With the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade occurring this week there has been the expected influx of cartoons from conservatives lamenting all those millions of children who never got to live. My usual response to them is “Oh fuck you; if those kids had been born you wouldn’t give a damn about providing them an education or health care or even the basic necessity of food. You’re only “pro-life” as long as it’s a fetus, not an actual child.”
But Summers has actually stepped away from the pack, not in terms of their view, but in making an argument one step above “Here’s a drawing of tons of babies who weren’t born because of Roe v. Wade (because apparently people don’t age in heaven, even the infants).”
Yes, Social Security is not funded because we’re lacking about 55 million Americans. Never mind that Social Security can continue to pay out benefits until 2038 as it is right now. Old people are in danger of having to root through garbage cans for leftover bits of cat food because 55 million people were never born.
The basic idea of “X million number of babies weren’t allowed to grow up because of Roe v. Wade” has a not-insignificant flaw in its thinking, but Summers’ argument is even more flawed because they’re trying to draw a basic correlation between two ideas (millions of babies have been aborted, and Social Security is insolvent) without any regard for a number of other factors that would be at play here.
Let’s just run this down briefly.
If Roe v. Wade had not established a constitutional right to abortions, and if there had not instead been a movement among pro-choicers to get legislation passed (be it at the state or federal level) decriminalizing abortion, abortions would still be happening. As conservatives are so keen to remind us, criminalizing assault weapons would not put an end to mass shootings. Likewise, criminalizing abortion (or maintaining its illegality) would not prevent any and all abortions from happening.
The most well-known alternative to safe, legal abortions is the back-alley practitioner who’s instruments are one-step above a wire coat-hanger. But that would not be the sole alternative. See, the rich would not really be restricted by abortion being illegal. They would have avenues to terminating unwanted pregnancies, virtually all leading to competent, trained professionals working in hygienic conditions and willing to perform these services in exchange for a price the wealthy would have no trouble paying. The risk to the woman’s life would be mitigated, just as women having legal abortions today can do so safe in the knowledge their lives are not in danger.
But those doctors, the ones willing to perform the operation, would be ones who treat (virtually exclusively) the upper class, and who, of course, would belong to the upper class themselves. They all belong to a different world, one with its own mores that don’t necessarily bother themselves with the law. Make no mistake: the issue of the legality of abortion carries with it a streak of class warfare.
So already the “55 million more Americans” claim is bunk, because at least some abortions would still have been performed. There’s no way to calculate how many, but the answer is still “some.”
Other doctors, the ones who treat the middle class or the poor (when the poor can get medical treatment), would be far less likely to perform abortions (unless they are driven by an overwhelming sense of moral obligation). Their patients would not be able to provide any financial compensation to overshadow the risk in breaking the law. Because when laws against abortion are enforced, who will the police be focusing their attention on? The wealthy private practitioner who belongs to the same country club to the mayor and chief of police, or the doctor who, five years after completing her residency, is still paying off her students loans and moonlights at the free clinic for extra bucks?
So the poor and most of the middle class would in all likelihood not, in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, be able to find any way to terminate the pregnancy with a significant degree of guaranteed professionalism. For many women in this situation, they will resign themselves to carrying the fetus to term.
But not all will do that. Some will take out the wire coat-hanger, or go online and find other ways to terminate the pregnancy themselves. An untold number of them will suffer significant trauma or even death. Some will be able to find a trained medical professional who is able to perform the abortion, though nowhere near as easily as the rich do.
So among the poor and middle class, there will still be abortions performed.
But let’s say the vast majority of pregnancies that were, in our world, terminated ended up being carried to term, or attempted to be carried to term. Because the question of whether a fertilized egg makes it all the way to the birth does not only depend on “Did the woman seek an abortion?” Any number of things can happen in those nine months or so, and because we’re talking about millions of women whose lives would have gone down different paths than they did in real life, there’s no way of knowing what would have happened.
It’s the butterfly effect. Instead of the woman getting an abortion and her life going down one path, she instead kept the fetus and went down a different path. It’s impossible to know what would have happened in each and every case, but statistics would tell us that some of the pregnancies would not be carried to term. Accidents or injuries could result in the fetus being destroyed; health complications could result in a stillborn.
So we have “(55 million) - (Number of abortions performed despite the illegality) - (Number of unborn loss to injury or death unrelated to abortion).”
But then, once the baby is born, we have other factors to consider.
