October 20, 2011

Mothers Have Abortions

This week, Lauren Sandler published “The Mother Majority” at Slate, and pointedly asks the question, “Women with children have more abortions than anyone else, and by an increasingly wide margin. So why is the topic taboo?”

According to the CDC’s 2007 data, 58.6% of women choosing abortion had 1 or more previous child; a third of women (32.3%) had two or more previous children. Sandler provides more recent numbers from the National Abortion Federation: “every year since 2008, a whopping 72 percent of NAF clients looking to terminate a pregnancy were already mothers, up at least 10 percent from the years before the economy crashed.”

The fact that the majority of women who choose abortion are already mothers flies in the face of anti-abortion rhetoric that falsely portrays women who have abortions as irresponsible and uninformed teenagers or, especially recently, Black women “endangering” Black children, rather than women trying to protect and support the children they already have. Popular stereotypes about women and abortion don’t fit well with the common notion of mothers as selfless caregivers, but many women are likely thinking about the care they can provide their existing children when they choose abortion.

Sandler likewise points to one study of the issue, “which found that most mothers who abort say they are doing so to protect the kids they already have… that rationale is tough to demonize politically, especially when you consider that most women making this choice are contending with some combination of low income, unemployment, and a lack of health insurance, or are struggling to raise kids on their own.”

Sandler’s article also explores pieces of the continuum of the abortion stigma. Gloria Feldt tells her “The less in control of a woman’s life she is, the more the public supports her right to make that choice [to have an abortion]. The more she is in control of her life, saying this is the life I choose, the less people support it.” By contrast, Anne Baker points to “a growing number of women…who are ‘less apologetic than they used to be about saying they’re a good mom and for them to continue to be a good mom, they choose [abortion].’”

For more on this issue, see this post at the Motherlode blog, Guttmacher’s fact sheet on U.S. abortions, this RH Reality Check piece on abortion and stigma, and our previous post on abortion stigma and stereotypes.


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