Examines Familial Context of Choice to Abort
The pro-life movement in this country has been very successful in reducing the numbers of abortions and the abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age). In 2005, the abortion rate was down 33% from its peak in 1980–81, the same level it had been in 1974. If the abortion rate had not decreased from its peak value in 1980–81, but simply stayed the same, there would have been 50% more abortions in 2005: 1.8 million, instead of the actual 1.2 million.
This decrease in abortion has been greatest among adolescents and young people. While abortions have decreased in women having their first pregnancy, the number of repeat abortions has increased. Today, 47% of all abortions are obtained by women who have already had at least one previous abortion. In addition, most abortions occur now in the group of women who already have one living child. Thus, the demographics of abortion are changing. Today, the women who are in need of pro-life support are often those with families. No research has been done on this population group, until now.
A new study by Priscilla Coleman and colleagues has been published in the International Journal of Mental Health Addiction. This study uses data from the Fragile Families and Well-Being Study. The sample was drawn from hospitals in 16 cities around the country, which had high numbers of unmarried births. The final sample consisted of families with one child. The mothers then either aborted or gave birth to a subsequent child. The family characteristics indicated that the families met the requirement of being fragile: 87% were not married, 41% had less than a high school education, and 32% had an annual income under $15,000. Racial breakdown was 24% white, 56% black, 15% Hispanic, 1% Asian, and 4% American Indian. The ages of the participants fell into the age range when most abortions now occur, that is, 64% were between 20 and 29 years of age. In this sample, 76.9% of the women with a subsequent pregnancy reported that the same man fathered both the first and second pregnancy. This is a surprisingly high level of stability, given the fragility of the family unit.
This study looked at the reasons women chose childbirth or abortion for their subsequent pregnancy. It is unique in that it examined the decision-making process in the context of the relationship with the father of the child. No other research on abortion decision-making has taken the family context into account. This is an especially important issue for our future consideration, since so many abortions are currently performed on women with other living children, implying the presence of the father of the children.
The results of the study indicated that the most important factors in determining the women’s choice to abort a second pregnancy were those associated with the father’s inability or unwillingness to provide assistance in rearing the first child. Women were significantly more likely to abort if they reported that the father of the child cannot be trusted to “watch the child for a week,” “take good care of the child,” “watch the child when the mother needs to do things,” “does not support the mother’s way of raising the child,” “does not respect the schedule and rules” for the child, etc. In addition, it was found that mothers who were married to the father were significantly more likely to deliver the baby.
What is especially interesting are the variables that did not appear to influence the choice of abortion vs. delivery. For example, the difficulty of raising the child, based on poor temperament of the child or the need for frequent medical intervention, did not affect the choice to abort. In addition, financial considerations were not important in the decision. Employment and income did not predict the decision to abort. Surprisingly, aggression directed toward the mother by the father was not a factor in the choice to abort. On the other hand, women who chose to abort the second baby demonstrated more substance abuse following the abortion, and they were more apt to be physically abused by the father.
The results of this study are counter to the prevailing opinion that women abort because of poverty and financial considerations. Instead, these mothers were more apt to make the decision based on whether or not they would be supported in their role as a mother by a father who had already demonstrated an ability to care for one of his children. Furthermore, marriage was a protective factor in determining the parents’ decision to keep and raise their child.
This study supports the idea that abortion occurs in the context of a family. It requires both a committed mother and father to assure the choice to deliver and care for a child. Fathers are not only important, but possibly decisive in the choice to have an abortion.