Prevention of Child Abuse
by Rachel M. MacNair, Ph.D.
Excerpts of Chapter 13 in Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion. References are turned into links.
Abuse of children is among the most horrific forms of violence and is depressingly widespread world-wide. Therefore, it is important to know whether the impact of abortion on its prevalence is helpful, harmful, or neutral.
The reasoning that abortion availability helps reduce such abuse includes:
- Abuse can be caused when children were born unwanted and are therefore resented. Having them not be born at all should accordingly result in a drop in the child abuse rate.
- There may be fewer births in those groups most likely to engage in child maltreatment.
The thesis that abortion availability is harmful includes these ideas:
- It removes a taboo on hurting children, and because it allows violence to children prenatally, violence will then be greater to postnatal children as well.
- It leads to children being treated as consumer products, rather than as human beings, thereby adding a requirement of “wantedness” by parents that children should not be required to meet.
The neutral position is [that] abortion is not really under consideration when child abuse occurs.
The Rise and Fall of Child Abuse Rates
U.S. child abuse rates skyrocketed after Roe v Wade, the decision legalizing abortion in all 50 states, was decided in 1973 . . . The rate per 1,000 population went from 2.16 in 1973 to 11.59 in 1990 . . . This is consistent with the hypothesis that millions of abortions might act as other violence does, by serving as a model, and by desensitizing.
However, correlation is not causation, and those inclined to draw a conclusion only from the simple fact of upsurge need to use caution. A readily-available alternative explanation is that it was not that more child abuse was actually happening, but that people were more sensitive to it and more inclined to report it due to educational efforts and changing cultural mores about its acceptability. Additionally, different criteria have been used to determine and measure abuse. Therefore, figures and rates are not always comparable.
The connection between the two may be coincidence, of course. The theory that abortion and child abuse are connected as two similar forms of violence would predict that lowering abortion would lower child abuse, but human behavior is not that simple.
Those of the abortion-as-option view have frequently proposed that greater contraception education and use grew over time and resulted in the abortion downturn. Effective campaigns against child abuse were growing at the same time, and becoming successful. Given the historical time period, with the rise of campaigns for human betterment, there were many additional positive social indicators at the same time.
When looking at outcomes for an entire society, innumerable variables could be explanations, and speculations as to why ranges broadly. We can never know whether the child abuse rates would not have been higher yet without abortion. Still, the evidence that abortion availability might have any kind of positive impact on child abuse rates requires more detailed study than merely the change in rates.
The Case that Abortion Helps Prevent Abuse
Marianne Bitler and Madeline Zavodny utilized the varying times at which abortion became legalized in different U.S. states before the 1973 court ruling that legalized it nation-wide. They then considered reports of child abuse by taking [the children’s] age into account so as to have a measure of whether abortion would have been available at the time they were conceived. With this method, results suggest legalization lowered the reported cases. Legal restrictions on abortion, however, showed unclear results. Carlos Seiglie similarly found abortion access at the time of the pregnancy lowered reports of neglect.
A more targeted approach was taken doing a longitudinal analysis of fatal injury to children in states that have passed regulations such as parental consent, informed consent, and waiting periods. With this approach, they found an association between such regulations and increased injury.
The Case that Abortion Helps Promote Abuse
If the abortion-as-violence hypothesis is correct, it suggests an even more targeted approach. Rather than a society-wide epidemiological investigation, the research question becomes more focused: “Are mothers who have abortions more likely to be abusive to their children?” This approach has been undertaken in several studies . . . In these peer-reviewed studies, the answer is yes.
For example, [Priscilla] Coleman [and colleagues] analyzed 518 women who had been identified by Baltimore Child Protective Services as having abused their children. Researchers compared women with no pregnancy loss, those whose loss was involuntary (miscarriage or stillbirth) and those with induced abortion. The women who had undergone at least one induced abortion were 114% more likely to be identified as having abused their children when compared to women with no loss. Those women who suffered involuntary loss were found to be no more likely to be identified as abusive than women with no pregnancy loss.
Additionally, there is the question of children who rather than being unwanted are super-wanted. Edward Lenoski, Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, conducted a study of 674 children who had suffered battering at the hands of one of their parents and compared them to 500 controls selected from the same emergency room. The comparison showed:
- 91% of the parents of abused children said they had wanted the pregnancy; 63% of the non-abused said so;
- 93% of the parents were married at the time of the birth of the abused child; 60% of the non-abused were;
- the mother of the abused children began wearing maternity clothes at an average of 114 days into the pregnancy, as compared to an average of 171 days for the mothers of the non-abused children;
- The child was named after a parent (usually, father’s name with “Jr.”) in 24% of the abused cases, but only 4% of the non-abused cases.
Source: Lenoski, E. (1980, Winter). A research study on child abuse. Heartbeat, 16-17.
Since these are children for whom abortion was never contemplated, the role of abortion is not covered in this study. The role of “wantedness,” however, is here reversed with the proposal that requiring wantedness of children may, in some cases, increase rather than reduce the risk of child abuse
In those cases where the child is super-wanted, the ready availability of abortion could make things worse by emphasizing the importance of the wantedness of children. Less abuse may accompany accepting children for who they are rather than for who their parents want them to be.
Sexual abuse is in a different category from neglect or physical and emotional abuse, since the problem is clearly not that the child is unwanted, but is wanted for the wrong reason. Seiglie, while reporting findings as mentioned above about abortion availability being associated with less neglect, also reported a positive association of abortion access with sexual abuse.
The pro-life movement is full of anecdotal cases of men who utilized the abortion clinic for the purpose of removing the evidence of their abuse (see, for example, from Feminists for Life). These cases include both adult men who impregnate minors and incest abuse.
In actuality, the law in several countries upholds mandatory reporting to authorities when there are signs of possible sexual abuse of children under a certain age by adults. Pregnancy would certainly qualify as a possible sign of sexual abuse. If medical personnel follow the legal requirement of reporting suspected abuse, then abortion providers are in a unique position to prevent child sexual abuse and allow for its prosecution. If perpetrators knew this would occur, then it could have a powerful deterrent effect on sexual abuse.
Conversely, if medical personnel do not report, then they facilitate the abuse. Adult men who expect non-reporting may be more likely to engage in such abuse.
Scholarly investigation on this point is currently inadequate. It is urgently needed for the prevention of sexual violence toward children.
For more excerpts from the book, see: