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There has been a wealth of research on the question of why women have abortions. We know from sources such as the Guttmacher Institute (which supports abortion) that indeed, “a lot of it has to do with economics.” In the overwhelming majority of cases, women cite socioeconomic factors like financial strain, career and educational priorities, and relationship difficulties. Very few of the 1.2 million abortions that take place in the United States each year involve the circumstances that pro-choice groups like to focus on (e.g. rape and health risks).
I have frequently cited this research in my own talks. For instance, I often point out that no one has an abortion because they feel like an alien parasite has invaded their body, despite the political rhetoric to the contrary. But I now believe that this is the wrong approach to the question.
I propose that there are, in reality, only three reasons why women have abortions.
Socioeconomic reasons for having an abortion sound rational on the surface, but they are really only rational if you accept an unstated premise. That premise is that the unborn child is something less than a living human being who currently exists.
Toddlers often cause the same socioeconomic difficulties that women cite as reasons for having abortions. But, sociopaths aside, mothers do not kill their toddlers. Why not? Because the life of the toddler is impossible to deny. When people understand that their children are living human beings, they usually act appropriately by getting help instead of resorting to violence.
In other words, a woman does not simply have an abortion because she is having economic difficulties. She has an abortion because she is having economic difficulties and she believes that her unborn child is “a clump of cells,” or mere “potential life,” or a “future child.” Abortion businesses are all too happy to reinforce these popular misunderstandings.
This is why pro-life education on the reality of human life in the womb is so important. This is why pro-life advocates champion ultrasounds as a life-saving technology. Ignorance underlies many of the surface reasons for seeking an abortion.
Tragically, many women and girls who understand that their children are living human beings still wind up obtaining abortions due to forces beyond their control. Abusive boyfriends, husbands, and sometimes the mother’s own parents make the decision. These situations are incredibly common. (In addition, some internal factors, such as untreated mental illness, can be described as coercive.)
#3 Health concerns
Very few abortions in the United States are performed because of a risk to the mother’s life or physical health. However, when this does happen, it can happen without ignorance or coercion. A mother may legitimately believe that it’s her life or her child’s life and act in self-defense.
Note that I do not include abortions that are done because the child has a health problem. Killing an unborn child with disabilities falls under the ignorance rubric, because hardly anyone would believe that a disability is an acceptable reason to murder a “real, live child.”
Am I suggesting that we should refuse to give medical and financial help to mothers who are struggling? Absolutely not. Those are things we should be doing regardless of whether or not abortion is tolerated in our society, and I applaud the work of pro-life pregnancy resource centers that address these issues. I only hope that someday, our societal attitudes toward the unborn will be radically transformed. We’ll know that the transformation has happened when such acts of kindness toward pregnant mothers are just that, acts of kindness– and not the life-saving interventions they are today.