Did Progress Begin with Roe v. Wade?
In a speech delivered in Atlanta over the weekend, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared that banning abortion "would have a devastating impact on poor women." Bader's suggestion, that abortion is a solution to the problems of poor women, is on a par with Jonathan Swift's long-ago solution to the Irish poverty problem in his essay, A Modest Proposal. But at least Swift was writing satire.
"Facts," as John Adams stated so clearly, "are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." Yet, conservative critiques of leftist policy proposals, no matter how carefully buttressed by facts, are swept aside lightly and dismissed as irrelevant by media, historians and biographers. Many distorted views go unchallenged in the public arena simply because so few have looked (or are willing to look) at the facts.
Worse still, when the actual facts don't agree with the left's latest political nostrum, they are drowned out by the claim that those "old" facts have been superseded by the results of some new study that purports to show that "up" is now "down." Nowhere is this encountered more frequently than in the left's assaults on any and all boundaries relating to sex, marriage, family and child rearing.
For example, the left is furious with George Bush for (among other things) reinstating the "Mexico City Policy," first instituted by Ronald Reagan, that makes the receipt of federal funds by non-governmental organizations conditional upon their agreeing that they will "neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations." It is bizarre how the left can howl about how inhumane it is to use the interrogation technique of "waterboarding" (which does no lasting physical harm) to extract information from terrorists, but they are just fine and dandy with death by dismemberment of unborn babies in the womb.
To read their pious-sounding rhetoric about how essential the barbaric practice of abortion is to the health and well-being of women, one would be forgiven for thinking that abortion was the cornerstone of progress, that civilization only began to make headway when abortion became legal in this country. And naturally, feminists just want to share this priceless, newly-minted benefit with all the oppressed women of the world, who presumably have no other means of avoiding the Malthusian spectre: unending pregnancies and starving mouths to feed.
But what are the actual facts of the matter?
Figure 1. When we look at the birthrate in the United States beginning in 1900, we see a very different picture than the progress-began-with-Roe-v-Wade folks imply. From 1900 to 1933, the birthrate declined 44 percent without the pill and without legal abortion. The post-WWII baby boom of the 1950s aside, the birthrate today is only 15 percent lower than it was in 1933.
Does abortion then actually lower the birthrate? To test this idea, it would seem that if this were the case, the effect would show up most powerfully in the birthrate of unmarried women, who presumably would be most inclined to resort to abortion to escape the responsibilities of an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy. Here again, the facts run against the conclusion that the left would have us assume — without proof — to be the case.
Figure 2. The "legalization" of abortion initially produced only a very modest decrease in the unwed birthrate. Subsequently, the increase in non-marital, promiscuous sexual activity - promoted by the same folks who championed abortion as the panacea for unwanted births - produced a 93 percent increase in the birth rate of unmarried women from 1973 to 1994. The unwed birthrate in 2004 was the same as it was in 1994, despite the fact that the unwed abortion rate has been declining. (The abortion rate among unmarried women peaked in 1981 and has declined by 37 percent.)
It can be difficult to rid young children of the conceit that they are the center of the universe and that the only things of any importance are those that focus on them. This creates the propensity to look at life primarily through the lens of what they know from their own limited experience. Likewise, feminists from the Western World see through a gaze clouded by self-absorption. They are blind to the of history. They care nothing about how the birth rate changed before and after the legalization of abortion. They will allow nothing to sway them, to deter them from their tireless efforts through the U.N. to export to the third world the plague of death which has brought "demographic winter" to Europe.
The fact is, we could and should be doing more to help poor nations around the world by providing technology and resources for the things that are essential to life and health, things like clean, unpolluted drinking water. Funding abortion in third world countries, however, is another matter altogether. No amount of language twisting — calling it "family planning" or "women's reproductive health care" — will mask the true horror of abortion. The Scripture teaches us, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12).
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