Abortion and the Feminization of Poverty

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– David C. Reardon, Ph.D.

Abortion advocates claim that the right to abort unplanned pregnancies empowers women. They view unplanned children as the cause of lost education and career opportunities. Abortion, they claim, enables women to control their lives, pursue their dreams, and ultimately improve their socio-economic status.

But this argument presupposes that the birth of an unplanned child has a negative effect on women’s lives and that abortion has a positive, or at least neutral, effect. Recent evidence shows otherwise.

Thomas Strahan, a researcher with the Association of Interdisciplinary Research, recently reviewed over 26 studies relating to abortion’s impact on the socio-economic status of women. [1]

These studies show the following:

  • Women who have had abortions are at greater risk of suffering emotional and psychological problems which may interfere with their ability to concentrate, make decisions, and interact with others, thereby reducing their level of job skills and employment opportunities.
  • Post-abortion women are more likely to engage in drug and alcohol abuse, often as a means of “numbing” negative feelings stemming from the abortion. This will in turn effect their ability to function in the workplace and may inhibit their ability to enter into meaningful relationships.
  • Women who have had abortions are more likely to become pregnant again and undergo additional abortions. Nearly 50% of all abortions are repeat abortions. These repeat abortions do not represent “satisfied customers.” Instead, post-abortion women often seek replacement pregnancies to make up for the aborted child, but find themselves faced with the same social pressures which led to the first abortion. There is also evidence that some women undergo repeat abortions as an act of “self-punishment” or as attempt to “harden” themselves to negative feelings stemming from their first abortion.
  • Compared to their peers, teenagers who have had one abortion are 4 times more likely to have a subsequent abortion. Almost 20% of teen aborters have a second abortion within a year, and 38% have a second abortion within 5 years.
  • Women who have had abortions are more likely to subsequently require welfare assistance, and the odds of going on welfare increase with each subsequent abortion.
  • Women who have repeat abortions tend to have an increasing number of health problems and greater personality disintegration, which increases the likelihood of their needing public assistance.
  • Post-abortion women have greater difficulty establishing permanent relationships with a male partner. They are more likely to never marry, more likely to divorce, and more likely to go through a long string of “unsuccessful” relationships. This inability to form a “nuclear family” reduces household income and increases the probability that the woman and her children will require public assistance.
  • Women who have had repeat abortions are more likely to desire children and are likely to carry one or more subsequent “replacement” pregnancies to term. This means that many repeat aborters end up becoming unmarried mothers, the very fate they tried to avoid when they had their first abortion. Only now, they also have to deal with post-abortion psychological and emotional scars.

These studies lead Strahan to conclude that “the repeated utilization of abortion appears to lead not to economic prosperity or social well-being, but to an increasing feminization of poverty.”

In light of the evidence, it is hard to see how abortion has served to empower women. It has not made them richer, or happier, or more successful. Indeed, it has served mainly to achieve all of the opposite effects.

Yet abortion will continue to be defended as a “woman’s right” because it is such an important political symbol of the emancipated woman’s right to “control her own body.”

Perhaps it is time to worry less about the symbolism of legal abortion and more about its reality. Abortion does not free women. It simply enslaves them in a new way.

Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review 1(3), Fall 1993.