A Baptist ethicist challenged for claiming that abortions increased under President Bush says America needs a “motherhood mandate” to ensure that women have economic security and healthcare as a deterrent to abortion.
Glen Stassen, a professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, last October wrote an editorial titled “Pro-Life? Look at the Fruits,” which appeared on-line at Sojourners and EthicsDaily.com.
In it, he said that based on the data he could find in 16 states, it appeared that abortions had been declining during the Clinton presidency but increased during Bush’s first term. Stassen argued that one important reason many women choose to abort is they cannot afford to have a baby and blamed Bush’s economic policies for the rise.
Stassen’s findings generated considerable interest–including a column in the Houston Chronicle and mention by Democrat politicians Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Howard Dean in the last presidential campaign–before they were challenged as being inaccurate.
The Alan Guttmacher Institute on May 1 issued a report estimating, based on data from 43 states, that while the downward trend in abortion slowed under Bush—what Stassen now calls a “stall”—abortions did not increase between 2001 and 2002, as Stassen had believed eight months earlier.
The Web site FactCheck.org criticized Stassen for reporting a “bad statistic.” Anti-abortion groups, like National Right to Life, went further, accusing him misrepresenting the data in order to undermine confidence in a pro-life president seeking a second term.
In a new column on SoJo.net, however, Stassen says nothing in the Guttmacher study contradicts the data he cited or his thesis that removing economic support for women is a factor in causing more abortions.
“I made clear that neither I nor anyone had the results for all 50 states, so I had to extrapolate from the 16 states whose data I had,” Stassen says. “This is what you do in scientific research: you get the best data you can find, you use a consistent method in reporting it, and you state the limits of your method. Then you wait to see whether others confirm it. Guttmacher is now able to estimate the results for 43 states. They estimate that abortions in those 43 states probably declined slightly, but at a slower rate than previously–what I call a stall.”
In October Stassen wrote: “Economic policy and abortion are not separate issues; they form one moral imperative. Rhetoric is hollow, mere tinkling brass, without health care, health insurance, jobs, child care and a living wage. Pro-life in deed, not merely in word, means we need policies that provide jobs and health insurance and support for prospective mothers.”
Stassen, who began his October column by labeling himself “consistently pro-life,” said the issue of abortion is “personal” for his family. His wife caught rubella in the eighth week of her pregnancy but decided to raise the baby rather than terminate. Their son, David, now an adult, is legally blind and severely handicapped, he said, but “he also is a blessing to us and to the world.”
Stassen said he found it ironic that some of the harshest attacks came from groups that promote themselves as being “pro-life.” Rather than being alarmed by his estimate and putting pressure on the Bush administration to adopt economic policies that would decrease abortions, they attacked his “pro-life effort” to persuade the White House and Congress to provide more support for women and babies.
“It raises the question as to whether their real loyalty is pro-life, or whether their priority is partisan politics,” he wrote. “I continue to seek to persuade Republicans and Democrats to adopt policies that support mothers and children, which has proven to be the effective way in other countries to reduce abortions dramatically. Pro-life would mean you would support pressure to adopt policies that make a real difference for reducing abortions.”
Two-thirds of women who abort say they cannot afford a child, Stassen said, and unemployment rates have increased and income dropped in the past four years. Half of all women who abort say they do not have a reliable mate, he continued, and men who are jobless are less likely to marry. Women worry about healthcare for themselves and their children, and the number of uninsured Americans has grown by 5.2 million in four years.
“I reaffirm the conclusion I stated in my article in the Feb. 22 issue of Christian Century magazine,” Stassen concluded. “Taking $200 billion per year out of tax income for the wealthy, and therefore squeezing down justice programs for children, schools, the CHIP health insurance program that should support children and jobs programs, and shifting income from the broad consumer base to the wealthy, has been bad for mothers and children.
“We need a motherhood mandate–health insurance, accessible clinics, economic support, parental leave with pay for a child’s first year (as most every other democracy except the U.S. has), jobs programs and support for schools such as my wife’s, where teenagers can bring their babies and get their clinic visits without either quitting school or having an abortion–or getting someone else to parent their baby.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.