Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Regarding Abortion: The Adoption Fallacy

The debate over abortion is the Great American Melodrama.  The debate is emotionally charged, and almost anyone you talk to is going to approach the issue from a rather unilateral position.

"Abortion is murder!"
"It's about women's rights!"
"It's about letting doctors be doctors!"
"It's about freedom to choose!"
"It's about protecting the innocent!"
"It's about men trying to control women!"

No matter who you talk to, anyone who disagrees with you is wrong, and anyone who agrees with you is right, and there's absolutely no gray area anywhere.  At least that's how it seems.

Here's the thing though--in this debate, everyone has a good point.

Yes, I said it.  I think all of those statements above have validity to them.  I agree with all of them, and I disagree with all of them.  The problem, to me, isn't figuring out who is right and who is wrong (you're all right and you're all wrong).  The problem is figuring out what to do about it.

So before I get started, let me just make one thing abundantly clear.  I find abortion to be a morally reprehensible act.  I will never encourage a woman to get an abortion.  Reading about the procedures makes me physically ill, and at times has made me want to weep.  At the same time, I have lived a privileged life, have never been pregnant, and have never had a menstrual cycle.  I will not ever judge a woman for choosing to have an abortion.  I do not and I cannot comprehend the issues that a woman must balance when making this decision and so I will always assume that she made the best decision she could at the time and leave God to sort out the rest1.

But I am still pro-choice.  That is, I believe that abortion should be a legal option for women as a matter of social policy.  Let's start breaking down why.

One of the arguments I often hear for making abortion illegal is that adoption is a better alternative that protects the life of the child.  Fair enough, I say.  If you can provide an adoptive home for every unwanted pregnancy, maybe we can talk.  I still have reservations about rights of the women vs rights of the child, but let's at least look at the feasibility of adoption.

The figure below shows the annual number of abortions in the United States from 1998 to 20082.  It seems like a nice little trend that abortion is becoming less common.  But you should be aware that these numbers could be affected by better access to contraception, stricter regulations on abortion, and most importantly, states dropping out of the reporting program (that is, we may just not be counting the abortions that are happening).

So, in 2008, a little over 825,000 abortions were reported to the CDC.  So we only need to come up with 825,000 adoptive homes per year!  Should be easy enough.  But wait--not all states report their abortions to the CDC.  Most notably, California does not participate in this reporting.  In 2010, the Guttmacher Institute estimated that there were 1.2 million abortions in the United States. This would suggest that each year we could be failing to account for almost 400,000 abortions.  The 1.2 million number is frequently cited by all sides of the abortion debate, so we'll stick with that number for now.

Now, let's go find out how many adoptions take place every year.  It turns out that in 2008, there were 135,813 adoptions in the United States3.  This includes all public, private, and foreign adoptions.  That means that in addition to our current number of adoptions, we need to find 1.2 million additional adoptive families every year in order to replace all of those abortions.  That's an 884% increase in the number of adoptions.  We've got our work cut out for us here.

The idea isn't without merit, however.  We know that not everyone who seeks to adopt is able to succeed.  The question is whether there are enough people who would like to adopt.  The 1998 National Survey on Family Growth found that for every successful adoption, there were 3.3 adoption seekers.  That means an adoption success rate of (1/3.3) = .303 per hundred, or 30.3%.  Applying this information to our adoption data, we can generate the graph below which shows the number of adoptions, their source, and the number of adoption seekers who failed to adopt.

What this tells us is that in 2007, there were 267,794 adoption seekers who ended up not adopting.  In 2008, there were 272,314 such adoption seekers.  The next graph puts it into perspective, but in short, if we were to allow any and all of those adoptions seekers to adopt a child, we still would have only accounted for 22% of all of the abortions that happened in a year.  That means we still need to find homes for 78% of the unwanted children that are aborted each year.

This assumes, of course, that we would even want every adoption seeker to be able to adopt.  Surely, some are not permitted to adopt because they fail various screenings, etc.  You could make a case that the screenings are too rigorous, but any time you loosen the rules on the screening, you expose more adopted children to risk.  There's a certain trade off there that has to be dealt with.  

Also, many people opt out of adopting because of cost, and many people opt out of adopting because the decide not to take on the severe emotional burdens that can accompany adoption4.  We can be fairly certain that we wouldn't be able to give a child to all 272,000 of those seeking adoption.

But, for the sake of argument, let's say we could.  Now let's add another dimension of complexity onto this.  Let's take a look at the number of abortions by race.  The figure below is similar to the previous figure, but stratifies the abortions by race.

Hypothesize for a minute that we make abortion illegal and that we also allow all of those who failed to adopt to go ahead and adopt.  Who are they likely to adopt?  Based on adoption statistics, the children that we are no longer aborting are likely to be adopted as displayed below.  The lighter shaded areas are those children who we adopt out, and the darker areas are those for whom no adoptive family can be found.

Look at that graph carefully.  If we were to simultaneously make abortion illegal and also allow each parent seeking adoption to adopt, in any given year, we would find homes for 37% of the Caucasian children that would have been aborted, 28% of Other races, 21% of Hispanics, and only 8.5% of African Americans.  The rest of the children would either need to be placed in orphanages, foster care, or remain with the birth mothers/families.

There will be a lot of people that argue that children should stay with their birth mothers and families, and that we shouldn't be trying to adopt away all of our would-be abortions.  I agree that we can't and shouldn't adopt them all away.  I agree that the primary responsibility to care for the children should fall upon those who procreated them.  Unfortunately, reality kicks in and the social consequences of such a policy aren't so cheery.  A host of social issues raises its head and far too much of it will tie back into the the disproportionalities contained in that last graph.  We'll dig into that in a second blog post.  Right now, we need to wrap up this one.

Here's my thesis statement: Adoption makes a lousy solution to the abortion problem.  The reasons

  1. We abort more than 1.2 million children each year.  We adopt only 180,000.
  2. Even if we allowed more adoption seekers to adopt, we could only account for 22% of abortions at best.
  3. Though we haven't discussed it much here, if we discontinued all foreign abortions, we wouldn't have much additional impact.
  4. Also not discussed, about 48,000 children are born through IVF each year5.  Since about a third of those are multiples, that's about 32,000 families that could adopt if we disallowed all IVF procedures.  That still wouldn't make much of a scratch.

As you can see, abortion is a big problem.  The hand waving of encouraging adoption (the Texas bill that was recently passed had measures for encouraging adoption, which was one of the aspects used by some to justify restricting abortions) doesn't realistically address the size of the problem.

While it seems to the pro-life advocate that expecting women and families whose children can't be adopted ought to take care of their own children, we'll see in the following post (or posts, I'm not sure how many I'll be writing) the societal cost in terms of economics, employment, welfare, criminal activity, population growth, drug use, teen pregnancy,...... should I continue?

So yes, as a moral issue, it seems abundantly clear that abortion is wrong.  As a societal issue, I think we'll find that banning abortion is much worse for everyone.

1 And I suspect God will be far more forgiving and understanding of these cases that most people here are.
2 Raw data: http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/Abortion.htm
  Summaries: http://www.abortionno.org/Resources/fastfacts.html
3 http://www.creatingafamily.org/blog/adoption-domestic-adoption-international-adoption-embryo-adoption-foster-care-adoption/children-adopted-year/
4 See the following link for a brief treatment on the reasons people choose not to adopt.http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons/200810/why-more-people-don-t-adopt

1 comment:

  1. Abortion is not a problem. It's none of your business what someone else chooses to do with their body.