In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of its most memorable decisions in the Roe v. Wade case. That decision viewed laws that banned abortion as violations of constitutional rights to privacy and gave women the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Since that decision, the issue of abortion has been center stage in each election campaign for president, and the debates that have raged have divided the United States along entrenched partisan lines to the point where both sides feel so passionate about their views that they have mischaracterized the other side’s position.
On the one hand, those who hold to a pro-choice stance are often viewed as pro-abortion. While I have never met anyone who feels that abortion is a good thing, I do know many civil-minded and deeply faithful people who believe that in a free society where rights are protected, women should be given reproductive choices. I am not saying that I completely agree with them, but I find it improbable that this will ever change. Indeed, while it may be possible that the Roe v. Wade decision will be overturned someday, it is not very probable as this is a well-established law.
But is it necessary to focus on overturning this decision in order to be considered pro-life? In other words, does a position against abortion really make a person pro-life? To be sure, one cannot logically be pro-life and also be for abortion on demand. However, in my mind, a person’s claim to be against abortion does not by definition make that person pro-life. To be pro-life means that a person must be consistently pro-life and not just on the issue of abortion.
Certainly such a position would mean that a person would be against the death penalty, war and other forms of taking human life. However, in terms of the abortion issue itself, one is not pro-life simply because they are against abortion. Indeed, anyone who wants to decrease the number of abortions in the U.S. each year may be surprised to find out that this may not happen when one votes for a candidate who declares that he or she is against abortion.
While many factors can and do contribute to a woman choosing to have an abortion, economic factors surely play a key role in that decision. In fact, the Alan Guttmacher Institute reports that three-fourths of the women who have abortions say they cannot support a child. In a 2002 study, AGI also reports that the abortion rate among women who lived below the poverty line was considerably higher than those above the poverty level, and abortion rates decreased as income rates went up. The study states that the abortion rate among poor women was 44 out of every 1,000; while among women in the highest income bracket the abortion rate was 10 out of every 1,000. The report does state that the higher rate was due in part to a higher rate of pregnancies among poorer women, but the data does suggest something about the correlation between economic conditions and abortion rates.
What these figures imply is that women who feel they cannot financially support a child, who are unemployed or who have no health insurance would be less likely to abort a child if they had steady livable income and health care. These women may look at the future of their unborn child and see a bleak picture of a child caught in a web of poverty, with little chance of being successful. However, in a stable economic environment, the future for the unborn child might look brighter.
If economic factors play a major role in a woman’s decision to have an abortion, would it not be wise for those who oppose abortion to fight for a culture that promotes the value of the life not only of the unborn child, but also for the one that is born? In other words, should we not force our government officials to be consistent on their pro-life stances by supporting economic policies that are more just toward those caught in poverty? Yet, many of those same politicians who are adamantly against abortion also stand for cuts in taxes for those of higher income and cuts in government programs that might indeed assist a pregnant woman who, without the aid of such programs, would otherwise terminate her pregnancy.
Jesus embraced the children around him declaring that “such is the kingdom of God.” It seems to me that people of faith ought to take a careful look at how a candidate views all issues related to life, especially those issues that affect children, unborn and born. In doing this, we should be careful to look beyond the rhetoric of a candidate who claims to be against abortion to determine if he or she is truly pro-life.
Drew Smith, an ordained Baptist minister, is director of international programs at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. He blogs at Wilderness Preacher