Abortion rights advocates are threatening economic boycotts because of, as filmmakers Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams recently characterized them, the draconian laws restricting abortion in states like Georgia and Alabama. Women routinely show up to protest dressed like characters from the TV show and novel The Handmaid’s Tale, invoking the imagery of a dystopian future where reproduction is an issue of the state and women are forced into lives as breeders. It is more and more common for those who defend abortion to argue either directly or through implication that a pro-life nation would be an authoritarian state where all women have lost total control of their reproductive choices.
This would be awful if it was true, but it isn’t. In order to get a little more perspective let’s try and differentiate between two things: the way we discuss the human or moral cost of permissive abortion laws versus the societal cost of restricting access to abortion.
If the best scientific and philosophical arguments lead us to reasonably conclude that the unborn is one of us, an intrinsically valuable human being, then the human cost of abortion is immense. The intentional destruction of close to 1 million human lives every year in the U.S., more than 60 million abortions since Roe v Wade in 1973, and more than 40 million abortions worldwide every year. These numbers are incomparably large versus every other cause of death and are simply impossible for us to conceptualize.
Abortion advocates don’t shy away from acknowledging the frequency of abortion. In fact, they celebrate it declaring nearly 1 in 4 women in the U.S. will have had an abortion by the time they are 45 years old. This demonstrates abortion is common and therefore ought to be a behavior without stigma.
What if we turn these statistics around and consider them from another angle? About 23.7% of women in the U.S. will get an abortion by the time they are 45 according to research from the Guttmacher Institute. It is true that nearly a quarter of women get abortions in our current culture, but it also means more than 76% of women don’t.
Remember, that 23.7% accumulates over the entire reproductive lives of women. On an annual basis, the impact of restriction is much smaller. The U.S. Census website claims that there are currently more than 328 million people in the United States and women comprised 50.8% of that number, so more than 167 million Americans are women. Women in their reproductive years, let’s use 15-45 years old, represent more than 66 million of those 167 million women.
The most recent count of abortions per year, again according to Guttmacher, was 926,190. When addressing the moral case of intentionally killing human life that number is monstrously high. On the other hand, as a percentage of women accessing abortion annually it is strikingly low. Assuming that each of the 926 thousand plus abortions indicated a different woman in every case, which is most charitable for the other side but probably not true, then only 1.4% of women of reproductive age are getting abortions every year, around a half of a percent of all American women, and less than a third of a percent of the entire population of the United States are actually getting abortions every year.
Even more telling, this percentage is down. Planned Parenthood used to brag that nearly 1 out of 3 women had an abortion by the time they were 45. Let’s turn that around again. It used to be that more than 2/3 of women never had an abortion, and now more than 3/4 of women do not. The current trend is that fewer women are getting abortions every year even as the population grows.
Not all women who can get pregnant every year do. In fact, Guttmacher reports that 19% of all healthy pregnancies in 2014 ended in abortion further demonstrating how common it is. That number saddens me, but it still shows that 81% of women facing pregnancy in the last year from which we have reliable data chose NOT to get an abortion. I’m not arguing this is nothing or inconsequential. I am merely stating the imagery of draconian or dystopian attempts to control all women is not grounded in reality. Most women don’t get abortions, and a significant percentage of those women not getting abortions are morally opposed to abortion outright. They actively fight to end abortion.
The entertainment industry can pitch their fit and protestors can dress like characters from their favorite TV shows, but at the end of the day they are telling just-so stories and stirring up fear to fight laws that will not impact the overwhelming majority of women based on how women actually live their lives. Rather than hysterically overreacting, perhaps we would all do better and be better served by engaging a substantive debate on the question, “What is the unborn?”