Who Will Now Bear Costs of Crisis Pregnancies?Roundup
tags: Roe v. Wade, abortion, pregnancy, social welfare
Daniel K. Williams is a professor of history at the University of West Georgia and the author of Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade.
Crisis pregnancies have profound human costs. There are life-changing consequences for women who find themselves pregnant with a child they did not anticipate and may not feel equipped to care for.
Roe v. Wade suggested one way to manage those costs. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization suggested another way. Today, in the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs decision, my Twitter feed has been filled with partisans on both sides of the abortion debate expressing either outrage or jubilation at this transfer of costs. Opponents of abortion are delighted that at least in many conservative states, the unborn child will no longer have to bear the cost of a crisis pregnancy. Defenders of a woman’s right to choose are outraged that women in these same states will now have to bear this cost to an even greater degree. Roe v. Wade was a landmark women’s rights decision, they believe, and now that it has been rescinded, they are outraged.
But perhaps neither Roe nor Dobbs represents a fully Christian way to distribute the human costs associated with crisis pregnancies. And therein lies a dilemma for Christians who want to preserve human life and are unhappy with the results of Roe as well as the likely results of Dobbs.
Roe v. Wade’s Transfer of Costs to the Unborn
Roe v. Wade – which was widely supported by liberal Protestants, Jews, and secular Americans – was based on the premise that it was unjust and unconstitutional for the state to impose the costs of an unwanted pregnancy on the pregnant woman by forcing her to remain pregnant against her will. But, of course, there was still a cost associated with every crisis pregnancy. Who would bear this cost? The answer, in the case of pregnancies that ended in abortion, was the fetus.
Roe included a lengthy explanation of why this transfer of cost was not a violation of the fetus’s rights, since, as the Supreme Court’s decision declared, the pre-viable fetus was not a citizen with any constitutional rights. The pregnant woman, on the other hand, did have constitutional rights, and those rights included the right to terminate her pregnancy.
To pro-choice feminists, this transfer of cost from the woman to the fetus seemed perfectly just. If women were full human beings, pro-choice feminists asked, why should their rights be ignored in favor of the rights of a fetus, whose personhood (especially in the first trimester of pregnancy) was doubtful at best? To do so was a grave violation of women’s most basis rights, they thought.
In making this claim, they could also point to statistical evidence that showed that single mothers of unwanted children were far less likely to escape poverty than those who did not. The cost of an unwanted child for women included lifelong gender and social inequality. And if this was true on an individual level, it was true of a society as well. Abortion rights – and abortion access – were therefore essential foundations of a just and equitable society. The only just way to manage the costs of a crisis pregnancy, therefore, was to transfer those costs to the fetus. Any other option devalued women and prevented women from ever achieving social equality.
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