The Bishops of the United States declared January 22nd a Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. It was, of course, the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that has so far survived every effort to reverse it despite the largely empty promises of two generations of politicians.
I was struck initially by the euphemism of the title. All children are unborn at some point in their existence. The phrase refers rather obliquely to conceived embryos and fetuses that we call children by anticipation but who are in danger of death, presumably by abortion. But most conceptions, about 75%, are in fact prematurely terminated by miscarriage. About 30% of all pregnancies and 15 – 20% of confirmed pregnancies also end in miscarriage. Some babies are still born, and others die soon after birth. Surely they, too, must be included. Others die by accident, some by the death of the mother. Are these little creatures to be excluded from our concern? Hardly. But that, of course, is not the point. It’s about abortion, and specifically about Roe v. Wade.
Time has shown that the way to prevent abortion is not to criminalize those who resort to this awful procedure but to remove as far as possible the causes that lead to abortion, and not only abortion, but to all forms of harm that confront infants in the womb. Still paramount among them are poverty and ignorance and the remedy is at hand – social justice and education. But recent research has shown that while abortion rates have actually been declining along the truly poverty-stricken, they have been increasing along those who are relatively well off and well educated. Again, economics seems to be a major factor, but it involves a different approach to economics.
According to one report, “Abortion is most strongly associated with the fault-line of socio-economic class, across three key dimensions—income, education, and occupation. Abortion rates track closely with the wealth and affluence of states: the richer the location, the higher the rate of abortions. ‘The abortion rate is positively associated with the share of adults who are college graduates …. It’s also positively associated with the share of the workforce doing professional, technical, and creative work. … And abortion rates are negatively associated with the share of the labor force in blue-collar working class jobs…”
Nevertheless, it remains the case that “Today, … 42 percent of women having abortions live under the poverty line, and another 27 percent have incomes within 200 percent of the poverty line. Taken together, 69 percent of women who have abortions are economically disadvantaged.”
The issue, as Pope Francis has reminded is, is not simply abortion, but the devastation worked upon women especially who are constrained to live in poverty. The other face is that of those who are social and materially well-off but resort to abortion because of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. And that is a spiritual issue. Here, legislation is not the remedy. Conversion of heart is.
In the meantime, our focus should not be so narrow as to exclude from concern the life and welfare of living infants, of children who are deprived of adequate nutrition, health care, shelter, and the possibility of education. “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs,” Jesus said [Mt 19:14]. I think he meant all of them.
 Richard Florida, “The Geography of Abortion,” The Atlantic Cities. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2012/06/geography-abortion/1711/