Where Have All the
Children Gone?

The great irony of the pro-life movement is that if it’s successful in making abortion illegal throughout the land its concern for the sanctity of life might actually result in fewer rather than more babies born.

How so?

First of all, if abortion is made illegal, just as in the days before Roe v. Wade, women will still get abortions, only now more of these abortions may result in infertility due to less qualified medical personnel performing them. Also women who die or are maimed do not have more children after their illegal abortions. Illegal abortions and fewer births resulting from dead or injured women will probably be made up for by women forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, but the number of additional births, almost exclusively among the poor, will probably be small.

And that increase in births will be more than offset by middle-income and wealthy women taking more drastic methods to avoid pregnancy in the first place. One thing that is crucial to understand about legal abortion is that it offers women a relatively inexpensive and low-risk safety net. Knowing that abortion is legal allows women the option of using slightly less effective methods of contraception like condoms and diaphragms because a safety net is available. If and when these methods fail, some women, when confronted with the option of abortion, will choose to carry their pregnancies to term. If they did not have a safety net, they may have chosen more effective methods of contraception to begin with, like birth control pills, and put up with the possible side effects, greater health risks, and sometimes greater expense. In other words, more effective contraception used because no inexpensive safety net exists may result in fewer pregnancies brought to term because there are fewer pregnancies to begin with.

Sterilization, as the most effective method of contraception, will be more frequently deployed if abortion is illegal, especially if women know they won’t be able to get abortions in cases of fetal deformities or for health reasons. Again, you can’t change your mind and choose to bring a pregnancy to term if you aren’t pregnant to begin with.

In addition to sterilization and more frequent use of birth control pills, women will have the option of using such pills as abortifacients. Since an overdose of birth control pills can sometimes destroy an embryo that has not yet implanted, such “under the radar” abortions will take place by the thousands in the privacy of women’s own homes.

Perhaps the most pernicious effect on the birth rate will come with the ending of in vitro fertilization. This technology has made it possible for hundreds of thousands of older women to give birth to children. In vitro fertilization frequently involves the outright destruction of embryos as the number of implanted embryos are “reduced” in order to allow the more successful and safer development of one or two. It also involves the the indirect demise of “extra” embryos that are kept frozen but will almost certainly face ultimate destruction simply because the stockpiling of such embryos will, in time, become prohibitively expensive. If abortion is made illegal in the name of the sanctity of unborn life, then in vitro fertilization will be made illegal as well. Because of the expense, this procedure will rarely be done “under the table,” and the result will be far fewer children born to women in their 30s and 40s.

Lastly, if pro-lifers are serious about enforcing laws against abortions, then those doctors who choose to defy those laws by performing abortions would be subject to criminal penalties. At the very least, they would lose their license to practice medicine. If so, then the already existing shortage of ob-gyn doctors would be exacerbated, leading women to settle for less competent doctors to deliver their infants. All it would take is a slight increase in the number of women with horror stories of botched labors and deliveries to convince other women to forgo having their own children and choose instead to remain childless or to adopt.

In conclusion, pro-lifers will be amazed at how their real agenda of increasing female dependency by forcing women to bear children they do not want and cannot afford will backfire if abortion is made illegal. Ironically, illegal abortion will simply up the ante and increase the so-called battle of the sexes. Mark my words: This battle cannot and will not be won by the kind of men who choose to wage it. Fertile women will not go back to the days of dependency when far too many humbled themselves in order to receive charity or more commonly traded sexual favors, as wives or prostitutes, for their own survival and the survival of their children. Most women are past that—feminist and non-feminist alike. When the horse is out of the barn and galloping down the street, it’s too late to shut the door.

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© 2005 Laura J. Rift. All rights reserved.