Religious and political groups that funnel tremendous resources into a legal war to limit and even ban abortion in America are at best, wasting time, and at worst, damaging efforts to protect the unborn. Texas’s new abortion law – one of the toughest in the country – is only the latest in a string of efforts to limit abortions in numerous states across the US.
Members of the pro-life movement spend countless dollars and hours on rallies and lobbying without providing adequate financial and emotional support for women to actually maintain pregnancies. And the majority of women who have abortions cite not being able to afford a child as one of the main reasons for their decision.
Let’s look at, for example, the resources spent on one of the biggest spectacles of the pro-life movement, the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Supporters spend millions on the annual rally that draws hundreds of thousands to the American capital in January, around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
As a college junior at a private Catholic school in Arlington, Va., I’ve witnessed the March for Life three times. Each year students who wish to attend are excused from classes to travel as a group to nearby Washington, D.C., to attend the march and a mass that precedes it. I have witnessed firsthand how significant the event can be to the people who attend it, but I was still surprised when I found out some Catholic dioceses are already recruiting for the March for Life in 2014. People are willing to plan and fundraise for months to attend a political event that lasts a few hours.
The Diocese of Kansas City, for example, is currently charging $320 for adults and youth (the cost is much less for members of the clergy or religious life) to attend the march. Last year an estimated 650,000 people attended. For the sake of simple estimation, let’s say that even just a tenth of those attendees – 65,000 people – pay $320 to attend. That comes out to an estimated $20.8 million spent by individuals passionate enough to travel to Washington and protest the legality of abortion in the United States. All of this is, supposedly, to protect the life of the unborn.
According to figures on the websites ehow.com, webmd.com, and vitaminshoppe.com, the average cost of prenatal care alone for an uninsured woman in a healthy pregnancy is around $3,146. That’s $1,862 for regular visits to the doctor, $1,000 for routine tests, $200 for an ultrasound, and $84 dollars for nine months of prenatal vitamins.
That’s just the cost of pre-natal care. That doesn’t include the cost of delivering the child, or the cost of raising that child for 18 years afterward. Nor does it include the cost to the government – and taxpayers – of managing children in foster care when their parents are unwilling or unable to care for them.
It’s no surprise that, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute in 2005, 73 percent of women terminating their pregnancies cited not being able to afford a baby as a reason for their decision.
So while pro-life Americans spend millions of dollars on events geared toward making abortion illegal, there were 1.16 million women who came to the conclusion in 2009 (a figure that has steadily decreased since the 1990s) that they could not carry their child to term – many of them because of money. The money spent on the March for Life alone could pay for prenatal care for around 6,600 women, or prenatal vitamins for nearly 250,000.
Even if those who participate in the March for Life were able to successfully revoke the legality of abortion in the US, or substantially limit the time in which women can obtain an abortion, statistics indicate that it wouldn’t necessarily protect the unborn. The Guttmacher Institute’s statistics show that abortion rates are higher in countries where it is illegal and procedures are often unsafe.
Even more disheartening are statistics from the Turnaway Study done by The University of California, San Francisco, which showed that women who sought abortions and were turned away (because they had passed their state's gestational limits) were three times more likely to fall into poverty than women who obtained an abortion.
A woman’s decision to have an abortion often stems from a very real and legitimate fear that she will not be able to care for a child. Pro-life supporters and activists spend incredibly large sums to take away that decision, but do not provide the equivalent practical support women need to have a baby. Is that really a fight for life? Or just a fight for a long sought-after political goal? It’s time the pro-life movement focuses its resources more on helping women and babies, not gaining legislative power that ultimately will do little to protect the unborn.
Elizabeth Jahr is a senior at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. majoring in politics and theology and religious studies.