Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Federal Policy, Family Planning, and Abortion

Judith Lewis Mernit introduced us to "the pro-life paradox" in an article of the same name in The American Prospect. The crux of Mernit’s contention is that the intent of legislatures to limit abortion by banning the procedure after a certain date in the pregnancy is driven not by the concern for the comfort of the fetus, but by the desire to eliminate abortions obtained because of the fear of giving birth to a child with a severe disability. The paradox arises because the people who wish to make abortions illegal are the same people who continually vote against providing support for the welfare of children with disabilities. These aspects of Mernit’s piece were discussed in The Paradox of Pro-Life Politics. Mernit’s article deserves further elaboration.

There is another aspect to the paradox. Family planning organizations, particularly Planned Parenthood, have been under siege by pro-life politicians because they are thought to encourage abortions. Mernit points out the folly of this contention:

"These efforts to prevent abortion are at odds with attempts—so far unsuccessful—among Republicans in Congress to deny funding to family-planning clinics, which have a documented record of reducing the number of abortions."

The Guttmacher Institute provides this data on why women choose to have an abortion.

Except for the 3% who fear for the health of the fetus and the 4% who fear for their own health, the rest of the cases are all variations on "I didn’t want to get pregnant in the first place." Providing guidance on how to avoid unwanted pregnancies has tremendous leverage in limiting the number of abortions. A smart pro-life politician would throw more money at these organizations—not less.

There is a fiscal impropriety that is also associated with the pro-life paradox. By limiting abortion, these social conservatives—who are generally fiscal conservatives also—are creating the equivalent of unfunded mandates.

Unwanted pregnancies are much more common among the poor than among the affluent.

"Those pregnancies are also more likely to end in abortion; forty-two percent of the women who had abortions in 2008 were living near or below the poverty line. While abortion rates among middle- and upper-class women declined in that same period of time, among poor women the rate went up 18 percent."

Limitations on abortion fall most heavily on the poor and contribute to their economic burden. The net result is that family and child welfare costs will go up, one way or other, and the state will have to pay for this increase. And who will allocate the funds?

Even with modern methods of detecting fetal abnormalities, data indicate that about 3% of children are born with a birth defect. Mernit discusses Down syndrome children in the context added state costs. This is the most common defect. According to the CDC it occurs in about 1 in 691 cases. Data presented here indicate that over 90% of women who have evidence that there baby might have Down syndrome choose to have an abortion. Eliminating or limiting access to abortion will drive up the number of disabled children who will be born and who will have to be supported by the government.

Federal laws have been passed protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

"Among these laws was the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which since 1986 has guaranteed early education and therapy to infants and toddlers with disabilities."

Mernit points out that the availability of early intervention programs is critical in dealing with children having disabilities.

"In the first three years of any child’s life, neurons grow axons, and synapses form in a way they never will again. For a child with disabilities, early brain stimulation can mean the difference between whether a five-year-old joins his peers in kindergarten or needs to attend a special school; it may keep the future grown-up out of an institution and allow her to work."

Such care is expensive.

"Even the healthiest Down syndrome children will need special education, medical care, and social support. Depending on the child and the severity of his or her affliction, that education and care can run as high as $50,000 just in the baby’s first year."
Clearly a true pro-life advocate will jump at the chance to contribute to the quality of life of those whose condition he had created by arrogantly demanding that all people had to live according to his beliefs—right?

"When the Children’s Defense Fund releases its Congressional Scorecard each year, evaluating members of Congress on how they vote whenever children’s welfare issues come up, the lowest ranking members are always pro-lifers."

Pro-lifers also seem to be quite satisfied with taking the lives of those who might be guilty of a crime. They also seem to appreciate the occasional war. But those must be topics for another day.

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