Does Privilege Make Abortion That Much More Difficult?

The majority of women in America who seek abortions are already moms. Some of them are too poor to afford another child, but others potentially could — they simply choose not to. Is this choice such a bad thing?

On Monday, Slate's Lauren Sandler reported that since 2008, a full 72% of women seeking abortions from clinics run by the National Abortion Federation already had at least one child. Sandler writes that "most mothers who abort say they are doing so to protect the kids they already have" and "that rationale is tough to demonize politically, especially when you consider that most women making this choice are contending with some combination of low income, unemployment, and a lack of health insurance, or are struggling to raise kids on their own." It's certainly true that the recession has increased the pressures on many moms, and it's ironic that those who oppose abortion are often those who also oppose a social safety net that could help mothers support their kids. But what about the moms who are doing okay, who have health insurance and a decent income but choose to abort anyway? Former Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt tells Sandler, "The less in control of a woman's life she is, the more the public supports her right to make that choice [to have an abortion]. The more she is in control of her life, saying this is the life I choose, the less people support it."

Over at the Times, Judith Warner casts this suspicion of women in control as part of "the enduring, not well-acknowledged, insidious and quite endemic hostility toward well-educated professional women that exists in our culture." She explains,

At a time when so many people, including increasing numbers of men, feel as if they have so very little control in their lives, a person who does (or is believed to) have choices — some modicum of control over her fate — is perhaps a prime target for resentment and vitriol. Which makes me wonder further: if "choice" is now perceived as the purview of the privileged few, the abortion rights movement may need to find itself a new slogan.

This makes a certain amount of sense — now more than ever before, having options may be seen as (and really be) a privilege. But the idea that abortion should only be a last resort is older than the recession. If there's any way you can possibly carry a child to term, the thinking goes, you should. And this idea makes sense, especially for those who find themselves on the fence in the abortion debate — if you're uncomfortable with abortion, it's easier to countenance it for someone who sees no other options than for someone who selects it from among several possible choices. That's actually fine — the beauty of being pro-choice is you don't have to like what someone else decides. All you have to do is affirm her freedom to decide it, whether she does so in comfort, in poverty, or somewhere in between.

The Mother Majority [Slate]
Is ‘Choice' Less Accepted For Mothers? [NYT]

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