Parenting with Dignity: Exploring Real Supports for Pregnant Women

Jessica Arons

Creating a comprehensive approach to the reproductive health and parenting needs of women is an important policy objective in its own right, regardless of any potential subsequent effect on the abortion rate.

The Center for American Progress is publishing a series of policy briefs to help inform efforts at creating a common ground agenda. This introductory essay is the first in a series of articles from the Center for American Progress that RHrealityCheck will publish. Each will address various aspects of how to better support women and mothers,
an area idenitfied as potentially rich in common ground.

In the debate over finding “common ground” on abortion, much has
been made of the fact that, when asked why they chose to have an
abortion, many women say, “I can’t afford another child right now.”
Given this response, some have suggested that providing additional
supports to pregnant women might help reduce the abortion rate. The
thinking goes that if women feel the economic obstacles are too great
to carry a pregnancy to term—especially an unintended pregnancy—then
policies that ease those burdens may help a woman ultimately have a
child that she wants to have. An alternative line of thinking suggests
that if a woman is trying to decide between abortion and carrying to
term, additional supports may tip the balance and lead her to choose
having the child.

The Center for American Progress continues to believe that, per the
public health data, widespread access to contraception is the most
effective method available for reducing unintended pregnancy,
especially when coupled with medically accurate sex education.
Unintended pregnancy is, after all, the proximate cause of the vast
majority of abortions. We also believe that the government should not
be in the business of promoting one moral viewpoint over another, nor
should it try to persuade individuals to make particular health care
decisions that have no bearing on public health outcomes.

Nevertheless, we do believe in taking a comprehensive approach to
addressing reproductive health needs and we feel that it is an
important policy objective in its own right to provide better supports
to pregnant women, regardless of any potential subsequent effect on the
abortion rate. We will therefore be examining, through a series of
issue briefs, a variety of meaningful ways in which we can better
address the needs of pregnant women.

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When a woman says she can’t afford a child, she is not just thinking
of the nine months of pregnancy, the first few months after the child
is born, or even the first few years of life. She is most likely
thinking about the next 18 years—or beyond—and how she will clothe,
bathe, feed, house, nurture, and educate another human being for that
entire period of time.

She may already have one or more children to care for—indeed 6 out
of every 10 women who have abortions are already mothers. She may be
the primary caretaker for a disabled or elderly member of her family.
She may want a family one day but feel economically or emotionally
unprepared to start one now. She may have a partner who is willing to
help raise a child or not. She may be working, unemployed, or trying to
finish her education so she can better support herself and her loved
ones. If working, she may have secure employment, or she may be one
sick day away from a pink slip. She may be in perfect health, have a
chronic illness, struggle with addiction, or suffer intimate partner
violence. She may have health insurance, or she may be uninsured. She
might consider adoption or think it is out of the question.

In short, a multitude of factors may affect her decision to continue
or terminate a pregnancy. And “I can’t afford a child right now” can
encompass a number of these factors. Diapers and formula are clearly
not sufficient. Systematic changes to health care, the workplace, the
adoption system, and others are necessary to have a real effect on the
lives of pregnant women.

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