The Growing Problem of Abortion As Birth Control for Women With Children

The Growing Problem of Abortion As Birth Control for Women With Children by Lynn Wardle (posted 111214)

An article posted in “Slate” on October 7, 2011, presents some telling statistics about abortion in the USA.  In “Most Surprising Abortion Statistic: The Majority of Women Who Terminate Pregnancies Are Already Mothers,” by Lauren Sandler, available at  , the author discusses a 2010 report by Rachel K. Jones, Lawrence B. Finer and Susheela Singh, “Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients,” published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute  at , that was based on 2008 data.  It revealed that 61 percent of women who had an abortion that year already had at least one child; indeed, over one-third of them (34%) had two or more children. Sandler’s phone call to the National Abortion Federation revealed that their data shows that for the past three years (since the economic problems became a national issue in 2008) “a whopping 72 percent of NAF clients looking to terminate a pregnancy were already mothers, up at least 10 percent from the years before the economy crashed.”  (Emphasis added)

The astonishingly high percentages appear to be credible, at face value.  The Alan Guttmacher Institute has long reported the most accurate data about abortion (as far as it goes, more complete and reliable than CDC data), and the National Abortion Federation data appears to be comparable to it on this point, and, if anything, those organizations might have incentive to under-report rather than inflate this data because of the “stigma” of such abortions (a topic briefly discussed in the Slate article).

This reminded me of research I did in Japan and the USA in 1988 comparing the history of abortion practice and regulation in those two countries.  See Lynn D. Wardle, “Crying Stones”: A Comparison of Abortion in Japan and the United States, 14 N.Y.L. Sch. J. Int’l & Compar. L. 183 (1993).   Among the striking differences then was that best data indicated that about 70 percent of all abortions in Japan were performed on married women (who are likely to have had a child), whereas about 80 percent of all abortions in the USA were performed on single women.

While the percentage American women having abortions who are unmarried has  remained about the same (now 85% according to the 2010 Jones, Finer & Singh report cited above), the incidence of premarital sex among American women, including sex by nonmarital cohabitants, has dramatically increased in the past quarter-century, and the percentage of childbirths out of wedlock as skyrocketed (from 22% in 1985 to nearly 44% today), at least doubling the likelihood that women presenting for abortion have previously given birth to or have one or more children.

Historically, abortion was viewed as and reserved for situations of “tragic necessity” in Japan.  Four centuries ago, it was the abject poverty of the peasants and rigid hierarchical strictures of the commercial and samurai classes in Japan’s rigid feudal system that pushed the latter into abortion and the former into infanticide.  For most peasant families it was perceived to be a matter of either killing the newborn or starving the other existing family members.  Such desperation drives irrational and extreme actions.

In America, the land of opportunity, historically abortion has had a different origin and motivation.  It was expediency, to cover-up the unwanted consequences of secret behavior that, if not eliminated would reveal facts that would expose the parties to stigma.

The increase in rates of American women with children having abortions during the past three years suggests, however, that it is desperation that it driving (and distorting the judgment) of at least some women seeking abortion, and that, despite living in the free-est land of opportunity in the world, they view their economic plight and prospects as being very distressed.  That is a sad commentary on the general contemporary perception of quality of life and of the chances for economic improvement and upward mobility in the USA today.

The persistent practice of abortion-as-birth-control is also suggested by these statistics.  Most of these cases are are not “hard case” scenarios, but choices of expediency, convenience and personal preferences.  The use of abortion in that context is deeply disturbing and provides a sad commentary on the moral quality of life and the character of some American women (and those who influence them) in this generation.

Also distressing is the Slate article’s suggestion that abortion of the unexpected or unplanned unborn child is viewed by some mothers as morally justified because it may be beneficial for their other children.  One study found “that most mothers who abort say they are doing so to protect the kids they already have.”  Someday they will tell their living child (or children), “I loved you enough to kill another child of mine, an unborn child, so that you could have more affluence, more resources, and more opportunities.”  One wonders what the living child will have lost, been deprived of, because of living without the aborted sibling.  What will be the moral effect on the surviving child of mother’s deliberate killing of a living-but-unborn sibling to increase the survivor’s piece of the family resource pie?  Will the living child feel obliged to accept the principle that killing others to obtain more fiscal resources and opportunities for oneself or one’s loved ones is moral and just?  Will she believe that life is really a “Donner party” experience, or a “lifeboat” competition to survive (and beware if you fall asleep for your companions may see to it that you never wake up again) – not just for the most desperate and starving but for those whose plans for how they will climb the ladder of success may be disrupted or inconvenienced by unexpected burdens imposed by another human life?


Lynn Wardle