Abortion Affects More People Than You Think

In my previous article we continued our journey toward winning every political debate. In particular, we saw that abortion’s impact on the mother and the child is far from simple or straight forward.

Figure 1. Simplified Saturated Policy View for abortion including impact on the fetus and the mother

In this article we will finish the left-hand column. Our main question is a derivative of the original:

Who, apart from the fetus (1) and the mother (2), is impacted by abortion and how?

Abortion may impact more people than you ever imagined including anyone and everyone in this crowd. Photo by Mārtiņš Zemlickis on Unsplash

During pregnancy, the mother bears all the direct physical and mental ‘costs’ associated with her fetus. She is also the only one who can give birth.

If you’ve ever been part of the process of (natural) birth in any capacity, you know as well as I do that every mother who’s done that even once is a true real-life superhero by virtue of this fact alone! I believe that the amount of pain and effort required is impossible to truly imagine for anyone who hasn’t undergone this wonderful but enormously testing process themselves.

During a child’s upbringing, however, the situation could be completely different. The father, grandparents, or other relatives may take over most or all of the costs and effort. Circumstances matter, of course, and so does culture. In many societies the mother is still supposed to fill the role of the primary caregiver to this day.

In theory, however, there’s nothing stopping the father from becoming the primary or only caregiver. He can provide physical, emotional, and financial support, and cater to a child’s every need. Thanks to the invention of formula, this now includes feeding them from day zero. Relatively recent research suggests that fathers’ oxytocin (the hormone associated with social bonds) levels are elevated after happy play with their babies. This indicates that even biology may support the idea of fathers as the main or only parent responsible for a child’s well-being.

As a result, (modern) fathers may be severely impacted by abortion. They may be devastated by losing the child and the opportunity to love it, cherish it, and support it. On the flip side, they could be free to carry on with their lives unimpeded by parental obligations if abortion happens to be the prevailing choice.

(I focused on the father for simplicity’s sake, but very similar logic applies to other family members who may be in the same position).

Just to be perfectly clear, I’m not arguing that the effort required by the father is necessarily equal to the mother’s throughout a child’s life or that the father should have equal say in the decision to abort or keep the fetus. What I am arguing is that the decision may have a great impact on the father. Not taking this impact into account is oversight, which can give you an opening if committed by your opponent in a debate.

Whoever provides attention, energy, time, love, and financial resources to the child who didn’t get aborted, all of that has to be shared if there are other children in the household.

Conversely, more resources remain with the first children if their numbers don’t increase. I know this sounds like a cruel point but the simple mathematical validity of the argument cannot be denied. Love may be an infinite resource, but energy, attention, time, and money are not. Perhaps this is why the interests of other children are among the most common reasons women give for wanting an abortion in the first place.

While the previous four groups of people are commonly part of the abortion debate, I’d be willing to bet a significant amount that you haven’t considered abortion’s impact on people looking to adopt.

Some of you may even feel irritated by the idea. How could complete strangers be impacted by an intimate personal or family matter like abortion? And why should anyone take their interest into account?

I’m happy to concede that the impact on potential adopters is comparatively low. In many scenarios, e.g. if the mother’s health is threatened, it is probably straight up irrelevant.

It is difficult to get exact numbers, but it is estimated that there are between one and two million couples waiting to adopt in the US alone. They have a lot of love, attention, and resources to give; and adoption is the only option for most them to do so and experience the immense joys of parenthood. In addition, the majority of them prefer to adopt very young children.

In circumstances that make adoption viable, for example in third-semester pregnancies with no health risks, adoption can be a viable alternative that may help everyone involved.

Thus, I believe the inclusion of adopters and adoption in the abortion conversation is more than justified.

The five groups we’ve covered so far have one thing in common: they are unique to the topic of abortion. At the same time, however, there are three groups of stakeholders that always exist and thus have to be taken into account for every policy. Let’s conclude our discussion with a brief review of who is included in each of these three groups in the case of abortion.

There’s a reason expressions like ‘follow the money’ and ‘cui bono’ (who benefits) are highly common in legal/police jargon. In this respect, policy is no different from crime. Whatever the policy decision, some companies, other organizations, and individuals likely profit from it while others lose.

Abortion policy certainly has an impact on the medical institutions and staff involved in the procedure itself including hospitals and specialized clinics like Planned Parenthood.

If abortion is legal, even if only in a restricted number of circumstances, they perform the procedure for which they get paid.

Even if abortion is illegal, some women will get it (a point we’ll get back to in a subsequent article). Like everything else in the black market, it could get expensive, but it will get done.
Institutions are out of the question in such cases, so they will definitely not benefit. But somebody will. Most likely, individual doctors will have to weight up their conscience and the risk that comes with illegality against their desire to help women and yes, a chance to make money.

Finally, but still on the subject of economic interest, we must mention competing alternatives. It’s likely that the harder it is to get abortions, the more contraceptives manufacturers and providers of alternative procedures like vasectomies will benefit. The effect may be small, but it will almost certainly exist.

If we accept the simple fact that recognized self-interest drives behavior, it makes perfect sense that those with vested economic interests will try to influence policy. Wouldn’t you if you stood to gain or lose significant a amount of money or power (or your job) depending on the outcome of a policy decision?

