A bill before the House includes funding to encourage women to carry their pregnancies to term. But Frances Kissling says America is so bad at caring for kids that it's irresponsible to encourage women to have them.
The bill in question is called the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act. It provides funding for sex ed that teaches teens about both contraception and "delaying" sex, as well as increased financial support for pregnant women and new mothers, and money for "a national information campaign on adoption." The goal is both to prevent unintended pregnancies and, in the words of Rep. Rosa DeLauro (pictured), "foster an environment that encourages pregnancies to be carried to term." But should we be fostering such an environment? Kissling says no.
She marshals a disturbing array of statistics — 18% of American children live in poverty, and 8 million lack health insurance; of women who have unintended pregnancies, 13% are under 19, 16% of those over 20 have no high school diploma, almost a quarter live below the poverty line, and 30% are unmarried and not cohabiting. Of this last stat, Kissling says, "these women are on their own." She seems to be implying not only that they have no partners to help with child-rearing, but that they can't expect much from their government or community either. She says, "We do not see children as the responsibility of the community and we don't provide much help to parents or their children." And, in the crux of her argument,
It's outright obscene for a government that does as badly as ours in caring for children to even consider encouraging women to continue pregnancies. Benign neglect would be a less evil alternative. And, while encouraging women to have abortions is beyond the pale, we need to acknowledge that choosing abortion could be the most moral decision a woman can make.
The argument that having an abortion is a morally good, rather than, say, morally neutral decision has always been a complicated one. Some argue that the world population is in such crisis that it's morally preferable to avoid adding to it — and pro-life groups are making efforts to refute this claim. And while Kissling acknowledges the upsetting eugenicist flavor of encouraging poor women to have abortions ("Only unreconstructed racists and population control freaks, people who hate the poor and resent their sexuality, would possibly suggest that sometimes, perhaps many times, it is the morally best thing not to continue a pregnancy"), she also comes dangerously close to sounding eugenicist herself. She writes,
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 'Birth defects affect about one in every 33 babies born in the U.S. each year.' Some defects may be minor; others major, but most of these kids will require extra help. Ask educated, well-connected parents of disabled children how easy it is to get that help.
It's true that raising a special-needs child is expensive, but is Kissling really saying that it's more moral not to bring one into the world?
Is a little hard to tell, because Kissling seemed to be evaluating the morality of of choosing to have an abortion and of encouraging women not to. The second is actually much easier to evaluate. The Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act aims to convince women to carry their pregnancies to term — but it doesn't really provide for their children. Yes, a little more money for moms and kids is a good thing — but a lot more money, and a large-scale collective taking of responsibility for the nation's children — would be needed to lift those 18% out of poverty and give them the opportunities other kids enjoy. It's not fair to encourage child-bearing with a little help in the early years and then leave mothers and children "on their own."
Right-wing groups don't like DeLauro, the Act, or the "coalition of pro-choicers and pro-lifers" behind it, writes William Saletan, because they think anything that promotes contraception is "pro-abortion." The Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act isn't pro-abortion. But it isn't pro-child either.