Good news for those who value life in all its forms. A recent release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 2011 numbers shows 730,322 abortions, the smallest number of abortions in nearly 40 years. In The Atlantic, David Frum said abortions are steadily declining because of the rise of single mothers, another clear statistic. While correlation does not equal causation, it’s also possible (though obviously harder to substantiate) that the 40-year pro-life movement has aided in a subtle moral shift regarding abortion.
Frum says the abortion decline is not due to the increased availability of birth control or women’s lack of access to clinics offering abortions. Instead, he says, more pregnancies are being carried to term and babies are being raised by single mothers. He credits two things for these heartening statistics. First, he gives some moderate praise to the pro-life movement, which has “changed American minds about the morality of abortion.” Only 38 percent of Americans think abortion is “morally unacceptable,” another subtle decrease.
Pro-Lifers Deserve More Credit for Reducing Abortions
But Frum seems to give most of the credit to a cultural shift in our perception of marriage and parenting. Before the 1990s, he said, single motherhood was last on the list of what a woman found acceptable to do with her unmarried, and largely unwanted, pregnancy. Slowly, the stigma has lifted, and single mothers are more and more accepted, so they are going full-term with their pregnancies: “As marriage fades, unwed motherhood has evolved from an acceptable outcome to something close to an inevitability.”
De-stigmatizing single motherhood may have aided in an increase of solo moms and a decrease in abortions. Regardless of direct causation, the decrease itself is the single brightest ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy forecast. That’s not a slight toward single mothers, only an observation that parenting is a difficult task—going it alone will be that much more difficult. Two-parent families are ideal for children and society, but obviously not at the cost of the life of the unborn.
Still: isn’t it just as possible that 40 years’ worth of pro-life efforts, although occasionally misguided or overwrought, have actually helped produce this shift in the abortion tide? A few other things happened in the 1990s, along with the increase in single motherhood. The pro-life movement changed its tactics. They remained unified in goal but formed separate armies to forge new avenues to achieve it. This includes spearheading personhood legislation, building pregnancy resource centers, training and hiring practitioners to read 3D and 4D ultrasounds, and hopefully—although I can’t say for sure—befriending the single mother, as she embraces her brave choice.
For example, in 2003, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Many believe this law alone moved public opinion away from abortion. In the last five years, pro-life legislation at the state level boomed. In 2011 alone, 92 pro-life laws were enacted. In 2011, nine states voted to withhold funding from Planned Parenthood and, as of January, at least 34 states require women receive counseling before an abortion, and 26 require a waiting period between counseling and abortion.
Reports show there 2,500 (some say up to 4,000) crisis pregnancy centers, a significant increase since the first opened in Maryland in 1980, and more than the number of abortion providers (the Guttmacher Institute reports that, as of 2008, there were 1,793 abortion providers). At a pro-life conference in 2012, Karen Snuffer, the executive director of a group of Virginia-based pregnancy resource centers affiliated with Care Net, said her centers serve more than 17,000 women and their families annually and “provide $1.1 million in free goods and services, including 2,900 ultrasounds, free of charge, by medical professionals.” While many centers’ primary focus is preserving the life of the unborn, their staff also cares for the mothers carrying these children.
Single Parenting Is Still Not Awesome
Because the abortion rate has declined at the same time as marriage rates, Frum says “the pro-life movement as now constituted has ceased to be socially conservative in its effects…When conservatives have spoken about child-rearing in marriage, they have done so moralistically, in ways that condemn the choices of the large majority of American parents without much understanding of why those choices were made in the first place.” While that may certainly be true when it comes to rhetoric, conservatives rarely come off as welcoming stigma-ridden issues at large-scale media events, or yes, even small-scale Twitter debates, and have rallied for the cause of life in as many avenues as possible, from banning partial-birth abortion to providing new (single or otherwise) mothers with medical care and newborn supplies.
Pro-lifers are becoming zealous about supporting the single mother who made the choice to preserve her child’s life at their reassurance. I’m not sure legislation provides the answer to that—Frum suggests wage subsidies or mother’s allowances—but it would be foolish to remove it from the table without further consideration. Pro-lifers should also come alongside single moms for the long haul, not just in the pregnancy center ultrasound room, but in the home, daycare, park, school, church, and office, to support and encourage the daily decisions she must now make that affect two people instead of one.
Frum’s closing task, that conservatives revamp their agenda to “one that emphasizes the life chances of children—and that appreciates that marriage is at least as much an economic institution as a cultural one,” is certainly worth exploring. But given the last 40 years of pro-life efforts, there’s little evidence they wouldn’t implement—or aren’t already—such novel concepts like appreciating the life chances of children and the women who bear them.
The real key to this apparent quandary is clear: Social conservatives have had some success in rescuing millions of children from being killed before they ever take their first breath. A live child is infinitely preferable to a dead one, even if he is born to a single mom in straightened circumstances. The next addition to the rhetorical and practical toolkit for those who affirm every human’s right to life (beyond continuing to push until legalized infant-killing is another closed chapter in our nation’s history) is that a child’s best chances at a good life after getting him to his first breath include being born to married parents who are committed to making further sacrifices on his behalf as long as they both shall live.