Where Is Everybody?


It’s been looking a little thin over at Desperate Houseflies recently. But, I must soldier on. Today I saw two interesting articles by William Saletan, whose work on abortion I’ve cited previously. One examines the “loophole” in South Dakota’s recently enacted abortion ban; the other talks about moving beyond Roe v. Wade in order to break the stalemate (now we all know how well that will work, but nice try, Will). The former underscores my concern that pro-lifers are more interested in punishing women for having sex at non-approved times with non-approved people than they are with life, however you define it. The latter suggests the kind of compromise that Naomi Wolf and others have suggested: draw the line at the end of the first trimester. This is an interesting idea that would work really well for women who have money and self-awareness — but those women aren’t having second-trimester abortions anyway. I would be willing to bet that second-trimester abortions are caused primarily by three things other than fetuses with developmental problems detected then: (1) lack of money; (2) restrictions, such as waiting periods and notifications, that pose additional obstacles; and (3) lack of self-awareness, or denial, in women who are incredibly out of touch with their bodies and minds (and let me tell you, in my experience one would practically have to be on another planet from her own body not to know she was pregnant). And these things have a disproportionate impact on those with lower socioeconomic status, who are, not coincidentally, the very people who can least afford to bear the costs of unplanned children. So even though from an ethical standpoint I would be comfortable drawing this line, I’m not sure that it would have much of an actual effect in terms of numbers of unplanned pregnancies, which I think is the number we want to reduce. It’s the same lack of self-awareness that prevents a woman from realizing she’s pregnant until several weeks in, that helps to prevent that same woman from using contraception to begin with. I hate to sound like such a cliche liberal, but what we need most is universal, comprehensive sex education and access to free contraception for all. That won’t prevent every unplanned pregnancy, but it would help.

And just to stir up controversy, check out this article from The American Prospect about a 2001 study by two professors that purported to show that the legalization of abortion was a significant factor in the precipitous crime drop of the 1990s. (This ended up as a chapter in Freakonomics, since Stephen Levitt was one of the two). I had such a nonreaction to the data that I was kind of surprised (although I shouldn’t have been) that people were so incensed by it. I mean, doesn’t it stand to reason that unwanted children have worse lives than wanted ones, and therefore are more likely to commit crime? Seems like a fairly straightforward conclusion to me. What moral conclusions to draw from the data is a conversation that should be had, but it doesn’t change what they show.

Okay, that should be enough inflammatory content for this week. Sorry to be such a broken record by writing on this topic so much, but this is interesting stuff and very timely at the moment.

Correction: The Naomi Wolf article linked above is not the one in which she proposes a ban on abortion after the first trimester. I’m not sure if that article, reported on by Katha Pollitt in the Nation, was ever actually published. But Wolf was quoted in this article, originally published in Glamour magazine (I know, I was shocked too), on the subject. The article is also interesting in its own right.

8 Responses to “Where Is Everybody?”

  1. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I REALLY liked the Wolf article. It’s probably the best article from a pro-choice point of view that I’ve ever read. Thanks for posting it.

    I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the article, but was left scratching my head a little at the end when I read this passage:

    “Now imagine such a democracy, in which women would be valued so very highly, as a world that is accepting and responsible about human sexuality; in which there is no coerced sex without serious jailtime; in which there are affordable, safe contraceptives available for the taking in every public health building; in which there is economic parity for women–and basic economic subsistence for every baby born; and in which every young American woman knows about and understands her natural desire as a treasure to cherish, and responsibly, when the time is right, on her own terms, to share.”

    Two statements in this seem to be at odds. “A world that is accepting and responsible about human sexuality” would not need “affordable, safe contraceptives available for the taking in every public health building.”

    I also think that the “basic economic subsistence for every baby born” should be the responsibility of the parents, and not the government. That would be a part of being “responsible about human sexuality.” Don’t have sex if you can’t assume responsibility for the consequences. As long as we make that distinction, I am in very close agreement with Ms. Wolf on the handling of abortion in this country.

