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.