Some pro-choice people predict that abortion restrictions or bans will lead to a major increase in unwanted children. They occasionally claim abortion restrictions will lead to miserable, trapped mothers and abused, neglected children, an idea that is also behind the (tenuous) connection they draw between abortion restrictions and the foster care system. For example:
1. The myth of a large increase in unwanted children directly contradicts the myth that abortion restrictions don’t decrease abortions.
It cannot both be true that abortion restrictions (a) don’t stop people from obtaining abortions and (b) cause a major increase in live births. If all or nearly all the people who want abortions will get them regardless of the legality of it, we should expect birth rates to be largely unchanged in the wake of changing abortion law.
But actually the idea that abortion restrictions result in a massive increase of unwanted children is a half truth. The true part is that abortion restrictions correlate, at least initially, with higher birth rates — we’ve collected many studies here talking about this relationship. When abortion is less accessible, fewer people get abortions. The false part is that the children born because their mothers didn’t abort are “unwanted” children. More on that in points #3 and #4 below.
2. Abortion restrictions correlate with lower pregnancy rates.
Taking the opposite approach of the myth above, some pro-life and pro-choice people mistakenly believe that if abortion were outlawed, every single abortion would have been a live birth instead. So if there were 700,000 abortions in the U.S. last year, and if we were to ban abortion nationwide now, there would be 700,000 additional births next year. The data don’t support this calculation. There is substantial research to show that abortion restrictions are associated with lower unintended pregnancy rates. The idea is that many people view abortion as a back up plan or insurance policy; when a population knows in advance that abortion is less readily accessible, they take more precautions to avoid pregnancy in the first place. This “abortion as insurance” mentality is reflected not only in the research linked above but in stories such as these:
Austin urology clinic reports increased vasectomies as result of [Texas] Heartbeat Act, CBS Austin: “So, it’s really prompted that category of people to say, ‘Hey, it’s time we formalize our birth control planning,’ and many people are opting to have a vasectomy done.”
Planned Parenthood expands services as more Texans seek reliable birth control following abortion ban, KERA News, North Texas: Elizabeth Cardwell, lead clinician at Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said she’s been seeing an influx of panicked patients seeking more “effective and reliable” forms of birth control since the law went into effect.
In the wake of new abortion restrictions, lower pregnancy rates coexist with higher birth rates because it is simultaneously true that people are more careful to avoid pregnancy but, if they do get pregnant, they are less likely to access abortion.
3. The vast majority of women denied abortion raise and love their children.
When women who can’t get abortions give birth instead, it doesn’t follow that their children are unwanted. The Turnaway Study has demonstrated as much: of the women who sought but were denied abortion, 75% went on to give birth (the rest either obtained abortions elsewhere or miscarried). Of the women who gave birth, 90% raised their children themselves (10% placed for adoption). Of the women who raised their children themselves, 91% reported normal maternal bonding (this is compared to the 97% of women raising children they birthed after having prior abortions). Please remember that unwanted pregnancies are not the same as unwanted children.
4. Children placed for adoption aren’t unwanted.
When women decide not to raise their children themselves and to instead place those children for adoption, it still doesn’t follow that those children are unwanted. First, that idea oversimplifies the complex emotions involved when parents choose to place their children for adoption. Second, that idea ignores how badly countless potential adoptive parents want to adopt these newborns. In the United States the waiting list to adopt newborn children is vast, with approximately 36 couples waiting to adopt for every 1 child placed for adoption.
5. Children in foster care aren’t unwanted.
First, please note that newborn adoption and foster care are different systems with different goals and processes. Too many people — pro-choice and pro-life alike — mistakenly think foster care is basically just the holding system while children wait to be adopted. In reality newborns placed for adoption aren’t going into foster care; often the the adoptive parents receive the newborn at the hospital or shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile the primary goal of foster care is reunification with the child’s biological family, and most children in foster care aren’t even eligible for adoption. Foster care is meant to be a temporary setup to give parents time to alter their circumstances such that they can bring their children home again. The state may place a child in foster care for many reasons unrelated to the child’s “wantedness,” such as:
- Lack of adequate housing
- Lack of adequate food
- Children left unsupervised in inappropriate circumstances
- Parents struggling with addiction
- Parents incarcerated
- Children or parents have difficult mental health issues
And any number of other reasons. These are circumstances of families struggling; that doesn’t mean the children are unwanted. There are countless children in foster care whose parents desperately want them back and are trying to follow court-mandated plans to reunification.
Additionally, there are many foster parents and families who would very much like to adopt the children they are fostering, but may not be able to due to plans for reunification or to a lack of resources to support particular mental health issues and other challenging circumstances. None of that means the children are unwanted.
They can hear you.
The idea that outlawing abortion would lead to countless unwanted children is a myth, and a particularly harmful one. It’s one thing for people to advocate for abortion for the sake of the women choosing abortion, but it’s another thing entirely to advocate for abortion for the sake of those being aborted. Please keep in mind that when you suggest that abortion is preferable to being born in difficult circumstances (poverty, neglect, disability, etc.), you are judging the lives of people who are currently enduring or have already endured those circumstances — and they can hear you. We have collected testimonies here from people with those backgrounds discussing how they see the issue.
Some of these ideas in TikTok form: