New Advertisement Marks Anniversary of Roe v Wade

VISUAL: Color video footage of fetus, 20-25 weeks gestation, in her mother’s womb sucking her thumb.

NARRATOR: “Why are some babies aborted?
It’s not because her mother was raped.
It’s not because her mother’s life or health are in jeopardy.
It’s not because her father isn’t supportive.
It’s not because she was unplanned.
It’s not even because her mother doesn’t want a baby.
Then why are these babies aborted?”

VISUAL: Screen goes black while “aborted” said. Black screen lasts for 2 seconds.

VISUAL: Cut to Narrator, sitting in a chair with spartan backdrop. Narrator has Down syndrome.

NARRATOR, SPEAKING TO CAMERA: “Because they have Down syndrome, like me.”

VISUAL: Cut to black screen. Split second delay before “DISCRIMINATION” in imposing, white typeface, appears. One second delay before “It’s alive and kicking” appears in smaller typeface. One second delay before “A message from Created Equal.” appears at the bottom.

As you may have guessed, this advertisement only exists in my head. I envisioned it a few years ago while walking home from the subway after learning that 90% of babies with Down syndrome are aborted. I thought of it again as I read this article in Newsweek (note: Newsweek article is now unavailable, but Boston Globe story is here.) about a couple who, once they learned their baby had Down syndrome, “agonized” over whether they should let her live or have her killed. Fortunately for their daughter, they decided not to discriminate against her because of her handicap. The article is definitely worth reading, even though it repeats an inaccuracy: the Connecticut law allowing abortions only until the 24th week is not a bona fide deadline. In fact, women can abort children with Down syndrome at anytime during pregnancy provided they claim that the pregnancy is causing them mental trauma. George Tiller, a Kansas abortionist specializing in late term “therapeutic” abortions, receives clients from all over the country. He refers to Down syndrome by its medical name, Trisomy 21, and outlines the process of his “therapy” this way,“an injection of a medication is made into the baby to assure that it will be stillborn”. By most standards it is a stretch to call lethal doses of potassium chloride, the agent used to kill Tim McVeigh, “medication.” But at least Mr. Tiller acknowledges that the thing he “assure[s] will be stillborn” is a “baby”.

More than anything else, Dr. Tiller’s procedure exposes the lie, made by many abortion apologists, that abortion doesn’t kill the baby — the fetus’s death is just a side-effect of the mother “ending her pregnancy” because she is unable or unwilling to continue it. In that sense, abortion is ostensibly an act of omission. It’s harder to make that claim while injecting a lethal agent into a healthy baby body.

In America, 86% of babies with Down syndrome are killed by “therapies” like Dr. Tiller’s. And this despite the fact that, as the Fairchilds learned when they called adoption agencies about placing children with Down syndrome, there is no shortage of families willing to love and adore a child with Down syndrome. (The 12 states that publicly finance abortions of babies with Down syndrome have 40% fewer kids with Down syndrome. Fancy that.)

America is a long way from the self-evident Truth that we are all Created with certain Equal and Unalienable rights.

113 comments for “New Advertisement Marks Anniversary of Roe v Wade

  1. Matt Evans
    January 22, 2004 at 1:26 am

    This essay by George Will about his son with Down syndrome is beautiful. I’m moved every time I read it. I want to spend time with Jon Will, or someone like him.

  2. Adam Greenwood
    January 22, 2004 at 9:46 am

    One of Hugh Nibley’s daughters wrote a book, Expecting Adam, about her child with Down’s. It is by no means a deeply Mormon book, but it is deeply moving.

  3. Kaimi
    January 22, 2004 at 10:13 am


    Interesting thought. I’m not sure that everything you’ve suggested works together. For example, you write that 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome are aborted, despite the fact that there are families willing to adopt such babies. Implied is that the aborted babies should be offered for adoption in the (apparently robust) adoption market for Downs Syndrom babies. However, isn’t one possibility that the robustness of the market — the fact that “there is no shortage of families willing to love and adore a child with Down syndrome” — is a product of the scarcity (caused by the 90% abortion rate).

    The ability of the adoption market to absorb Down syndrome children at current birth rates may not be an indicator of an ability to absorb (using your numbers) a nine-fold increase in the number of Down babies for adoption. Do you have evidence that that excess demand exists?

  4. January 22, 2004 at 10:47 am

    I think Matt’s larger point was that abortion is an evil that should be stopped. Even if the adoption market could not absord the increase in Down syndrome children, under current law, our nation would still not treat all human beings (i.e. unborn children) as being created equal with the right to life that comes with creation.

  5. Adam Greenwood
    January 22, 2004 at 11:59 am

    You don’t have to think that demand exceeds supply ninefold for Matt’s point to be valid. You’re probably right that it doesn’t. He’s only saying that some Down’s children are killed who could have had willing and loving parents if they’d come to term.

  6. Jeremiah J.
    January 22, 2004 at 12:19 pm

    Stanley Hauerwas has a good essay on “the retarded” (written in the 1980s), in which he addresses the implications of people trying to “prevent retardation” for Christian biomedical ethics. I can’t remember the exact title of the essay, but it is in the Hauerwas Reader.

  7. Matt Evans
    January 22, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    Based on the numbers I’ve seen (, and the large numbers of Americans adopting foreign children with Down syndrome, I think all children with Down syndrome could be placed with a family. Down syndrome is uncommon enough that even a nine-fold increase isn’t large in absolute numbers.

    Like in the case of discrimination against blacks, we must first oppose the most evil forms of discrimination, like slavery and lynchings, even if people aren’t willing to treat blacks or kids with Down syndrome as they would want to be treated themselves.

    Most important, there are good hearted people who are willing to sacrifice a great deal for kids with Down syndromw. These people would adopt many of them, or care for them in groups. Even in the less-than-ideal circumstance of group homes (which isn’t that bad anyway) they’d be infinitely better off than if they were pumped up with potassium chloride and tossed in a landfill, as they are now.

  8. Kaimi
    January 22, 2004 at 3:38 pm


    I have a slightly-related question for you:

    One way to lower the number of abortions performed is to provide broad access to birth control. That is, many women who are likely to have an abortion if they become pregnant, are also likely to use birth control, if it is available, and try not become pregnant in the first place.

    Thus, it seems likely that, if your goal is to end up with the lowest number of abortions occuring, the optimal mix would be to retain Griswold (striking down statute limiting birth control) but to overrule Roe.

    However, as we both know, Roe and Griswold rely on the same right to privacy and much of the same reasoning. And opponents of Roe often attack the right to privacy component of the decision.

    If the Supreme Court decides to roll back the right to privacy, Roe will be discarded, but so will Griswold. And, if you are really trying to achieve the lowest number of abortions, that seems like a less-than-ideal end position. (Or is it? I’m not sure your position).

    Is there a way to overrule Roe while retaining Griswold? And is this what you would want?

  9. January 22, 2004 at 3:49 pm

    Do we need to retain Griswold? I don’t think so. How many states are likely to enact legislation outlawing birth control? Probaby none. Griswold only stands for the proposition that states may not do so. Thus, overturning the decision would not immediately impact the current state of things.

    For the record, I think the whole line of cases is an aberration and should be done away with. There simply is no right to privacy anywhere in the Constitution.

  10. Adam Greenwood
    January 22, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, Kaimi.
    Are you saying that there’s some sort of inconsistency in opposing abortion on moral grounds and in thinking that constitutionally the states have the power to regulate birth control? The second seems like a purely legal argument that has little to do with whether or not regulating birth control is a good idea.

    Even if a person is against abortion and against birth control (or, to be fair, pro-life and for natural family planning) I don’t think they’re inconsistent, any more than it’s inconsistent to, say, be against armed robbery but still in favor of convenience stores.

    And, to forestall any questions, I’m going to go on record as opposing both abortions and forced sterilizations, though the positions may seem inconsistent.

  11. Matt Evans
    January 22, 2004 at 4:08 pm

    Kaimi, while I’m no fan of substantive due process or the incorporation of the 14th amendment against the states, because I believe a fetus is as much a human being as you and I are, the court could recognize a general right to privacy yet still say that, because a fetus is a human being, the state has a compelling interest in regulating abortions.

    Adam, there’s no reason to worry. The only people who think it’s inconsistent to oppose abortion and forced sterilizations are Lawrence Tribe and the dupes who’ve fallen for his awful reasoning. Non-dupes understand perfectly well that the existence of laws forbidding parents from beating their kids _doesn’t_ mean the state could _force_ parents to beat their kids. (Or that laws against drug use mean the government could force drug use, etc., etc.)

  12. Nate Oman
    January 22, 2004 at 4:43 pm


    Is the Roe-Griswold problem meant to be taken seriously?

    First, since the late 1970s lots and lots of prochoice legal scholars have decided that the privacy frame work for Roe is unsatisfying. For example, Gisburg argued that one could jettison Griswold while keeping Roe in place on equal protection grounds. Given the wonderful elasticity of substantive due process, I think the only real question is what Sandra Day O’Connor thinks. (Sorry. I am taking of my con-law cynic hat now.)

    Second, even if your policy argument is correct — i.e. the optimal solution is a mix of abortion restrictions and widely available birth control — I don’t see why it should have any constitutional implications at all. Furthermore, I don’t think that a constitutional right to contraception a la Griswold is even necessary. Griswold itself is a great illustration of this fact. The law at issue in Griswold was effectively a dead letter. It took Planned Parenthood and their allies on the Yale Law Faculty quite a while to get prosecuted for the law. I suspect that if Griswold were over turned tomorrow that it would have virtually zero impact on the availablity of contraceptives. Indeed, one thing that I think is striking is that under the Casey framework, states have a great deal of power to regulate abortion that they have not exercised. Admittedly, after the last round of PBA laws, it is far from clear how serious the Court actually is about the Casey framework, but it seems to me that if states took a horizontal (no abortion is in the last trimester except for life and health exceptions for example) rather than a vertical approach (no PBA regardless of timing) that they ought to be able to regulate. It seems that at this point the issue is as much political as legal.

  13. Nate Oman
    January 22, 2004 at 4:46 pm

    For those law geeks in the audience: a while back I blogged a bit about the constitutional law of abortion. My conclusion is that Casey is actually a second amendment case. Check it out here:

  14. Kristine
    January 22, 2004 at 4:55 pm

    Matt, I like your add. It is (or could be) emotionally appealing without being too maudlin, and it might make the right people think a little. I’d like to see it on TV, and I might even give money to get it there. However (you saw that coming, right? :)), like most television ads, it’s grossly reductionist.
    Before Roe v. Wade, institutionalization of children with Down Syndrome or other disabilities was quite common. Now, state-funded institutions are almost non-existent and “mainstreaming” is regarded as appropriate for most children with disabilities. This creates enormous costs, a fraction of which (the provision of special education services, Medicaid for some disabled persons) are borne by the state, but most of which (especially the emotional costs) are borne by parents of disabled children, and, particularly, by mothers of disabled children. (Your adoption scenario is spectacularly unrealistic–given the difficulty placing children with ADHD into stable foster homes or adoptive families, I just don’t imagine large numbers of people lining up to deal with Down Syndrome or other significant disabilities) Having a child with Down Syndrome means the effective end of a mother’s career, and involves enormous sacrifice for the whole family . For me–married, college-educated, with a more-than-adequate household income AND most importantly, blessed with an understanding of the Plan of Salvation and the role of sacrifice in a Christian life–this would be an incredible challenge; for someone with fewer resources, less education, less hope and belief in the value of self-sacrifice, it could be catastrophic. This is not to say that many, many parents of children with disabilities do not cope with these demands heroically, but *requiring* such heroism of ordinary people strikes me as lousy public policy, policy almost guaranteed to result in children being abused, neglected, and abandoned. Unless we can figure out a more equitable way to distribute the costs of caring for disabled children, I’m not prepared to say that people should be forced into taking on those burdens.
    When I see anti-abortion activists demonstrating the same kind of concern and willingness to devote public resources to children who are already born, I’ll readily sign up for the right-to-life movement. As long as the same conservatives who profess such devotion to unborn children exhibit such monumental shortsightedness and meanspiritedness in their policies for already-born children and the women who care for them, I’ll stay on the sidelines.

  15. Kaimi
    January 22, 2004 at 4:58 pm


    I agree that PBA (is that the approved acronym?) is probably within the types of restriction that are permitted. In fact, I have long thought that conservatives could have done away with PBA long ago if they hadn’t kept trying to use it as a lever to more broadly attack abortion.

    Also, I’m amused by the continued insistence by abortion-rights supporters that PBA laws are rolling back rights created under Roe (the “Roe is under attack” hyperbole), given that Roe allowed for third-trimester regulation, and PBA is mostly (almost entirely?) concerned with third-trimester abortions.

  16. Kristine
    January 22, 2004 at 4:58 pm

    Adam, I think Martha Beck’s book *is* actually a deeply Mormon book, though she (Beck) wants to believe that it is not. Times and Seasons Book Club, anyone? (she suggests again, hopefully)

  17. Nate Oman
    January 22, 2004 at 5:08 pm

    Kristine: I confess that I don’t understand what you are saying in your response to Matt. It seems that you are making one of two claims. First, you could be arguing that abortion is desirable (or at least is the lesser evil) so long as there is inadequate social insurance. Second, you could be arguing that even though you agree with proposition X, because some of the people supporting proposition X also do not support proposition Y, which you see as a necessary implication of proposition X, then you will not support proposition X. The first alternative makes logical sense, although there is something a little chilling about saying, “It is wrong to kill fetuses, but it is better to kill them than to let them live in a world without adequate social insurance.” Why not let them be born, and then allow them to make their own decision via suicide? The second position simply seems logically incoherent to me. As near as I can tell the only purpose that it might serve is to maintain the outward commitments of a good Boston educated intellectual without necessarily subscribing to the underlying moral commitments. This may be socially useful or fufill an important pyschological function in maintaining self-image, but it doesn’t seem to be objectively reasonable.

    There. Have I been sufficiently provacative?

  18. Kristine
    January 22, 2004 at 6:21 pm

    Um, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I don’t require a great deal of provocation. Also, you should be warned that I decided not to be a philosophy major after suffering through a semester of formal logic with Warren Goldfarb (not even my husband knows what grade I got). So when you start putting Xs and Ys in my propositions, it makes me want to run screaming back into gender-essentialist stereotypes about women’s innate reasoning abilities :)

    But I’ll take a stab at one or two of your points. I’m not arguing (or didn’t mean to be) that it’s better for a fetus/baby (let’s say baby–I don’t mind ceding that terminology war) not to be born than to be born in a world without adequate provisions for that baby. I think I was, to some extent, privileging the rights of the mother, whom we can at least all agree is a person with already existing rights. (I don’t know what’s better for the baby–I’m inclined to think that, since we don’t seal stillborn babies to their parents, that fetuses don’t have a spirit irrevocably assigned to them and that a spirit intended for a body that is aborted might well have another shot at birth. But I don’t know; I don’t think anyone knows what is best for such babies). So I was arguing that it is unfair, even discriminatory, for society to assign the enormous burden of caring for a disabled child to a woman, because of a biological accident which causes her to be the carrier of such a child. If we could, as a society, mitigate the costs, then it would seem more just to require her to assume a share of the cost.
    The second point is related: many of the same people who argue that a woman should be required to accept whatever fate the genetic lottery assigns her are the ones who are most opposed to dedicating public resources to caring for children. While I believe that abortion is wrong in almost every case, I’m not willing to make common cause with people who are otherwise so willing to make life difficult for children and their mothers.

    It’s probably not a logically consistent position. Having had three children and as many miscarriages, I have to admit that being confronted by someone (and particularly a male person–yes, it’s sexist) so sure of what those processes mean and how every woman should behave in relation to them completely unnerves me. I find the issues surrounding pregnancy, birth, and mothering so spectacularly complex that I’m reduced to helpless and (as you’ve observed) inarticulate despair at the plight of women who, for whatever reason, feel that abortion is their only real option, and the plight of their babies, whether they are aborted or born. I can’t imagine that our heavenly parents feel any less love and grief for the mothers in such an impossible position than they do for the babies, and therefore I find it difficult to believe that making abortion illegal is a sufficiently compassionate solution.

    And, hey, cool it with the cheap psychoanalysis, Nate. I don’t have any interest in maintaining whatever commitments are required of a “Boston-educated intellectual.” (What does geography have to do with it??)

  19. Kaimi
    January 22, 2004 at 6:39 pm

    I think what I drew out of Kristine’s critique is that abortion-restricting laws are largely passed by male lawmakers who don’t have to deal with the difficulties that pregnant women must face.

    They are saying “This is a necessary sacrifice for society (and so that I can live in a society that I like), and _you_ (largely poor, uneducated, unwed, minority women) are going to be making it.” It reminds me of the line from Shrek. “Some of you may die, but that is a sacrifice that I am willing to make.”

    Support for parents of Down syndrome children exists, but is woefully small. It seems wrong for politicians to expect some mothers and families to bear great financial, emotional, and physical burdens so that “society” can benefit. It’s an unfunded mandate and the high costs are being passed on to individual people and families at random.

    So, to elaborate on Kristine’s comment, if society is serious about wanting to prevent abortions of Down syndrome children, and want to make raising these children a viable option, how about legislation calling for a 100% lifetime salary match for a woman who has to leave the work force to care for a Down Syndrome child, 100% medical coverage by government, and probably some form of housing and/or educational subsidies. And how about realistic funding for education of Down syndrome children?

    Couple those provisions with a bill prohibiting abortion of Down syndrome, and you may attract more support than you expect.

  20. Nate Oman
    January 22, 2004 at 7:11 pm

    Kristine: But cheap pyschoanalysis is so much fun! (And so much easier than making actual arguments!)

    The differential costs of pregnancy are a difficult issue. What is interesting to me is that in many ways the pro-choice arguments are an attempt to socially reconstruct gender on the male model. Given biology and certain social norms, for much of our history it was possible for men to engage in sexual adventures without bearing much in the way of costs for those adventures. Abortion provides us with a technology that allows us to at least partially reconstruct female gender roles on the model of previous male gender roles by removing some of the disproportionate costs previously borne by women. This seems like a good equality argument in favor of abortion. However, there is another way of reconstructing the gender roles according to equality norms, and that is by forcing men to internalize the costs of sexual activity.

    At this point, however, we run up against a technological problem. The ability of our medical technology to eradicate costs previously borne by women far exceeds the capacity of our legal technology to force men to internalize those costs.

    At this point, social insurance may be good alternative. The legal technology required to deliver transfer payments is significantly simpler than the legal technology required to force individualized, male cost internalization. However, I think that we need to acknowledge that from an equality perspective this is still going to be a very imperfect solution, since it will continue to allow men to largely escape the costs of their own sexual behavior. Perhaps there is some optimal mix of internalization mechanisms and social insurance mechanisms that delivers a fully equal distribution of costs. I am skeptical.

    So then here is the dilemma, do we solve the inequality problem created by the defects of our technology by having the fetus internalize all (or nearly all) of the costs of sexual activity?

    I use the term fetus deliberately. I think that there is genuine ambiguity as to the precise status of unborn human beings. The question then becomes (for me) what we do in the face of that ambiguity. On one hand we could argue that the ambiguity counsels in favor of the strategy that maximizes equality. Given our technology, I think that the equality-maximizing strategy is probably abortion on demand.

    On the other hand, we could argue that the moral risks associated with the ambiguity over fetal status are so high that we are willing to suffer a certain level of known injustice in order to avoid a potentially much greater injustice.

    At this point, I think that your males-should-shut-up-about-this-subject has more force than you give it credit for. If we opt for the known injustice we can be certain that women will bear the costs of that injustice. I think that one can be rightfully touchy about male certainties on such an issue. On the other hand, so long as we are talking about consensual sexual activity, there does seem something a little perverse about throwing the bulk of the costs of the transaction onto the one party who was not a consensual participant. (I think that the dynamic shifts when the sexual activity was not voluntary.)

    And I didn’t use a single X or Y…

  21. Matt Evans
    January 22, 2004 at 8:30 pm

    Men have as much right to complain about the injustice of abortion as northerners had to complain about the injustices of southern slavery. (Nate, I’m curious to know how sympathetic you are to the southern argument that Garrison and Emerson should just shut up.) Southerners despised the meddling northerners who refused to mind their own business, just like some feminists do men on abortion, but the meddlers are rightfully seen today as heroes.

    The argument that government has to pay parents not to have their children killed is ridiculous. All children pose huge burdens on their parents, and to suggest that parents should have the option to kill them until government subsidizes childrearing makes me, literally, nauseous.

    And I am unable to muster any respect for those who think potassium chloride is the solution to _any_ problem associated with Down syndrome.

  22. Matt Evans
    January 22, 2004 at 8:51 pm

    One more thing about the ‘burden’ of children, especially children with Down syndrome.

    Kristine, Kaimi and Nate: you’re speaking as though the state requires parents to raise their children. It doesn’t. Parents are welcome to relinquish their parental rights and it’s a mistake to overlook this when discussing the burden parents bear.

    I know, I know, parents will feel terrible if they give up their child. How could a mother or father take their helpless, newborn child and give her away? Not wanting to feel guilty about being bad parents, they have her killed. (Abortion literature is actually full of stories of mothers who say they had their baby killed because the thought of giving him away killed her. )

  23. Kaimi
    January 22, 2004 at 8:57 pm


    Granting that people may give up parental rights, you are still asking women to bear a difficult process for the benefit of “society.” You are asking someone else to sacrifice for your own good. Pregnancy is no little burden. It is a serious surgery, which often has numerous painful and invasive complications.

  24. January 22, 2004 at 9:00 pm

    “I’m not willing to make common cause with people who are otherwise so willing to make life difficult for children and their mothers.”

    Do you honestly think that conservatives (a) don’t care about children and their mothers and (b) that they are “willing to make life difficult” for them? I don’t even know where to begin in addressing such an absurd claim. I’d also like some support for any contention that conservatives are meanspirited toward women and children.

    Having been a fetus and a baby once, and having fathered three children, I also find it somewhat offensive to suggest that merely because I am a man that my opinion on abortion is somehow less valuable than a woman’s. I don’t pretend to appreciate the difficulties a woman goes through actually carrying a child (I value my life to much, and any hint that I do would garner execution by my wife). However, I can opine on the value of human life, and that is what we are talking about. If a man and woman engage in sexual intercourse, a baby is one of the potential consequences of their decision. Whether or not the fetus has a soul, it is a separate human life. Thus, abortion should be outlawed on those grounds alone. If we are concerned as a society about the adverse impact of poor uneducated persons bearing children, we should concentrate our efforts on educating them about abstinence. Last time I checked that was the most effective means of avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases yet 10 times the amount of money that is spent on abstinence education is spent on teaching other less effective means of birth control.

    Funding for parents of Downs syndrome children should be dealt with as an entirely separate issue. Again, it seems offensive to talk about human life as if it was just some commodity to be bought and sold and bartered in exchange for public funding.

  25. January 22, 2004 at 9:10 pm

    “Asking women to bear a difficult process for the benefit of “society.” You are asking someone else to sacrifice for your own good. Pregnancy is no little burden. It is a serious surgery, which often has numerous painful and invasive complications.”

    Now I am getting nauseous. No one is asking women to bear children for the benefit of society or for my or Matt’s benefit. If women don’t want to bear children DON’T HAVE SEX. If they are going to engage in a certain behavior, then they must be willing to accept the consequences. Why should an innocent unborn child, or as Nate puts it “the party who was not a consenual participant” have to bear the ultimate price for what someone views as an accident or mistake. It is shameful that we are even discussing human life like this. I remember hearing something before to the effect that you can measure the goodness of a society by how it treats its weakest members. 65 million of societies weakest members have been murdered in this country because irresponsible people didn’t want to be burdened by their irresponsibility.

  26. January 22, 2004 at 9:21 pm

    Here is a link to an article discussing 10 legal reasons to reject Roe v. Wade:

  27. January 22, 2004 at 9:30 pm

    I find this whole cost-analysis discussion irrelevant. Kristine — your issue seems to be that children with Down’s Syndrome require extra time and money. What about child prodigies, don’t they require excessive amounts of time and money managing their extreme talents — getting the best coaches, training constantly, etc. etc. Such a circumstance would force a mother to leave her career, and require sacrifices of the whole family. What about children that get in serious accidents, premature babies, or even single mothers? Should we distribute those costs too? Are the rewards of a DS child just not enough?

    I’m not sure what you mean by public policy “requiring” heroism — but I guess you’re saying that if abortion were illegal, public policy would force a woman, if nature were so inclined, to have a DS child, without, you believe, a willing mother to adopt that child. In fact, public policy didn’t force the woman to get pregnant. She did it herself, knowing the inherent dangers. Besides, I’d bet that the majority of mothers with DS children wouldn’t trade their children in for a less exhausting or cheaper model.

    And I tend to think that public policy requiring heroism is a great idea. I think if your house were on fire, you would too.

    I don’t agree that most “ordinary people”, with limited resources, limited education, and limited “hope”, would find raising a DS child as the burden you put forth. I doubt that these children are better off dead, and I doubt that these mothers are better off without them.

  28. Kristine
    January 22, 2004 at 9:34 pm

    Hang on a second. I very deliberately limited my comments to the problem of a fetus with Down Syndrome. In that case, a woman is being asked to assume a burden that is the result of a genetic accident, not her promiscuity. It’s a different argument from a general argument about abortion–the differences were somewhat elided in Nate’s comment.

    Also, please note that I did not say men’s arguments were invalid, only that I have an emotional response to a man who is so sure about all these issues that will never directly affect him to the degree that they may affect me. I even acknowledged that such a response could be called sexist. In light of the inherent inequality of the man’s experiential basis of understanding, I think some caution is in order for male interlocutors, but I’m not suggesting they are disqualified or unable to make arguments with moral force.

    Don’t just churn out pro-life boilerplate here, guys. There aren’t any cookie cutter feminist abortion-on-demand strawwomen for you to take down around here.

  29. January 22, 2004 at 9:56 pm

    I’m not talking about promiscuity either. Women know that genetic “accidents” happen. When they decide to get pregnant, they run the risk of such a “burden”. I just don’t think it’s up to them to fix the “mistake”. They’re not “being asked to assume a burden” — they volunteered.

  30. Steve
    January 22, 2004 at 10:09 pm

    A personal anecdote to add to this discussion:

    When my wife and I were expecting our son John, we lived in New York City. During a routine ultrasound at a hospital in midtown, the technician discovered choroid plexus cysts. Roughly 2% of fetuses have these cysts, and the vast majority of fetuses with these cysts are born without any complications. Some medical literature has suggested a possible link between these cysts and Trisomy 18, a chromosomal aberration that results in retardation significantly more severe than Trisomy 21, or Down’s Syndrome. They may also be a soft marker for Down’s, but nobody’s really sure. We didn’t know any of this. All we knew was that the technician gasped, called in a doctor, and that doctor advised us to set up an appointment with a genetic counselor immediately. A couple of days later, we met with that genetic counselor, and she highly recommended an amniocentesis. Although an amniocentesis carries a very low risk of prematurely inducing labor, we decided to follow her advice, based on our own risk analysis that if we were going to have a Trisomy 18 baby, we’d prefer to know definitively sooner rather than wonder about it for 4 months.

    It turns out that the only reason for all the rush was that if we’d waited another week, we couldn’t have opted for an abortion under New York’s laws. I asked the genetic counselor about this later, and she confirmed that the primary reason for her recommendation was to preserve our abortion rights. She just assumed that if the results came back positive, we wouldn’t keep the baby, despite what we told her during our “counseling”: we weren’t considering aborting the child and we were prepared to welcome whatever child came into our home through this pregnancy. Basically, she just assumed we were posturing, because who really wants a Trisomy 18 anyway? Surely our stance against abortion would change in such circumstances. Best of all, we incurred lots of extra charges on our bare-bones student insurance for this run-around. The upside? The guy who performed the amniocentesis does more than anyone else, so our risk of premature delivery was very low.

    Another couple in NYC had the same experience, but when they opted not to have the amniocentesis (several months after our experience, which they knew about), the doctors and genetic counselor gave them all kinds of grief about how imprudent their decision was.

    And: my experience (two cousins have it, one on each side) is that Down’s Syndrome kids, as demanding as they are, are the epitome of “good hearted.” Those who raise them often learn from them how to be good hearted like them. It’s been interesting to see how that burden on their families has actually galvanized the relationships between all the siblings, due perhaps to the need for increased love and understanding. Each of my aunts credits, to a large degree, their family unity to this “burden.” Of course, it could have turned out otherwise, but I think it’s important in our cost/benefit analysis not to overgeneralize or oversimplify (or ignore) some of the potential benefits.

  31. Kristine
    January 22, 2004 at 10:12 pm

    Michelle: the child prodigy analogy is silly. So is the burning house (we don’t require anyone to be a firefighter, and we pay them generously just for incurring risk, let alone for actual harm suffered on the job).

    As for children involved in serious accidents, premature babies–YES, we should distribute those costs (and to a significant extent, we already do). Single mothers and their children should absolutely be helped more than they are now. (Aside to Brent: an example of the conservative meanspiritedness I mentioned is their willingness to consign poor single mothers’ children to substandard daycare while the mother is forced to work at some minimum wage job, while elsewhere the same conservatives argue that children deserve to have a full-time stay-at-home mother and it is wicked for a woman to choose to work.)

    It *is* awful to talk about human lives in terms of their costs, but it is also awful–staggeringly so–to see the way poor children are treated in this country. It may be awful to say it, but children who are disabled, unwanted, or poorly cared for do generate huge costs for society and we have repeatedly shown ourselves unwilling to pay the price of helping those children. There are parents who manage to do it despite the lack of help, who wouldn’t trade their disabled children for anything, and they are to be held in awe.

    But there are also parents who can’t do it. I worked in an institution for disabled children whose parents had surrendered their parental rights (and, no, there were no adoptive parents lining up at the door) for a couple of years. I’m not at all prepared to say that those children’s lives were worth living. (I’m not ready to say they weren’t, either, but I think Matt might want to spend some time volunteering in such a place before he makes his ad).

  32. Kristine
    January 22, 2004 at 10:18 pm

    Steve, isn’t trisomy 18 also often associated with serious physical problems and (very) early mortality? (Not that that should change the equation, I’m just curious).

    And you’re right to point out the potential benefits of having a disabled child. If I hadn’t already gone on so long, I would have done it myself. Martha Beck’s book describes (beautifully) a similar experience with the prejudices of medical professionals and the wonder of raising a boy with Down Syndrome.

  33. Matt Evans
    January 22, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    In the case of children with Down syndrome, most of the mothers _wanted_ to get pregnant. It’s only after they learn that their baby is One Of Them that she decides she doesn’t want a baby afterall.

    And I don’t expect the mother to continue the difficult process for the benefit of society — it’s for her _child’s benefit_. And she’s definitely not doing it for my benefit. You and I both support laws punishing parents who abuse, neglect or abandon their children. We don’t do this because it helps us in some way, or even because it benefits society, we do it because children have claims on their parents for sustenance. We permit parents to transfer their parental obligations to a third party, but require they sustain the child until the third party is able to care for the child. We don’t do this for our benefit or for society’s benefit, we do it for the beautiful baby.

    Yes, childbirth is painful and can be dangerous. Around 6 mothers die per 100,000 childbirths. Women whose lives are jeopardized by childbirth should be allowed to consider their own well-being over that of their baby. And because the baby is dependent upon her mother, the moral dilemma in such cases is frequently reduced to the axiom that it’s better that one person die than two. Only under extreme situations should we allow parents to abandon their children.

  34. Nate Oman
    January 22, 2004 at 10:20 pm

    Matt: I actually have a fair amount of sympathy with southerners who thought that Emerson should shut up. (BTW, Emerson wasn’t really much of an abolitionist.) I don’t think that this justified slavery. I don’t think that the understandability of women being uncomfortable with male discussions of inevitable levels of female injustice justifies abortion. I don’t think that I made any arguments to the contrary. Indeed, I took myself to be offering a prolife argument that additionally made sense of some of the church’s caveats.


  35. Steve
    January 22, 2004 at 10:39 pm


    Yes, a spirit in a Trisomy 18 body has a lot of physical deformities to deal with, which naturally translates into a lot of needs that we as parents would need to meet. But we would be unlikely to meet many of them, and likely our son would have died early, had he had Trisomy 18. Early mortality is common; only about 10% live past their first year.

    We thought a lot about what it means to give a spirit a mortal experience. And we knew that we’d be with him again in the hereafter, no matter how long he was with us in the here-and-now. I also wondered what kind of body he would have been given when he was resurrected.


    Does anyone know offhand what the Church’s policy is on baptizing, ordaining to the priesthood, endowing, etc. severely handicapped children? I imagine it’s individualized in each instance, though I would think that baptism would be nearly universal, barring inability to be submerged in water. I wonder because I remember seeing my cousin sit at the Sacrament table while two of his fellow priests blessed the Sacrament, but I can’t remember if he received the Melchizedek Priesthood.

  36. Matt Evans
    January 22, 2004 at 10:44 pm


    If many disabled children don’t “have lives worth living” yet “generate huge costs for society”, shouldn’t we let Dr. Tiller provide them with ‘therapy’?

    I’m serious. If these kids you worked with drain society and derive no benefit themselves — why are we bothering with them? Is the slippery slope your only argument against the Final Solution?

  37. January 22, 2004 at 11:03 pm

    If we are speaking of all this in a Mormon context, then perhaps the woman’s burden in giving birth ought to be balanced against her heavenly sibling’s burden in having their life wisked away? I’m afraid the burden argument doesn’t hold much weight with me. Yes it is sad, but so too is it sad when a child is injured or has a disease which is difficult or expensive. We don’t say to parents with children discovered with disease that they ought to have the option of avoiding the burden and adopting infanticide.

    Now the issue is more tricky for Mormons since I don’t think the majority of Mormons believe the spirit enters the fetus the first day of conception. Orrin Hatch brought this point out when he supported stem cell research over the objections of many in the pro-life movement. If a fetus is suffering from some genetic abnormality then early abortion is good for the spirit since it ensures the spirit will get a good body. However clearly if the abortion takes place after the spirit enters in then that is bad as you are taking away that spirit’s mortality (or at least interrupting it — a lot hasn’t been revealed here)

    The point is that it seems Mormons have a unique perspective here because of our theology of a pre-mortal life. I don’t see that being taken into consideration in this discussion.

    I should add that I am horrified that it is legal to abort 3rd trimester downs syndrom fetuses. I thought 3rd trimester abortions were only for the health and safety of the mother. Am I wrong in this? I’m very much opposed to 3rd trimester abortion when the baby is clearly viable.

  38. Matt Evans
    January 22, 2004 at 11:06 pm

    Nate, my complaint with your earlier statement was your justifying those who seek to reject the message because of the messenger; i.e., ad hominem.

    (Incidentally, you’re right that Emerson wasn’t a professional abolitionist like Phelps, Garrison or the Grimkes, but he was a prominent northerner with an anti-slavery voice that Calhoun and other sourtherners detested. He didn’t endear himself to Virginians, either, when he wrote that John Brown “made the gallows as glorious as the cross.”)

  39. Kristine
    January 22, 2004 at 11:10 pm

    Matt, I said I wasn’t sure if their lives are worth living. I’m really not sure.

    I don’t know if “society” derives any benefits from the kids I took care of. I did–I learned a couple of things about patience and charity that would have taken me a lot longer to learn any other way. Does that justify their suffering? I don’t know. I don’t know.

  40. Kristine
    January 22, 2004 at 11:17 pm

    Steve: here are the relevant sections from the Handbook of Instructions:

    “When contemplating ordinances for a person who has a mental disability, priesthood leaders and parents prayerfully consider the person’s wishes and degree of understanding. Ordinances should not be withheld if the person is worthy, wants to receive them, and demonstrates an appropriate degree of responsibility and accountability. Living persons whose disabilities cause them to have the mental capacity of children may not be accountable (see D&C 29:46-50). The saving ordinances do not need to be performed for these persons.

    If leaders determine that a person should receive an ordinance, they help him or her understand and prepare for it.”

    Then there are specific guidelines for baptism, priesthood ordination, and patriarchal blessings, all with the same general rule that the decision should be made by parents and priesthood leaders, and that the ordinances may be performed for people with sufficient understanding, but are not necessary if such understanding is not discernible.

  41. Matt Evans
    January 22, 2004 at 11:34 pm


    Dr. Tiller performs post-viability abortions on perfectly healthy babies “when continuing the pregnancy is detrimental to the pregnant woman’s health.”

    In Doe v Bolton, the case decided with Roe 31 years ago today, held that: “Medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all the factors–physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age–relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” The court invalidated a requirement that two other physicians agree with the abortionist’s diagnosis, saying that “a physician’s decision to perform an abortion must rest upon ‘his best clinical judgment.'”

    So if Dr. Tiller thinks the new mother’s emotional, familial or psychological health is impaired by the pregnancy, he can end her pregnancy at any stage.

    If the woman just wanted the pregnancy over with, she could of course have labor induced. But because the real purpose isn’t to end the pregnancy, they kill the baby before delivery.

    Clark — there’s no basis for your statement that “If a fetus is suffering from some genetic abnormality then early abortion is good for the spirit since it ensures the spirit will get a good body.” God has given millions of spirits bodies with severe defects, billions of spirits bodies some defects, and every spirit a body with some defects. No statement or principle from the scriptures suggests that our body’s defects, no matter the degree, hinder its suitability for our spirits.

  42. Matt Evans
    January 22, 2004 at 11:45 pm


    The reason we don’t kill the disabled kids is because they benefit _us_? Their lives hinge on our selfishness?!

  43. January 22, 2004 at 11:52 pm

    Just an observation, why is the non-priesthood holder/leader is the one who always has the handbook of instruction quotes. When I was in a bishopric I remember being instructed that the book wasn’t for general use. Only members of the bishopric and stake presidency were to have them. I am just curious.

  44. January 23, 2004 at 12:02 am

    Who are we to play God and determine whose life are or aren’t worth living? What about children or adults for that matter who develop leukemia or other diseases? Do we kill off all of the unwanted?

    Clark, I think you are right about our theology being relevant. One of the first commandments was to multiply and replenish the earth. Why? So that God’s spirit children could obtain their second estate and obtain exaltation through acceptance of the gospel. We need not determine when a spirit enters a body to know that since Roe v. Wade, 65 million bodies were cast aside and left uninhabitable through abortion. What a travesty!! I often think Our Heavenly Father weeps over a good many things about our world, and abortion has to be one of the those things which causes him tremendous grief. Defect of any kind, mortal weakness is what turns us to God if we humble ourselves and then we can have grace. Those born with a wide range of defects are often noted for their spirituality and the effect they have on others.

  45. Kristine
    January 23, 2004 at 12:13 am

    Matt, I was meaning to imply precisely the absurdity of the position you state–you asked (sarcastically) if these kids should be killed because they don’t benefit society. I answered (sincerely) that I don’t know if they benefit society, but that they had benefited me. But OBVIOUSLY their contribution to society is not the question here, and certainly not their contribution to me.

    You don’t have to respect me, but it will make the discussion go more smoothly if you refrain from arguing with some imaginary infanticidal maniac instead of with ME, a not-thoroughly-convinced-but-generally-pro-life Mormon.

  46. Kristine
    January 23, 2004 at 12:16 am

    Brent, that doesn’t sound exactly like “just an observation.”

    The answer: I’m married. The Handbook is sitting in our study. I have not yet been struck by lightning.

  47. Matt Evans
    January 23, 2004 at 12:42 am


    I didn’t ask if kids should be killed because they don’t benefit society. I asked on what basis someone who “cannot say that the lives of these disabled kids are worth living” and thinks these kids impose “huge” costs on society, has to keep them around. Why are we paying so much for nothing?

    I’ve been trying to get you to say that severely disabled kids have inherent worth, intrinsic value, or inalienable rights despite their handicaps, but you haven’t offered these reasons.

    Do you believe these kids have intrinsic value? If so, what distinguishes them from the babies with Down syndrome whose killings you haven’t been able to condemn?

  48. January 23, 2004 at 4:47 am

    Matt, I think you misunderstood me. From the spirit waiting in heaven, had they a choice between a fully functioning body or one that isn’t they’d definitely choose the fully functioning one. I’m *not* saying anything more than that.

    I certainly realize that little has been revealed to us regarding God’s purposes in what spirit goes where. However clearly for his plan to work spirits must come to flawed bodies if the bodies are made according to the laws of biology in this fallen world. However that purpose might simply be to enable this fallen world to work. It doesn’t follow that we ought not try to *improve* this fallen world. Indeed as I understand the gospel we must improve it. So, for instance, I wouldn’t be opposed to genetic screening of egg/sperm or even zygots. Although I personally would consider it immoral to interfere with anything second trimester on.

    Regarding your other comments, they highlight the problem with abortion right now. What a doctor says is necessary is necessary. There are no checks or balances on the doctors. That is unfortunate but something that will probably be difficult to change. If we do change it, it’ll probably have to come from a general change to the way medicine in general is done.

    Kristine, I’m deeply troubled by your comments about “life worth living.” Consider the fact that most of the earth’s history has people living in an extremely violent, primitive condition. We are the exception. Perhaps your assumptions regarding the purpose of life are off? It seems very difficult to reconcile your comments to what seems demanded by Mormon theology.

    Further I must agree that there are many options to parents other than what you suggest. Yes society ought to do more, but that is a complex issue. After all a big problem is the breakdown of the family – especially extended families. But there are also many people who desperately want to adopt. If a person doesn’t feel they can handle a child then adoption is a real option. It is just that we want to take the admitted difficulty of pregnancy and make it an option that ought to be a matter of choice and ignore the issues of responsibility.

    To the person who said we don’t seal stillborn children to parents. (Kristine? I forget) That’s not true. My wife mentioned several she knows of who have been sealed with permission of GAs.

  49. January 23, 2004 at 5:02 am

    Just to add to my admittedly long comments. But my wife and I had an interesting discussion for a while on the topic.

    First off I’m *not* convinced that everything that happens is what God wants. I don’t think it is God’s plan that there be all these abortions, for instance. I think God’s plan acknowledges this will happen. But I think God is quite happy with our modern medical care which enables men and women to be healthy and have healthy babies. If we take the bit about birth defects being part of God’s plan too seriously then we obviously are sinning if we do any medical care on them… But that is absurd.

    We are here to replenish the earth. But that entails a stewardship to provide as good conditions for our heavenly brothers and sisters as possible. That includes taking care of the environment, providing a good home environment, and doing our best to provide good bodies for them. The best ones we can. I personally think that once a spirit enters a body it is murder to kill them. I don’t know when that is, but personally believe that it is sometime in the second trimester.

    We don’t consider it “abortion” as normally understood when parents go to a fertility clinic and have a bunch of eggs fertilized in a test tube. Most of those are discarded and I don’t think many Mormons would consider that murder. But if you allow that, then it seems fair to allow genetic testing the first week or two of pregnancy to ensure a good body. Indeed if we reach the point where that technology is available then I think that our stewardship.

    The reason abortion is so bad is the same reason murder is wrong. You are taking away some spirits opportunity for mortality. Yes they still will be resurrected. But they will never have the opportunity of the veil the way we do or experience this life. Never in all eternity. When you consider that from a Mormon theological perspective, that is an amazing thing to rob someone of. This life – 60 – 80 years in eternity – must have amazing value.

  50. January 23, 2004 at 8:54 am

    Kristine, I really was just making an observation. It got me thinking about the handbook and why the instructions were that it wasn’t for general use. It has been several years since I was in a bishopric, so I don’t remember exactly what it says about keeping it semi-confidential.

  51. January 23, 2004 at 9:00 am

    “If we take the bit about birth defects being part of God’s plan too seriously then we obviously are sinning if we do any medical care on them.” I wasn’t arguing that birth defects are part of the plan, except to the extent that part of the plan is that we are placed here in a mortal world with all of what goes with that, illness, disease, etc. Obviously, medical advances help us in this life and are to be utilized. In the case of abortion, though, there is no treatment of the defect, there is the elimination of human life. That is my problem with it. Life, even with birth defects, is more valuable than eliminating that life simply because it might be difficult to live with a defect.

  52. Kristine
    January 23, 2004 at 11:52 am

    Brent–you’re right about the instructions. According to them, I should never see the handbook. Luckily, this is a fairly recent policy. Most of the time, I rely on my memory of the pre-1991 handbooks, which were legit for me to peruse.

  53. January 23, 2004 at 12:04 pm

    I wonder what the purpose of keeping the handbook confidential is. Maybe it has something to do with certain definitional items and the potential misuse of terms or relying on narrow definitions of such terms (like our prior discussion about what the “official” definition of apostasy was/is). I don’t know. It is interesting though and I really did find it amusing (if that is the right word) that you could always supply the handbook language when needed.

  54. Nate Oman
    January 23, 2004 at 12:04 pm

    Old issues of the General Handbook of Instructions are available in the Special Collections of the Harold B. Lee Library. Is this public? Semi-public? Etc.

    Another interesting question about the GHI: it is repeated quoted in official and semi-official publications as an authoritative text. For example, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism regularlly references it. Yet the authoritative text is not public. Interesting. I think there is something interesting about that fact that our “cannon law” is esoteric, ie secret, not publically available.

  55. Kristine
    January 23, 2004 at 12:17 pm

    Matt, I’ve really been unclear. I’m sorry. Can I back up? Also, I think you’ve been eager to misunderstand me, and maybe you could give me the benefit of the doubt a little.

    I think we’re on the same side. I agree that abortion is terrible; I don’t want it to happen, even for most (almost all–there are horrible slippery slopes to navigate here) fetuses with serious genetic defects. I loved the kids I worked with, and I recognize that their lives have intrinsic value; I thought that went without saying. What I wanted to say was that we don’t seem to value those children once they are born, and we make their lives far more bleak than they ought to be by our indifference.

    I think you and I differ only about *how* abortion should be eliminated. It seems that you think making abortion illegal is the solution. My fear is that making abortion illegal solves very very few of the problems which lead to abortions. If we don’t have legislation like that which Kaimi describes, which devotes equally abundant care to unborn and born children, we may relieve our pangs of conscience about abortion and yet continue to sin gravely by our indifference to poor and disabled children and their mothers. We can argue about where abortion and the sin of neglecting the poor and needy fit onto some hierarchy of sins, but I think the scriptures devote more than equal space to condemning people who don’t take care of their brothers and sisters. I think we might make bigger strides towards eliminating abortion if we spent our time and energy caring for the children who are already here, educating them and helping them make the kinds of choices that will ensure they never find themselves in the situation of seeking an abortion.
    There is some empirical support for this position, although it’s far from definitive. In fact, both the teen pregnancy rates and the abortion rate have dropped pretty steadily over the last decade, despite the continued legality of abortion and the several years of a Democratic regime that did not impose abstinence-only sex education on schools. There are countries where abortion is legal but far less common than it is here, and those tend to be places with strong social and economic support for mothers and a serious commitment to caring for and educating children.

    Making abortion illegal *may* be a necessary step, but it is not at all sufficient.

  56. Nate Oman
    January 23, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    Kristine: you realize, of course, that you are making a really complicated emperical claim, namely that increased social insurance leads to decreases in abortion. This may be right. However, it would require much more than a couple of antedotes about correlations in other countries. We would need to be able to control for all of the other potential independent variables (a HUGE job to say the least). Another way of verifying or falsifying your claim might be to look at what we know about the motives of those who abort. Here, I don’t claim any great expertise but my sense is that the vast majority of abortions are performed to avoid the consequences of unplanned pregnancies. In economic terms, my sense is that there are large fixed costs to pregnancy that people want to avoid. There are also other costs that vary with the level of social insurance, e.g. one dollar spent on social insurance limits these costs of pregnancy by one dollar. The question would be what the ratio of fixed to social-insurance variable costs would be, and whether or not the variable costs are significant enough to change behavior. Here I am frankly skeptical since I think that the invariable costs are sufficient to motivate most abortions.

    Thus, I don’t think linking the argument for social insurance to abortion really does all that much work. In my eyes it ends up looking forced and parsitic. Much better to simply make the argument for social insurance on its own terms.

  57. Kristine
    January 23, 2004 at 2:12 pm

    Nate, part of the problem in this country is that we have spent so much energy on the legal debate that there is very little good research on why women have abortions, and even more importantly, why they’re having fewer now than 10 years ago. All of the issues are so ideologically and politically charged that nobody has any good information about what kinds of sex education work, what kinds of things might influence women to choose adoption over abortion, etc.

    My inclination to try a social insurance approach comes from my sense that this would more equitably distribute the costs of restricting access to abortion. That is, if you merely declare abortion illegal, wealthy women with access to doctors will undoubtedly be able to find medical justification for abortion procedures (a little extra payment might help an unscrupulous doctor “see” a suspicious-looking cyst on an ultrasound, for instance) or simply go somewhere else to have abortions, while poor women will be unable to find any loopholes.

    If, instead of criminalizing abortion, you tax rich women at a higher rate to fund really good orphanages or subsidize adoption, for instance, you ameliorate the effects of unplanned pregnancy on poor women and their babies while (slightly, I admit) making it in rich women’s economic interest to care about how to reduce unplanned pregnancies for everyone.
    (Yeah, this is really, really, really sketchy, I know. I think the fact that it gets so complicated so fast is what keeps people at the level of accusing people who disagree with them of wanting to implement the “Final Solution.” Actually ironing out a rational policy is so damnably hard, and ideological self-righteousness (on both sides) is so terribly easy.)

  58. January 23, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    Matt, I think we’re actually saying the same thing. And I had a rather interesting discussion with my wife on the same topic, also speaking past one an other initially.

    The problem is when life is life. To me, if we have a stewardship to make the best environment for spirits we can, then we ought to be doing all without our technology to provide the best bodies possible for them. So if we could via test tube babies, only implant in a woman fertilized eggs that pass certain standards, I think that would be a *good* thing and not a bad thing.

    I agree that at some point – likely the 2cd trimester – life is life such that a spirit is at a minimum assigned to that body. Of course that is speculation, but I think fair speculation.

  59. Nate Oman
    January 23, 2004 at 2:40 pm

    I think that the dynamic that you describe in the debate is largely a result of the fact that the Supreme Court constitutionalized the issue. The blame for that lies firmly with the prochoice folks who pushed their agenda through the courts.

    Why shouldn’t concentrated costs be asigned to decision makers rather than to society as a whole? Is it some notion of fairness, etc. or is it some notion of incentives? If emperically it turns out the other way, e.g. social insurance creates perverse incentives would you really change your mind? If not, then why muck around with sketchy and unsupported arguments about incentive structures. Just pull out Rawls or your distributive theorist of choice and make the deontological arguments…

  60. Kristine
    January 23, 2004 at 4:17 pm

    Nate, it’s both . Fairness because the capacity of “decision makers” to make decisions is not equal–the rich, well-educated, insured, etc. start off with a much greater ability to avoid pregnancy if they wish, AND with greatly reduced consequences (partly provided by society in the form of mortgage interest tax credits, access to good public education for wealthy children, artificially low insurance premiums, etc.) even if they do have a child.

    And incentives, because the costs of unwanted, neglected, and poorly parented children are inevitably distributed to society sooner or later. The only question is when society chooses to pick them up. I’d argue that earlier is probably better than later.

    And yes, I might well change my mind if social insurance created unexpectedly perverse incentives.

  61. January 23, 2004 at 5:40 pm

    Kristine, on what basis in the 1st world do you say that the poor have unequal opportunity for avoiding pregnancy? Condoms can be found for free at Planned Parenthood and frankly are very cheap. Even birth control pills are quite cheap. Education wise we are probably better educated than any time in history.

    Certainly there are those who don’t take advantage of these resources. But I don’t think it is because of poverty.

    I would agree that the rich can afford children easier than the poor. But I’m not entirely sure how that is relevant.

  62. January 23, 2004 at 5:48 pm

    I would also add that everyone, rich and poor, can avoid pregnancy by not engaging in sexual intercourse in the first place. Unrealistic in the 21st century. Probably, but only because everyone writes it off as wishful thinking. However, societal sexual mores evolve and we could return to an expectation that sex should be confined to marriage. If such were the case, the abortion issue by and large would go away. I expect that nearly all abortions are for unmarried women.

  63. Kristine
    January 23, 2004 at 5:54 pm

    I’ve spent some (not a lot) of time with poor teenagers, and I would say that they (many of them, anyway) are significantly handicapped by mistaken ideas about how to avoid pregnancy. The bigger difference is in their unequal motivation for avoiding pregnancy–if the best-case scenario for the rest of your life involves working at Burger King forever, then holding on to your boyfriend who’s insisting on sex or even having a baby to love seems a lot more enticing. It’s not a full excuse, but I think it should mitigate our judgment somewhat.

    Rich people pay less (in this world, anyway) for an unintended pregnancy, regardless of whether they have an abortion or carry a child to term. That’s relevant if you’re talking about creating disincentives for them to have abortions and/or incentives for them to share the costs of other people’s unplanned pregnancies.

  64. January 23, 2004 at 6:23 pm

    “if the best-case scenario for the rest of your life involves working at Burger King forever”

    Quite a big if.

  65. Kaimi
    January 23, 2004 at 9:23 pm

    Matt and Brent,

    I am really, really surprised that you are so quick to cast aside the idea of better funding as a condition for abortion restrictions.

    If abortion is really mass slaughter, why wouldn’t you be willing to pay whatever it took to end it?

    And this is funding to help families we’re talking about here.

    I really think that a combination of abortion restriction plus massive increase in financial support for poor families could, if sold right, be a huge political winner (Bush seems to be applying a variation of this).

  66. January 23, 2004 at 10:09 pm

    Hmm. . . I’m starting to get lost by the moral arguments going on here, but the economics are getting interesting.

    By providing, as Kaimi said, “massive increase in financial support for poor families” in an effort to reduce the costs of having a baby, we find ourselves with a HUGE externality. By giving money to single mothers with kids, we produce an incentive to be — you guessed it! — a single mom with kids.

    Of course, since that is not the ideal family situation, we won’t necessarily have mass divorces or single moms having kids like rabbits. But consider the single mom who has a couple kids, and has found that the government gives her money to support them. Compared to the woman receiving no government assistance (who would have felt the whole costs involved and learned her lesson), it could actually be a better financial choice for her to have a child with a sweet-talking loser who doesn’t stick around than with a working class man who would stay and be a father. Again, I’m not saying that this situation would become typical. But on the margin, giving money to single moms will increase the number of single moms.

    I don’t know what the answer is, and single mothers are certainly deserving of help. I’m just pointing out that (as is almost always the case) perverse incentives can be created by transfering wealth to incent behavior.

  67. January 23, 2004 at 10:10 pm

    If it really is mass slaughter, why should we have to pay anything to stop it. Should the North have had to negotiate a payment for the end of slavery. You can’t put a price tag on human life.

    I think you have to treat the issues separately. As to additional funding for the poor. Government solutions are not adequate. People become overly dependent on the government to fix all problems. Just look at the charitable disposition of people living in the the most socialistic/liberal/wealthy states like Massachusetts. It is pathetic. True religion is taking care of the fatherless and the widow, not true government.

  68. January 23, 2004 at 10:15 pm

    Logan, my wife grew up around the corner from a lady who did just what you suggest. She had five children out of wedlock just so she could get more money from the government. She even told my mother-in-law and others that was what she was doing. That is the problem with most of the government hand out programs. Do we need to help people? Absolutely, but the government programs Kaimi and Kristine are championing will not do the trick. And just for reiteration, they are irrelevant to the discussion about the taking of innocent human lives through abortion.

  69. Kristine
    January 23, 2004 at 10:32 pm

    Brent: FYI–67% of abortions are sought by never-married women. 17% are by married women.

    Also, what are you saying about the “charitable disposition” of Massachusetts residents?

    Brent, Logan: The “welfare mothers have more babies to get more money” may have some anecdotal evidence, but statistically, the birth rate for women receiving welfare assistance is lower than for the general population. Much of the “common wisdom” about welfare policy is deeply flawed.

    Clark: it’s not a big if for a lot of kids–if you grow up in the inner city, don’t see anybody with a rewarding or interesting job, drop out of high school, how would you know that there are better options?

  70. January 23, 2004 at 11:02 pm

    Kaimi, you are also neglecting the fact that 31 years of legalized abortion on demand has directly led to a culture that does not revere life. I believe that the millions of children legally aborted since 1973 has caused a lot of the problems with the care and feeding, if you will, of those that “slipped through.” Certainly, if a mother is allowed to kill her unborn child, what’s the big deal if she doesn’t properly care for those who she allowed to live? Should we choose to re-instill a respect for the sanctity of life by outlawing abortion, it might remind parents that their children really are precious and need to be loved and cared for. It is a fact that many of the problems with children and poor parenting have increased substantially since abortion was legalized.

  71. Kaimi
    January 23, 2004 at 11:02 pm


    You continue to surprise me with what looks a lot like stubbornness. I understand that you would rather have abortion restrictions without a need to pay. But, in a two-choice world, where the choices are

    (A) Put $100 billion into new funding for poor families, and implement abortion restrictions, or
    (B) No new money and no new abortion restrictions,

    Are you really saying that you would choose (B)? In other words, are you saying “I would rather keep abortion legal than have it ended in any other way than the method I prefer?”

    And for the record, I would have paid to end slavery. SOmeone else suggested precidely that route — a fellow named Joesph Smith.

  72. Kaimi
    January 23, 2004 at 11:06 pm


    Don’t make me bring out the correlation – causation arguments.

    (You realize that all of the problems you mention also coincide exactly with the establishment of the Designated Hitter rule in baseball. The obvious solution: Abolish the DH, and things will go back to normal!)

  73. Kristine
    January 23, 2004 at 11:20 pm

    Mark, Brent,anyone: does anybody care to speculate about the steady decline in abortion rates (and teen pregnancy rates) since the late 70s? It doesn’t quite fit with the argument about the loss of respect for life. (Certainly doesn’t by itself refute that argument either).

    This is a sincere question, meant to be non-argumentative–I really don’t know, don’t even have useful suppositions.

  74. January 23, 2004 at 11:42 pm

    Kristine, I don’t have any idea how the birthrates among welfare recipients compares with those who don’t receive it. And even if that’s the case, it isn’t inconsistent with my argument. All I mean to say is that giving money to someone for any behavior will tend to increase that behavior, whether it’s selling more life insurance or having more children out of wedlock. How many children people who aren’t compensated have makes no difference in the equation. I’m saying that we would expect more children to be born to single mothers that are offered financial compensation than to those who aren’t.

  75. January 23, 2004 at 11:44 pm

    Sorry — just to be clear, I should say: Other things being equal (like income, education, social status, religion, etc.), we would expect more children to be born to single mothers who are assisted than to those who aren’t.

  76. January 24, 2004 at 12:04 am

    Kaimi, you would not be the first person to call me stubborn. If I had to pick between the two, then yes, it would be preferable to put up $100,000 and eliminate abortion on demand. However, I do not believe we only have the two choices you suggest. I think we can eliminate abortion on demand and seek alternatives to what I imagine you are suggesting in the way of Federal programs and funding.

    I am aware of Joseph Smith’s proposal to end slavery. It was a necessary compromise. It was a different situation and time. Do you honestly believe that groups like Planned Parenthood and the NARAL Prochoice America would cast aside the very reason for their existence in exchange for helping the poor. THese are the same groups that cover up child abuse. They want abortion on demand to take away a perceived negative consequence of illicit sexual relations. They will not give that up for any price. You can present proposals to me, Matt, Mark and anyone else all day long, but you overlook the reasons behind the abortion movement.

  77. January 24, 2004 at 12:05 am

    Should have been $100 billion to follow your suggestion. It’s late.

