Social Programs to Help the Poor are Pro-life
by Sarah Terzo
Statistics in the United States
One of the most common reasons women give for having abortions is they can’t afford to care for their baby. In a 2004 study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, of U.S. women who had abortions, 73% gave this as one of the reasons
There’s evidence the situation may be even worse today. Women getting abortions are more likely to be poor than those who had the procedure roughly 30 years ago. While only 16% of women of childbearing age in the general population live below the poverty line, in 2014, 49% of women getting abortions did. In 2008, the percentage was 42%. In 1994, it was about 25%. The percentage of women having abortions who are poor is steadily increasing: 2.3% per year between 2008 and 2014.
Additionally, of women having abortions, 26% had incomes of 100% to 199% of the poverty line. Yet these women are only 18% of the population.1
In an article in the New York Times, demographer Diana Greene Foster said, “The patient population in abortion clinics is increasingly made up of poor women.”
Statistics in Great Britain
The abortion rate is increasing in Great Britain. There were 209,519 abortions reported in England and Wales in 2019, the highest number on record. The abortion rate went from 17.4 per 1000 women in 2018 to 18 per 1000 women in 2019. Driving up the numbers is an increased abortion rate for married women with children.
According to The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, financial reasons play a role. The BPAS is a chain of abortion facilities. Its director of external affairs, Claire Murphy, says:
The reasons for this increase will be complex but women and their partners, when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, will make decisions based on the circumstances they find themselves in — and financial instability or uncertainty can often play a key role in those choices.
Murphy believes the number of abortions will increase further due to financial instability because of the COVID pandemic.
Impact of Social Services
Researcher Laura Hussey wrote a dissertation in 2006 to address whether social service funding impacted women’s abortion decisions. She found lack of money influenced some women who were ambivalent to choose abortion. Hussey says:
In contrast to the assumptions of previous research . . . women’s responses to my survey suggest that even if economic need is not the only reason for choosing abortion, some women would choose otherwise if only they had access to assistance addressing that need.2
Hussey conducted her survey on women who came to pregnancy resource centers, who had considered abortion but chose against it. Hussey asked them about different factors influencing their decisions. Two questions were related to financial need:
“I got help affording a baby from a government program like welfare (TANF), food stamps, Medicaid, child care assistance, or housing assistance”
“I got help affording a baby from family, friends, my employer, school, or church or another organization.”
Nearly half (49%) said government assistance was “very important” to their decision, and 59% said nongovernmental assistance was “very important.”3
Yet many of the women rated multiple reasons as “very important.” None rated financial assistance as the only important reason.
Psychological and social factors were cited more frequently than financial ones. For example, the belief that motherhood is fulfilling rated highest , at 89%. Also, 75% said seeing an ultrasound of their babies was very important. And 66% cited a moral objection to abortion.
Another question asked in the survey was, “Think about the help you got from government programs, family, friends, or others, with your expenses like baby supplies, childcare, healthcare, housing, and time off from work or school. Do you think you would have had an abortion if you had not received this help?”
Only 8% of the women answered yes, and 23% said they were unsure. The rest said they would’ve still had their babies.
That 8% is a small number, but it represents lives saved. All lives have immense value and worth. Even saving one life would be worth it. And 23% were undecided, meaning that up to 31%, or almost a third, may have chosen abortion if financial help wasn’t available.
Hussey did another survey of women who chose abortion. She asked them their reasons. Two of the options were:
“I cannot afford to have a baby because I struggle to afford my own and my family’s basic needs,”
“I can afford my own and my family’s basic needs, but I cannot afford to have a baby.”
Consistent with previously cited research, respondents commonly cited financial need as a reason for choosing abortion. The two financial need reasons my survey included for women to rate as “very important,” “somewhat important,” “not important” or “not applicable” were the least likely of all the 13 items in the battery to be rated as unimportant or inapplicable.4
However, those who rated financial reasons as very important frequently rated other reasons as “very important” or “somewhat important” as well. In fact, those who rated financial need as “very important” cited an average of 4.6 “very important” reasons. In contrast, those who did not rate financial need as “very important” chose an average of 1.1 “very important” reasons.
This seems to indicate that while financial need is just one of several reasons give for abortion, it’s still an important factor.
Women were then asked:
Other countries provide a lot of assistance to women and their families that the government, employers, and schools in the US do not provide. These countries give women things like free childcare, free healthcare, money they can use to pay their family’s expenses, and the chance to take months or even years off of work with pay after giving birth. Would you have made a different decision about your pregnancy if you could get that kind of help?
It was 22% who said they would’ve made a different decision. Had these resources been available to their mothers, 22% these aborted babies would’ve survived. Another 34% said they were unsure.
Only 44% of the woman said they were sure their decision would’ve been the same. This is less than half.
These statistics indicate that a better social safety net would save babies’ lives.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 862,320 abortions in the US in 2017, the most recent year statistics are available. If 22% of women having abortions chose life instead, this would save the lives of 189,710 babies a year. And 34% were unsure whether they would’ve changed their minds. This implies that the number could be even higher.
Experience with Immigrants
Personal testimonies from pregnancy center workers also attest to the power financial problems have to drive women to abortion.
Maria Suarez Hamm is the former director of a pregnancy center in Maryland. She was interviewed by Hussey in 2012. According to Hamm, most of her clients are Latina immigrants. They came to her center while considering abortion. Lack of money, she says, is “usually the number one reason” why they were seeking abortions.5
Many immigrants, she says, were unprepared for the high cost of living in the United States. Most earn only meager wages, and many promised to send money back to impoverished relatives. Hamm says things look “impossible” to them. The temptation to abort to solve the seemingly insurmountable financial problem is hard to resist.
Hamm’s center helps these immigrants with baby items, maternity clothes, and other things they need. Through the center, she tried to meet their needs. However, her job would’ve been far easier if the government provided more robust programs to help. Very little financial help is available.
Higher welfare payments, subsidized childcare, increased food stamps, paid family leave, and greater eligibility for these programs could save the lives of around 190,000babies a year – as well as preventing born children and adults from going hungry and/or becoming homeless.
Social programs to help the poor are pro-life.
- The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine The Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the United States (Washington, DC: the National Academies Press, 2018)
- Laura Selena Hussey “Social Policy and Social Services in Women’s Pregnancy Decision-Making: Political and Programmatic Implications” (PhD dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park, 2006) 206
- Laura Selena Hussey The Pro-Life Pregnancy Help Movement: Serving Women or Saving Babies? (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2020) 204 – 205, 206
- Ibid., 207 – 208
- Ibid., 36
For more of our posts on poverty, see:
How Euthanasia and Poverty Threaten the Disabled / Sarah Terzo
Over 20 Million People Facing Starvation – And We Should Care! / Tony Magliano