As a woman who’s never wanted children, I naturally have personal fears of an overturn of Roe v. Wade.
As a woman without traditional conservative values, I have strong feelings about men telling women what they should and shouldn’t do with their bodies.
And as an everyday human being, I have strong feelings about the importance of Roe v. Wade for the same reason I have strong feelings about parents circumcising male or female babies, one’s right to decide whether to undergo sex change procedures, or a person’s right to die:
Your life, your body, your choice. Not your parents’, not the government’s, not Karen’s— yours.
I of course also understand the fear that an overturn of of Roe v. Wade would propel women into a real-life The Handmaid’s Tale.
However, where The Handmaid’s Tale and most debates about Roe v. Wade fail, in my opinion, is in their lack of attention to what “Everyone must and will have children” could mean for the children.
Those of us old enough to feed and clothe ourselves have the ability to fight back. We can protest, rebel, vote. We can use birth control, work around reproductive sex, or avoid sex with someone who would insist on that sex leading to a baby.
Potential children have no such power.
Our demands that abortion remain not only accessible, but easily accessible, should direct more attention to the truly vulnerable casualties who rarely get a mention in the recurring Roe v. Wade debate and in the scuffles over the importance of Planned Parenthood: the products of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.
THE IMPACT ON CHILDREN
Almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and children born to parents who didn’t plan to have them face a higher risk of experiencing “negative physical and mental health outcomes.”
Whether a child was planned is actually one of the first factors considered when predicting the risk of child maltreatment in the form of neglect (usually the mother) or physical aggression (usually the father). In 2018, about 60 percent of the 678,000 maltreated children were neglected. Just over 10 percent were physically abused, and seven percent were sexually abused.
Fifteen percent experienced more than two “maltreatment types.” Abuse and neglect killed 1,770 of them.
(See this Atlantic article for a deeper look into reports of maltreatment.)
Some children will stay with their emotionally or physically abusive parents, but others — nearly half a million — will be delivered to foster care by some service or other and will spend, on average, two years there (others have spent five or more years in foster care).
Ironically, foster care is often worse than the original abusive home environment. According to an Indiana study cited in an Issue Paper released by the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, children in foster care experience a three times higher risk of physical abuse and a ten times higher risk of sexual abuse while there, whether child-on-child or foster-parent-on-child.
For a zoomed-in look at what that means to a single person who makes up one of the numbers used for those statistics, Rodney Humphrey shares his foster care experience in a personal essay published on the website Children’s Rights. He writes, in part,
I spent 17 of my first 20 years in Child Protective Services. While in state care, I experienced my share of ups and downs — some worse than others. I had physically and verbally abusive foster parents. Sometimes my body was bruised by belt buckles. When I was just 6, I got whipped with switches from the rose garden — with the thorns still intact. I was moved about nine times. I lived in foster homes, shelters, group homes and a couple of hospitals. I felt unwanted and became a social outcast and an introvert. When I was 12, my sister Serenity and I were separated…
Figures, if they’re small enough, will usually invite a shrug, no matter how devastating the individual story. Yeah, but that only happens to a few. It’s not the majority, so…
Here are other small figures for perspective:
- 0.4% : Americans actively serving in the United States military. [We as a country are very vocal in our commitment to our troops, no matter how small their numbers.]
- 20,000 : Americans at any given time who have ALS. [Remember the ice bucket challenge? It was a pretty big deal.]
- 6,000 : American babies born every year with Down Syndrome. [We care very much about children with Down Syndrome.]
- 678,000 (about 1%): Children abused each year in the United States.
Children born to people who don’t want or can’t properly care for them might end up being a relatively small percentage, but each is a unique person whose life is shown shockingly little concern in the conversation about reproductive rights.
We should change that.
“[A]bortion legalization led to a reduction in the number of ‘unwanted’ children; such a reduction may have improved average infant health and children’s living conditions.” — Guttmacher Institute
“The incidence of the unwanted child could be drastically reduced by extending to all families the wide variety of modern contraceptives now available and by offering medical abortion services to those who want them.” — NCBI
Kristen Tsetsi is the author of THE AGE OF THE CHILD