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In the debate over finding “common ground” on abortion, much has been made of the fact that, when asked why they chose to have an abortion, many women say, “I can’t afford another child right now.” Given this response, some have suggested that providing additional supports to pregnant women might help reduce the abortion rate. The thinking goes that if women feel the economic obstacles are too great to carry a pregnancy to term—especially an unintended pregnancy—then policies that ease those burdens may help a woman ultimately have a child that she wants to have. An alternative line of thinking suggests that if a woman is trying to decide between abortion and carrying to term, additional supports may tip the balance and lead her to choose having the child.
The Center for American Progress continues to believe that, per the public health data, widespread access to contraception is the most effective method available for reducing unintended pregnancy, especially when coupled with medically accurate sex education. Unintended pregnancy is, after all, the proximate cause of the vast majority of abortions. We also believe that the government should not be in the business of promoting one moral viewpoint over another, nor should it try to persuade individuals to make particular health care decisions that have no bearing on public health outcomes.
Nevertheless, we do believe in taking a comprehensive approach to addressing reproductive health needs and we feel that it is an important policy objective in its own right to provide better supports to pregnant women, regardless of any potential subsequent effect on the abortion rate. We will therefore be examining, through a series of issue briefs, a variety of meaningful ways in which we can better address the needs of pregnant women.
When a woman says she can’t afford a child, she is not just thinking of the nine months of pregnancy, the first few months after the child is born, or even the first few years of life. She is most likely thinking about the next 18 years—or beyond—and how she will clothe, bathe, feed, house, nurture, and educate another human being for that entire period of time.
She may already have one or more children to care for—indeed 6 out of every 10 women who have abortions are already mothers. She may be the primary caretaker for a disabled or elderly member of her family. She may want a family one day but feel economically or emotionally unprepared to start one now. She may have a partner who is willing to help raise a child or not. She may be working, unemployed, or trying to finish her education so she can better support herself and her loved ones. If working, she may have secure employment, or she may be one sick day away from a pink slip. She may be in perfect health, have a chronic illness, struggle with addiction, or suffer intimate partner violence. She may have health insurance, or she may be uninsured. She might consider adoption or think it is out of the question.
In short, a multitude of factors may affect her decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy. And “I can’t afford a child right now” can encompass a number of these factors. Diapers and formula are clearly not sufficient. Systematic changes to health care, the workplace, the adoption system, and others are necessary to have a real effect on the lives of pregnant women.
Jessica Arons is the Director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress.
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