Going back to the issue of class and economics, if a wealthy woman decided not to get an abortion but instead carry the fetus to term, there’s little to worry about for the future of the child. They’ll be provided for, they’ll never go hungry or lack for anything. Unless they’re sent to an orphanage, then their quality of life will take a dip. Even the children born into the middle class would enjoy all the necessities of life, assuming their arrival does not put so crushing a financial burden on their family that the parents can’t provide and everyone in the family suffers (but that’s probably unlikely).
And among those born into the middle and upper class there will still be accident, illness, untimely death. It’s a fact of life.
But it’s those born into poverty that I want to focus on. The parents (or just the mother, depending on the situation) are already struggling to provide for themselves. Now they have a baby to take care of. They need food, they need diapers, they need vaccinations and other medical care, they need clothing. When the child is old enough they’ll need school supplies.
Best case scenario, the child will get all of this. It will be hard for the parents, they’ll have to make sacrifices, but the child will be able to grow up healthy, well-adjusted, and educated enough to at least enter the work force, if not pursue higher education in some form or another. They will be fully-functional, mature adults who might even manage to rise above their station and join the middle class. Or hell, maybe even the upper class. Sky’s the limit.
But not every child will get the “best case scenario,” will they? Many of the children born into poverty will never get out of the ghetto. They will go hungry, they will lack, they will not get a quality education. Depending on where they live they may fall in with a gang or develop addictions (and no, talking about children joining gangs is not hyperbole; watch The Wire, it’s not fantasy). Many will die because of violence or malnutrition or a lack of basic medical care. That’s the worst case scenario.
So now it’s “(55 million) - (Number of abortions performed despite the illegality) - (Number of unborn loss to injury or death unrelated to abortion) - (Number of those who don’t make it to adulthood).” And there will be a disproportionate number of the poor in that last parenthetical. The poor run the higher risk of death due to starvation or illness or violence.
The middle ground, what will likely happen to most of those born into poverty, is that they will stay below the poverty line, but they will survive. They’ll get some kind of education, they’ll be healthy enough, and when they’re old enough they’ll get a job. Most assuredly minimum wage, not necessarily enough hours a week to make ends meet. And not all of them will get jobs, because unemployment is impossible to ever fully eradicate. Many will have to apply for unemployment benefits or welfare or food stamps. They’ll need help from the government. The burden on the social safety net would be greater than it is here and now in our world.
And do you really think that Summers and all the other conservatives decrying all those lives lost to Roe v. Wade would not be instead decrying the millions of moochers sucking on Uncle Sam’s tit? Summers would make the exact same cartoon as at the top of this post; just change the headline to “Cuts to Social Security to fund welfare state.”
If all (or more realistically, most) of those millions of aborted fetuses had instead become viable, living humans, conservatives wouldn’t be decrying abortion. They would be decrying “All those poor families having too many kids they can’t afford.” (Which they already do anyway.)
I do understand why the anti-abortion crowd is so gung-ho about their cause. They think life begins at conception, when nothing has happened other than a single sperm penetrating the wall of an egg. I don’t agree with that view, but I understand their ideology.
But arguments like this are bullshit. It’s bad enough when they try to make an emotional appeal (“Look at all this little babies, you abortion-loving monsters!”) because of the aforementioned hypocrisy about them no longer caring once the child is born. But this kind of hyperbole is just insulting. As if things could be so simple as “If we didn’t have abortion, Social Security would be fine.”
And then there’s the other fact: unwanted pregnancies are pretty easy to prevent in the first place. Condoms, birth control pills, the morning after pill. Proper sex education delivered to teenagers as they become sexually aware/active.
But conservatives can’t do that, can they? Because sex itself is a political issue, a moral issue. They can’t stand by and allow other people to have sex without consequence. They can’t allow people to have sex just for pleasure. They can’t allow people to have sex outside of marriage.
They need to control one of the most fundamental acts of nature, they need to do what they can to ensure everyone everywhere is following their moral code. And instead of acknowledging that this nigh-psychotic desire for control leads to another problem they don’t approve of (unwanted pregnancies lead to abortion), they instead can only try to tighten their grasp, try to enforce even more control on the public.
And I just can’t take that seriously. Whatever the sincerity they feel, whatever moral foundation they build their arguments upon, they go to such ridiculous lengths to deny basic facts and basic logic that they undermine themselves.
If you want to prevent abortion, hand out condoms. It could be as simple as that, but conservatives, especially the Religious Right, cannot allow themselves to give up even that inch.