  78. Kristine
    January 24, 2004 at 12:09 am

    Logan: I just gave you an idea. I’ll get you a documented source if you want. In fact, (in the U.S. at least) women who are receiving assistance tend to have fewer children than their counterparts who are not receiving assistance. By definition, women receiving assistance have a lower income than women who don’t, so you can’t say “all things being equal.” One useful (though imperfect) comparison is between AFDC recipients and African-American mothers, who are disproportionately single–AFDC recipients have fewer children. So it’s not at all clear that women are willing to have babies for some incremental increase in government assistance, even though that is an effect one might reasonably predict.

  79. January 24, 2004 at 12:34 am

    Kristine, I still think your statistics aren’t measuring what I’m describing. The fact that, as you say, “you can’t say ‘all things being equal'” means that it’s very difficult to measure at all. If a woman’s income is correlated with how many children she will have (as I suspect it is), then measuring across income groups will tell us nothing, because we wouldn’t be able to isolate the effects of each variable (multicollinearity). I want to know if women who receive welfare, on average, have more children than _those same women_ would have otherwise. I don’t care if women of a different income, race or status would have more or less — I would hope that poor single women would have fewer children than other women.

    I don’t even mean to say that welfare isn’t justified, although that’s a possibility. Maybe it does more good than harm. For that matter, I don’t even mean to imply anything about abortion by this argument. And maybe something can even be done to eliminate these external effects. But it will be very hard to convince me that providing an incentive to have children wouldn’t tend to increase the number of children.

  80. Matt Evans
    January 24, 2004 at 12:35 am

    Kristine and Kaimi,

    First of all, let me stress to Kristine that I brought up the extreme examples like the Final Solution to push your position, not because thought you supported infanticide. And frankly, I’ve always been very skeptical of pro-choicers who claim that abortion is a serious moral wrong. I’ve yet to meet on of them who has persuaded or tried to persuade a mother from having an abortion. I’ve never met any of them who have worked as a sidewalk counselor urging women to reconsider. Nor have I seen a single them produce a single message promoting adoption over abortion. This has lead me to question how sincerely they believe abortion is a grave matter.

    In any event, and giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, there are three reason why I don’t believe we should wait to prohibit abortion until government pays parents to parent.

    First, regardless of the strength of the claim that government should pay parents to parent, I think we should prohibit infanticide, child abuse, child abandonment and abortion even if we decide, as every culture has done in the history of the planet, that government doesn’t need to pay parents to parent. If you explore the reasons you don’t think we should suspend laws against child abandonment until government provides the services you think it should, you’ll probably be very close to my position regarding abortion.

    Second, adoption already removes all the financial pressures for abortion — the adopting parents pay all of the expenses. If insufficient money for child rearing were responsible for abortion, it seems that more women would choose adoption. Not only is it the loving option, it’s the free option.

    Third, I don’t think money will reduce abortions much. This report from the Alan Guttmacher Institute (an affiliate of Planned Parenthood) attributes countries’ varying abortion rates to contraceptive access. (especially pages 27-29). As any parent will attest, money is not the biggest challenge a new child presents; the burdens on time and freedom are much greater. I think most people who have abortions don’t want a free child, they want to be free of their child. (Men are especially guilty here, as they notoriously encourage women to abort their new baby.)

  81. Nate Oman
    January 24, 2004 at 12:37 am

    Kristine and Logan: The proper question is whether single women recieving assitance have more children than they would have had were they not recieving assistance. In other words, the evaluation of the subsidization=increase claim hinges on the truth value of a couter-factual statement. I think that it makes sense to assign truth values to such statements, but what the truth value actually is will be devilishly difficult to determine…Even if you have citations ;->!

  82. Matt Evans
    January 24, 2004 at 1:24 am


    Abortion has been declining due to fewer unplanned pregnancies and to increased awareness of fetal rights among people of childbearing ages.

    Pro-lifers attribute the pro- fetal rights trend to the justice of their message and the likelihood that pro-life parents have out-reproduced pro-choice parents. (The thirty percent of children killed by abortion over the past thirty years were not distributed evenly between women who oppose and support legal abortion).

    Pro-choicers attribute the pro- fetal rights trend among young people to their not having witnessed illegal abortion, or the effectiveness of the “so-called” partial-birth abortion debate.

  83. January 24, 2004 at 3:32 am

    The most thorough study with which I’m familiar that looks at and compares the birth rates of women on welfare versus non-welfare women was done in the 80’s by Mark Rank*. His study is longitudinal and tracks two groups of women (one on welfare and the other not on welfare) within the age range of 18 to 44. His sample was large (with N>4000). He uses logistic regression as his mode of statistical analysis.

    He finds that women on welfare have lower birth rates than comparable women who are not on welfare. When I say comparable I mean he controls for the effect of age, race, employment level, education, number of previous children, marital status, and state of residence. He also found that the longer a woman stays on welfare the less likely it is that she will give birth. Thus, not only are welfare women less likely to give birth but the effect of being on welfare decreases the probability that she will ever give birth.

    Why, you might ask, would a woman who could potentially receive economic incentives for bearing more children not do so? Rank suggests, after conducting a series of intensive interviews with a smaller sample of welfare recipients, that it is a rational decision. As he says, “The economic, social, and psychological costs of becoming pregnant and having a child while on public assistance are perceived as clearly outweighing the benefits” (pg. 303). In other words, they don’t believe it is worth the supplement they receive.

    *Rank, Mark R. 1989. “Fertility among Women on Welfare: Incidence and Determinants.” American Sociological Review. 54: 296-304.

  84. Kristine
    January 24, 2004 at 9:43 am

    Thanks, Brayden. I think there is also a more recent, though less extensive study, but it would have taken me a long time to find it. Next time I’ll remember to shout “is there a sociologist in the house?” :)

  85. Kristine
    January 24, 2004 at 9:50 am

    Hi Matt, I’m Kristine–you have now met (at least in cyberspace) a woman with serious doubts about making abortion illegal who has, in fact, worked very hard to convince a mother not to have an abortion.

  86. Matt Evans
    January 24, 2004 at 11:23 am

    Good for you, Kristine! If only there were more people like you, the dynamic over abortion would change dramatically.

    One of the more potential compromises on the abortion debate would be rather broad legality, coupled with universal condemnation of abortion as a moral evil. I get much more offended, and motivated, by those who have no qualms about abortion’s morality than I do those who admit the moral qualms but think we should generally keep abortion legal.

    The problem, of course, is that few people are comfortable straddling the “yes, it’s immoral, no it should not be coerced by force” distinction, so Planned Parenthood and NARAL have to insist a fetus is a clump of cells.

  87. Kaimi
    January 24, 2004 at 11:58 am


    I agree that many pro-choicers do not recognize the cost of allowing abortion. I’ll add to that that many pro-lifers do not recognize the cost of prohibiting abortion. Both sides act as if their position is the only logical one and that anyone on the other side must be a raving lunatic.

    The question of abortion is one of the hardest for me. No matter what you decide, your choice will involve inflicting high costs on a large group of relatively or completely politically powerless people.

    I don’t think the debate can really move forward until people on both sides acknowledge the enormous costs their position entails. (I’ve previously written a little about exactly that problem).

  88. January 24, 2004 at 4:01 pm

    The pro-life position does not impose enormous costs, it is irresponsible sexual behavior that has costs associated with it. Until we encourage personal responsibility for behavior, the costs will be high indeed, but only because of personal choice, not political positions.

  89. January 24, 2004 at 4:02 pm

    The pro-life position does not impose enormous costs, it is irresponsible sexual behavior that has costs associated with it. Until we encourage personal responsibility for behavior, the costs will be high indeed, but only because of personal choice, not political positions.

  90. Kaimi
    January 24, 2004 at 4:17 pm


    That is a deceptive argument. I could just as well say that any harm from a pro-choice position comes from individual bad decisions and personsl choices, not the political position of allowing abortion.

    The political positions allow, encourage, or require individual decisions. The pro-choice position will lead to abortions, and so should be considered as causing that harm. The pro-life position will lead to deaths from illegal abortions, women kept from the workplace, and continued economic disadvantaging of poor minority women, and should equally be considered as causing that harm.

  91. January 24, 2004 at 4:39 pm

    *All* sex has cost with it. Including what even the staunchest conservative moralists would consider acceptable. So I’m not sure why you think pro-life people would disagree with you, Kristine. The issue for the pro-life side, as I understand them, isn’t the cost but the responsibility. Put an other way, there is a huge gulf where both sides speak past one an other because cost and responsibility are assumed to be related in some common way by both parties.

  92. January 24, 2004 at 4:43 pm

    Just to clarify that last point. There divide between the issue of responsibility and cost is a divide because of assumptions regarding justice, as I mentioned in the other thread.

    If one assumes the just is the just because of *consequences* then clearly one believes responsibility is in terms of equalizing results in some sense. If one rejects consequentialism, then cost becomes somewhat less relevant to decisions of justice.

  93. Nate
    January 24, 2004 at 7:31 pm

    It strikes me that there is an odd connection between the arguments for abortion and the arguments that something like AFCD improperly subsidizes single parent homes: both seem to rest on the assumption that it would be better if certain children were not born.

  94. Matt Evans
    January 24, 2004 at 8:09 pm


    Doesn’t Brent’s point stand if it’s modified to reflect the externalities?

    (1) if abortion is prohibited, those responsible for creating the burden will bear the costs of the burden

    (2) if elective abortion is permitted, those responsible for creating the burden may shift the costs to an innocent third party

  95. Kaimi
    January 24, 2004 at 11:17 pm


    I’m not sure I agree with that — in particular, with your willingness to make a straightforward indentification of the pregnant women as “those responsible for creating the burden.” In my observation, experience (what little there is :P ) and reading, women are generally not the driving force in seeking sex. In many instances (especially among poor, less educated, and/or minority women) the woman will end up bearing the burden despite minimal or non-existent consent.

    Maybe your formula should read:

    (1) if abortion is prohibited, those responsible for creating the burden may shift the burden to one innocent third party;

    (2) if elective abortion is permitted, those responsible for creating the burden may shift the costs to a different innocent third party.

  96. January 24, 2004 at 11:36 pm

    While I’m largely sympathetic to Matt’s position, I suspect even he would recognize that things are different for teenagers. However for adults then I think he has a fair point.

