible slut’ propaganda. By way of Jill at Feministe, I found this Guttmacher Institute report (italics [...]

  27. Tapetum
    Tapetum January 20, 2008 at 4:48 pm |

    RA – except for the minor fact that a born infant can be taken care of by pretty much any other competant adult. Hence the reason infant-surrender laws work, by giving desperate new mothers a place where they can leave their babies for someone else to take care of. Unless you really think that babies abandoned at fire stations should be euthanized because their mothers aren’t up to the job. It’s a little different from being not up to the job that nobody else can possibly do. If you could have pregnancy-surrender laws, where desperate pregnant women could go to transfer their pregnancy to someone else who wanted to be pregnant, I suspect abortion would plummet. Provided you had sufficient women who wanted to be pregnant with the kinds of babies available.

  28. Sarah
    Sarah January 21, 2008 at 6:52 am |

    RA, there is a big difference between a person and a fetus. Please take the time to educate yourself before opening your foolish mouth.

  29. Because kids are important « Modus dopens

    [...] At some point I will probably want to have kids of my own. And if/when I do, I want to be in a position such that I can provide for them properly, and be as good a parent as possible. I take kids seriously, and in my experience, so do the vast majority of women. Seriously enough to say “I want the best for my kids, and that means a good mother capable of looking after kids.” And because I take kids that seriously, there are probably going to be times in my life when I’m not going to be in a position that I consider to be an acceptable one for raising a child. In those situations, having a child would be irresponsible both for the child and for me, if I didn’t have the resources to look after me or the kid. So it’s really no surprise that this study found that concern for future and existing children is a key reason given by women as a reason for having an abortion (hat tip: Feministe). [...]

  30. Roxie
    Roxie January 21, 2008 at 3:45 pm |

    I was watching television last night and there was (i think it was the travel channel) a marathon on about the people of the Bunlap tribe. It was very interesting.

    They’re a midsized tribe living on an Island and they get everything they need from that Island. Well, Moses (one of the members they follow around) had a wife and 3 children. The woman found out she was pregnant. Both she & Moses realized that they could not take care of the baby and their other 3 children.

    So, her husband went into the woods and made a drink out of plant and tree bark and water to cause her to miscarry. It worked and she did.

  31. “Pro-Life” Myth No. 3: Pro-choicers hate babies! « The Radical Notion

    [...] …But I Thought They Were Selfish Sluts! [...]

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