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Poverty and Abortion

The appearance of an additional member to a family carries its costs and therefore the family must be prepared to face higher levels of expenditure subject to the same household’s income.

In the case of a family living just above the poverty line, having a baby will most likely place the family into a situation of poverty. This makes family planning an issue of the most extreme importance when dealing in contexts of poverty. However family planning implies an investment in education, information, infrastructures to deliver medical care and birth control means. Unfortunately there is no equity in the access to such means and people who are in poverty are more likely to have unintended pregnancies (UP) then people who are not. Several studies show the burden of UP in poverty. According to Henshaw the proportion of UP for women living below the poverty level and for women living at 100%-199% of the federal poverty level was 61.4% and 53.2% respectively whereas for women living at 200% of the poverty level had an UP rate of 41.2%. The results of the Guttmacher Institute also confirm this perspective (below).

Therefore according to a study performed by the University of California, most women who seek abortion are struggling financially and the main reasons evoked for seeking abortion are financially related. It is also striking to see that women who were not allowed to abort had 3 times higher odds of falling in poverty then women who aborted.

The UP that don’t end up in abortion also bear costs for the child who was born. A paper written by Gruber, Levine and Staiger tries to identify the impact of abortion legalization and child living circumstances. In the US abortion was legalized in 1973 after the Roe vs Wade US Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion for all states in the US. Before that decision, 5 states had legalized abortion in 1970. Consequently the study used cohorts within the 5 states that first legalized abortion and compared to cohorts of states, which had not legalized it up until the point where abortion was legalized throughout the whole country. The researchers found that living conditions were higher for children who were born after the abortion legalization and that the child that was aborted but would have been born if abortion was not legal (or as they call it in the study the Marginal Child) would have had 40% higher chances of living in poverty, 50% higher chances of living in a household collecting welfare and 35% higher chances of dying during their first year of life.

This unplanned children could be at a greater risk of falling into a criminal life.

In the 1990’s a sharp decline of crime was registered and several attempts to explain such phenomena were performed. Some argued that it was due to better police strategies, others that it was a consequence of the decline on the cocaine market, among a variety of arguments. Out of all these potential explanations, economists John J. Donohue and Steven D. Levitt came up with a labored theory that related the fall of criminal rates in the 1990’s with the legalization of abortion (1973). The point they made was that “abortion has a disproportionate effect on the births of those who are most at risk of engaging in criminal behavior” and thus, by legalizing abortion a country would be naturally reducing the number of potential future criminals. Their results were strong (legalized abortion appeared to account for 50% of the drop in crime) and defined the legalization of abortion as one of the primary elements of the drop in crime.

Having into consideration all this facts, one might argue that legalizing abortion is a way to mitigate poverty. Nevertheless there is also an ethical issue when dealing with this topic. Is it worth to interrupt a pregnancy in order to reduce poverty? Is this a trade-off worth doing? One must also not forget that good family planning and the education of people to contraceptive methods is the right way to reduce unwanted pregnancies. A study from the Washington University School of Medicine showed that free access to birth control reduces abortion rates. This is without doubt a much desirable path to deal with the problem of unwanted pregnancies then abortion since it does not involve any ethical issues and it also mitigates poverty. In conclusion, legalization of abortion can alleviate poverty but that does not mean that it is the best solution available.


António Melo

Student number 842


Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

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