  97. Matt Evans
    January 25, 2004 at 12:33 am

    To the degree the woman isn’t responsible for the pregnancy, she was raped. Women who are raped must be given strong legal recourse against perpetrators. They should also be allowed the option of abandoning their child if they did not consent to the assumption of affirmative parental duties.

    The default presumption is that the mother and father both consented to sex and have therefore assumed affirmative parental duties. For the woman to deny that she has assumed affirmative parental duties she must show that she didn’t consent to the sex. To the degree the mother didn’t consent, the father is guilty of rape. The responsibility for the pregnancy is zero-sum. Because the responsibility is zero-sum, in such circumstances I would reduce the burden of proof for proving rape to “preponderence of the evidence”.

    That this might cause a chilling effect on sexual dalliances between people who don’t trust each other doesn’t concern me.

  98. January 25, 2004 at 1:45 am

    I have something to say on the study that brayden refers to. “His study is longitudinal and tracks two groups of women (one on welfare and the other not on welfare)”. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong here, but it seems to me that this study leaves out a potentially important factor: let me say it this way, it only proves that women already on welfare are less likely to have more babies and get more welfare (which is a great point if it’s true). BUT, somehow the study evades the question of women who aren’t on welfare but in the future may be. Wouldn’t there be more of these kinds of women popping up on welfare if it was that much easier to get? Meaning, women (and men) are less likely to worry about consequences from their decisions if welfare becomes an even bigger option than before. So, in other words, this study ignores a third group of women who don’t have children and/or welfare but someday may have both especially if the latter is easier to acquire. Am I making sense here?

  99. January 25, 2004 at 1:45 am

    BTW- I’m hoping Kristine comments on my last comment because I like her comments the most. Kristine, after reading all these comments, I think you should have the Medal of Honor for the person who brings up issues and creates an environment for more comments. I feel like everyone else just waits for you to say something and then comments on what you said. It’s always easier to be the attacker than the person creating the new fresh comment.

  100. January 25, 2004 at 1:45 am

    Just felt like adding an extra comment to make this post have 100.

  101. January 25, 2004 at 6:02 am

    Of course Matt, you would recognize that “responsibility” is also tied to the ability of a person to comprehend their choices. i.e. that’s why we judge young people differently. Why couldn’t Kristine simply say that some people, either due to genetics, abuse, or their environment aren’t capable of being responsible in the way you suggest?

  102. Nate Oman
    January 25, 2004 at 9:40 am

    Kaimi: You make it sound as though “consent” is something that exists only for the white middle class. I am a bit uneasy with the ease with which you seem to infantilize the poor and minorities in order to justify paternalism. As should be clear, I am considerably less strident on this stuff than is Matt or others, and I have explicitly argued that consent is problematic in this context given certain background norms, but to characterize virtually all poor, minority sex as involving minimal or non-existent consent seems to be playing into some pretty unsavory stereotypes, e.g. black men are sexual predators, black women are too ignorant to make meaningful decisions about their own lives, etc.

  103. Matt Evans
    January 25, 2004 at 5:53 pm

    Clark, you’re right, it’s conceivable that no party is “responsible”. I bet that I’d be satisfied with whatever standard is currently used to determine the father’s responsibility, because I suspect the standard is quite high.

    The framework used to determine a father’s obligations is infinitely superior to the framework for mothers. The Choice 4 Men movement wants to pattern the father framework on the mother’s, but they have it backwards. We should use the fatherhood analysis for both parents.

  104. January 25, 2004 at 9:40 pm

    Wow, spend one day with your wife, and the discussion really passes you by. . .

    Brayden, I don’t have direct access to that study you mentioned (must have misplaced my American Sociological Review. . . ;)), and I could only find one (helpful) description of it online. According to a little snippet (which I’m under the impression is quoted from the abstract, although I could be wrong), Rank’s study concluded that “This [fertility] rate [of women on welfare] is below that of women in the general population and is not an artifact of a more favorable demographic structure.” Again, I am making no argument about how welfare recipients’ birth rate compares to that of the general population. If I got the wrong impression of the content of the study and mischaracterized it, feel free to set me straight.

    Robert Moffitt*, an economist at Johns Hopkins, set out to compile the available literature on the subject. In his paper, he writes that while “a significant minority of the studies find no effect at all”, “the current consensus is that the welfare system probably has some effect on [marriage and fertility].” Moffitt says that early work (70’s and 80’s) showed no effect, but that most of the more recent work shows that welfare has a significant negative effect on marriage and a significant positive effect on fertility.

    My intention is not to unload studies back and forth, though. There is likely evidence supporting both positions (and I’m just an inexperienced undergraduate economics student – I’d probably lose such a battle anyway). But I would like to get the arguments clearly stated. So, while I don’t really know much about formal logic, this is what I’m saying (I think):

    (1) If government assistance were not given to help support children of single mothers, some children of such mothers would not be born.

    And not:

    (2) If government assistance were not given to help support children of single mothers, the fertility rate of such mothers would decrease from being above that of the general population to being below it.

    Kristine, you seem to be saying that statement (2) is based on the false assumption that welfare recipients have babies in larger numbers than other people. I mean to make neither that assumption nor that statement. As Nate said, proving or disproving statement (1) may prove nigh impossible, but it makes sense to this econ undergrad, and is the basis of skepticism of welfare as we have it.

    For the record, though, I don’t mean to gang up on you, Kristine. I describe myself similarly to the way you do yourself: a [person] with serious doubts about making abortion illegal. While I think abortion is almost always a very bad thing, I have a hard time agreeing with most of the anti-abortion legislation.

    *Moffitt, R. A. (1997). The Effect of Welfare on Marriage and Fertility: What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know?

  105. lyle
    January 26, 2004 at 3:54 am

    Hm. I have a ‘partial’ free market solution.

    1. Make abortion clinics responsible for the level of care, i.e. regulate them, the way any other medical clinic that performs operations would have to be regulated. This would increase the safety of those procedures/murders that are done.
    2. Sue doctors who provide abortions/abortionists for failing to inform their patients about the increased risk of breast cancer that results to certain patients. The first case of its kind just settled in a Philadelphia court. And if not for this…some other breach of informed consent. When was the last time an abortionist/doctor doing abortions told their patient/client about all of the side-effects, ramifications, and emotional trauma that ensues?

  106. Kristine
    January 26, 2004 at 10:37 am

    Logan (et al), I think that even your proposition 1 is pretty shaky. Public policy analysts and sociologists have to act as if people behave in rational ways (they would not have a baby without a means to support that baby). This is plainly untrue, especially when sex is involved. So while I think one can create public policies that seem like they would encourage the result you want, they cannot be evaluated except post hoc. And even then, one has to be very careful of post hoc ergo propter hoc mistakes (ha–she may stink at formal logic, but she does know her Latin :)).

    I brought up birth rate statistics only in response to somebody churning out the old “welfare queen” stereotype. While the studies may be contradictory on some points, and particularly on the matter of the degree of impact of welfare policies, the evidence is pretty conclusive that women are not motivated to have substantially more children by modest increases in government support. (This would be self-evident if we did not persist in thinking that poor people are also stupid and radically different than the rest of the population–none of us would have a baby because it would earn us another $150/month; there’s no reason on earth except naked prejudice that would lead one to suspect anyone would)

    The one thing I think it is safe to conclude is that if government assistance were not given to poor mothers, their children would suffer more than they already do. Whatever marginal deterrent effect on future births withdrawing the support might have, it is plainly not sufficient to justify the harm that it would do to children who are already born.

  107. Kristine
    January 26, 2004 at 10:42 am

    Bob, I sort of addressed this above, but since you asked specifically (and, oh, so flatteringly) for my response, here it is.

    If people had sex for rational reasons, it would make sense to assume that generous welfare policies might increase the birthrate among people living at or near the poverty level. But sexual behavior just isn’t very reasonable. Imagine the following dialogue:

    “ooh, baby, let’s ….”
    “not now, I don’t have any birth control.”
    “it’s ok. remember? congress passed that really nice welfare package last month.”


  108. January 26, 2004 at 11:49 am

    Kristine, I think you dismiss any rationality involved in sex far too quickly. While people probably don’t whip out a paper and write down a comparison of the pros and cons of having sex in the heat of the moment, having a kid out of wedlock and receiving no assistance for it would have a very “rationalizing” effect on their future actions. After having a kid or two without a dad and no help, a single mother would probably start to find responsible men who would stick around and be a dad much more attractive than those with whom she had the other kids.

    My argument is not that people become “welfare queens,” but that people tend to be less careful when they have a safety net. So, while you say that people behaving in rational ways “is plainly untrue, especially when sex is involved,” I’m not convinced.

    Your statement: “The one thing I think it is safe to conclude is that if government assistance were not given to poor mothers, their children would suffer more than they already do,” is true. I don’t advocate any sort of abandonment of the welfare program. I do, however, think that it is not without its costs, and I wish we could find ways to minimalize them.

  109. Kristine
    January 26, 2004 at 12:11 pm

    Logan, while I have absolutely no evidence to back this speculation, I think having a couple of kids and no welfare assistance, *in the absence of meaningful help with the issues (aside from the obvious one of unprotected sex) that led to that outcome,* would have virtually no “rationalizing effect” on future behavior. If a woman does a lousy job picking boyfriends, has children that she can’t take care of, has substance abuse and/or other mental health issues, etc. (all of which are prevalent in populations receiving welfare), not having a welfare check is going to make her life that much more difficult, make her more willing to do whatever some man wants if there’s even a whiff of commitment, with predictable results.

    Isn’t the common statistic that something like 40% of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned? How much rationality can possibly be involved?

  110. January 26, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    My response to Logan was far too long to post as a comment here, so I posted it on my own site.

  111. January 26, 2004 at 12:52 pm
  112. January 26, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    Well, Kristine, what can I say? If your speculation is correct, and prior unpleasant experience may not be enough to affect future behavior, then maybe the effect I have described is either nonexistent or overcome by another effect (but as long as we’re talking about unsupported hypotheses, I’ll probably stick with my own unsupported hypothesis). Thanks for the discussion, by the way. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

  113. Kaimi
    January 30, 2004 at 6:57 pm


Comments are closed.