Refusing to Pay for Legal Abortions Sets Us on a Slippery Road Indeed

[NOTE: this was posted in 2009 but due to a technical glitch, had to be reposted]


The new leader of the Wildrose Alliance in Alberta says she is a libertarian on personal issues like a woman’s right to choose abortion, and the right of gay couples to marry. In other words, she does not advocate the state legislating peoples’ choices on such intimate matters. I applaud that approach to conservatism – keeping the state out of not just our wallets, but our bedrooms.

However, Danielle Smith does say that the state should not pay for those abortions that women are entitled to choose. Abortion should presumably be elective, like cosmetic or laser eye surgery. What are the consequences when abortion surgery is available only to those who can pay?

What it means is obvious. It means that wealthy women have the right to choose, and poor women do not have the same right. When only women with financial means can exercise their right to manage their own bodies, then not only are women and men not equal, but women are not even equal to one another.

What it means is that women who are least able to financially care for a child are the ones most likely to be trapped into having one; while wealthier women can manage their own fertility. It means that wealthy women will evaluate the health risks they face in pregnancy, while poor women have no option to assess the risks that pregnancy poses for them. It means women at high risk for either their own health or life, or at high risk of bearing an unhealthy child, will make their decision by consulting both their doctor and their bank manager.

It means that women forced to endure pregnancy against their will are more likely to take health risks, such as drinking, drugs, smoking or poor nutrition, that could affect the mental and physical wellbeing of the fetus they carry – in some cases, health consequences that will last a lifetime for the child.

And it means the state will be providing more and more financial aid to families that simply don’t have enough money to properly feed, clothe, nurture, house and educate the number of children they bear. The consequences of poverty are well established, and it is an odd policy indeed that deliberately increases the number and size of indigent families.

Of course the mother of the unwanted child can choose adoption. And for some that will be an excellent option. But compelling a woman against her will to bear a child that is predestined for adoption is perverse. State policy that in effect forces poor women to bear children for others is an uncomfortable echo of Offred’s plight in Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. The state should be very cautious about policies that even inadvertently result in women being unwilling bearers of children destined for other parents.

The moral absolutists argue a woman has the option to refrain from sexual relations. This argument harks back to times and places where men seek to control women’s sexuality and fertility because they are unwilling to control their own. A man can also choose to refrain but often does not. He can walk away from unwanted consequences and often does. The belief that women are singularly responsible for defending the virtue of both men and women is archaic. There is no reason women alone should bear the consequences of an unwise or impetuous decision, or protection that failed, or an act that was forced upon her, or a child the family simply cannot afford to have. Pregnancy is not punishment for lacking virtue, and the child should not bear the lifelong consequences of being unwanted.

But the real and most serious consequence of this policy will be the proliferation of cheap amateur abortions performed on desperate women who cannot afford the price of safe surgery.

Women will choose to control their own fertility. What is at issue is how they will do it. A policy that ensures a safe, sterile, and professional surgery only for those women with money in the bank is a state policy that not only discriminates on the basis of wealth, but guarantees unintended consequences that should concern us all.



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