  2. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Oh… and on the American Prospect article, allow me to paraphrase my beautiful, brilliant, statistically gifted wife:

    “Correlation does not equal causality. Saying that increased numbers of abortions led to lower crime rates is like saying eating ice cream causes drowning. Both ice cream sales and drowning rates go up in summer months, hence there must be a cause/effect relatonship.”

    I myself wonder exactly what kind of “peer review” a study like this received.

  3. susansinclair Says:

    Ummmm, Joe–not sure I should ask, but why shouldn’t a world that is accepting and responsible about human sexuality have readily available contraception? Granted, there might be less sexual activity by some who use it for unhealthy purposes (like self-esteem building or power issues), but there might also be some painfully shy folk out there getting some (more). And anyway, isn’t the idea here that if we’re accepting and responsible, we use appropriate methods of contraception? (I use that “we” in the general, public sphere sense…)

  4. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I have had a weird day. I’m sorry that I simply don’t have time to read the linked articles, and may not until we’re already on to other discussions.

    I appreciate Susan’s request for clarification of Joe’s comment, so I’ll watch for that response.

    On first glance Joe, the combination of your two exceptions seems to lean toward prohibiting poor people from having sex. (i.e. can’t afford contraception & can’t afford babies either, therefore…)

  5. Joe Longhorn Says:


    I didn’t mean to imply that contraception should not be available. I don’t think it should be available “for the taking” at public health facilities. Don’t you think that takes away some of the “responsibility” from our sexuality?


    I can see how you could distill what I am saying into “not allowing poor people to have sex.” You’d have to do a lot of distilling to get to that, though. Should we have a society where people are free to have sex at their own discretion with the cost of that decision (both in contraception and welfare) borne by society at large?

    Two things…

    First, a lot of “poor people” could afford to bear the cost of parenthood without government subsistence if they were to give up their cell-phones, cable TV, and other discretionary items.

    Second, contraception is not that expensive. Folks could go to the machine in the mens’ room at the corner gas station and get a little insurance for a lot less than what they spent on beer to get in the mood.

  6. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Joe writes: “Should we have a society where people are free to have sex at their own discretion with the cost of that decision (both in contraception and welfare) borne by society at large?”

    I respond: “No, we shouldn’t, but this is the world as we know it.”

    But break down your question:

    Should we have a society where people are free to have sex at their own discretion? That’s a given at present – are you suggesting something different? Introducing an economic element to sex is a rather radical (and to me, impractical) thought.

    If not, the rest of the question is focused: Should we as a society bear the cost for this? I, for one, am willing to do my part to care for needy children however that plays out. I’d love it if private philanthropy met this need, but it doesn’t at present. I’ve been a houseparent for three years, and I expect we’ll adopt some unwanted school-age children over the years, but w/o government involvement, I shudder to think of how many additional children would go hungry and homeless. Many already do. If the system is bad, let’s fix it. But I can’t abide the concept of our society not taking responsibility for its children in need…

    Joe writes: “…a lot of “poor people” could afford to bear the cost of parenthood without government subsistence if they were to give up their cell-phones, cable TV, and other discretionary items.”

    I respond: I’m aware that many could. But from my role as Family Support chair for Habitat for Humanity in my community, I’m well aware that many, many cannot. Simply criticizing the bad examples doesn’t negate the needs of their counterparts.

    Joe writes: “…contraception is not that expensive.”

    I respond: Valid point. So you wouldn’t have a problem with Wolf’s “affordable” adjective in her description of a great democracy. Your beef is with the “available for the taking in every public health building” then. Do you think there’s any validity to the idea that public health officials might make the “safe” adjective a bit more accurate than the companies hocking the colorful names on the machines in public restrooms?

  7. Joe Longhorn Says:


    I do not have a problem with the “affordable” adjective, so long as they aren’t made “affordable” through government subsidy.

    My point is that the simplest methods of contraception are already affordable.

  8. Sandi Says:


    The study featured in the American Prospect article was peer reviewed, and as I understand it, the study was conducted carefully in order to discern what factors accounted for how much of the crime drop. If you read the chapter on this in Freakonomics, it explains more about it. So it was not a rookie mistake of conflating correlation with causation. Certainly there has been debate about the accuracy of the conclusions Levitt reached, but my understanding is that his methods were mainstream in his field.

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