While organized interests may be viewed as the outgrowth of professional and economic interest, there is usually wider support behind them. Interests Groups in the United States commonly have thousands of members, the majority of whom are regular citizens who happen to think a certain way and desire that thinking to be reflected in policy.

Interest groups may exert considerable influence on politicians and the public through advertising and advocacy. Their attempts to influence decision makers may vary greatly depending on country, political rules, and culture. These methods may, of course, take the form of illicit practices such as bribery and corruption. As these happen behind closed doors, they are hard to study and comment on.

Fortunately for us, in the United States, much of such influencing happens transparently within the established frameworks of lobbying and campaign financing.

According to VoteSmart, nine abortion-focused Interests Groups have been active in the period of 2019–2020. Of these, five were pro-life (including one consisting of Democrats) and four pro-choice.

As OpenSecrets clearly shows, however, the actual contributions by these groups were severely imbalanced. As of July 30, 2020, Planned Parenthood spent by far the most money with USD 2.3M donated to pro-choice causes.

This amount dwarfs all other groups combined including the second-placed NARAL Pro-Choice America, which spent a trifling 400k. Talk about following the money!

Most if not all policy areas have some, at least indirect or potential, impact on every member of the community. Abortion is no exception. Let’s see three ways in which abortion policy may affect you even if you are 0% personally involved and have no stake in the debate.

a. Abortion and crime

If mothers are forced to carry to term, at least some of the unwanted children may be more likely to engage in criminal activity. Why? There could be several reasons, many of which probably overlap with the mother’s motivation to get an abortion in the first place. To mention a few specifics, it’s rather easy to see how poverty, physical or emotional abuse, or the mere fact of not being wanted may hinder one’s chances for a happy and fulfilling childhood followed by a gleefully crime-free adulthood.

Sounds far-fetched and hypothetical? The Donohue-Levitt hypothesis posits exactly this, a causal relationship between crime and abortion (after controlling for a host of other variables). The jury is still out on its exact merit, but the hypothesis seems solid with a reasonable amount of evidence behind it. Certainly enough to merit serious consideration.

b. The economic impact of abortion

One reason women want an abortion is limited access to financial resources. To put it simply, many people recognize that they are too poor to support a(nother) child. If abortion is not an option for them, they may be forced to go on welfare. In case they already are, caring for a child is not going to help their chances of getting off the welfare train.

It’s stating the obvious to point out that in this situation the entire community bears the costs resulting from the denied abortion. This includes you if you happen to pay taxes in any form.

c. Abortion’s influence on population dynamics

Every community needs children to survive and sustain itself.

The basic logic is simple. Only people in a certain age range (say from the beginning of adulthood until retirement) contribute directly to the economy as value generators. The more people a society has outside this range, especially if they are there to stay like senior citizens, the harder it becomes to maintain public services in the long term. An increasing number of countries face this so-called demographic time bomb, whose effects are perhaps most vividly visible in present-day Japan.

Depending on a number of factors like mortality or immigration, the fertility rate needed to maintain productivity is generally estimated around 2.1.

Why is this relevant for abortion? Because governments recognize the importance of fertility. According to a UN report,

The percentage of Governments with policies to raise fertility has almost doubled from 14 per cent in 1996 to 27 per cent in 2013.

More to our point, abortion policy is one way many of these countries attempt to manage their falling fertility rates. They may be on to something as (based on the same report)

Fertility rates are significantly higher in countries with restrictive abortion policies.

Of course we can and should question whether fertility itself is a good thing regardless of the conditions children grow up in. That said, the fact still remains that if your country’s fertility rate is chronically low, someone will have to pay the price. And that someone may very well be you.

Our work on the left-hand column finally done, let’s see how the third incarnation of our figure looks.

Figure 2. Figure 1. Simplified Saturated Policy View for abortion including impact on the fetus and the mother

Some bullet points may have seemed far-fetched at first but I hope I convinced you that there is a solid argument for why each group is impacted by abortion.

Perhaps more importantly, I trust that there were at least a few you didn’t think of. Why? Because then the chances are your future debate opponents won’t either.
As long as you take Figure 3 to the debate and probe them with questions like ‘Did you consider the impact of the solutions you are proposing on fathers, other family members, or crime in society?’; or ‘Can you account for how interest groups may have influenced your views?’; you’re several steps closer to winning.

Now they may try to brush some or all your points off by arguing that the impact on some of these stakeholders is so small as to merit no consideration. Your answer is, of course, up to you.

I would start by conceding that the degree to which different members on this list are impacted is vastly different. Abortion is a matter of life and death for the fetus; crucial for the mother (or other family members) in most cases; and ‘merely’ a matter of lost jobs or increased revenue/political power for some institutions.

Comparatively small impact does not, however, equal no impact! Like it or not, any policy decision made regarding abortion does affect all these stakeholders. If you believe in the notion of informed decision making, you must take them into account.

There is, however, a very important point the subtlest of your opponents may touch upon.

The magnitude and exact form of abortion policy’s impact on various individuals depends on specific policy solutions and circumstances.

So that’s where we are going next.

A political scientist (Ph.D.) and social psychologist (MA) fighting for a better world the only way I know how: on the battlefield of idea(l)s.

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