Friday, December 6, 2013

Abortion & Maternity Leave

This CNN piece by David Frum implies that better maternity rates and other social support for mothers causes abortion rates to drop.
A woman who enjoys the most emotional and financial security and who has chosen the timing of her pregnancy will not choose abortion, even when abortion laws are liberal. A woman who is dominated, who is poor and who fears bearing the child is likely to find an abortion, even where abortion is restricted...
Frum pushes the point by looking to Germany, which provides 14 weeks of paid maternity leave and a temporary replacement wage for women who leave the workplace after giving birth. And Germany's abortion rate is about one third of the US abortion rate.

Does this prove maternity leave decreases abortion? No. That may be true. Germany's lower abortion rate could also be due to other factors--what are their abortion laws like? What's their typical sex education like? How about their access to birth control? How do German people culturally view abortion? View the fetus? What are their average religious and political beliefs?

Frum can show some correlations and try to imply causation (like so many people try to do), but we certainly can't say for sure, at least not from the information Frum gives us.

Still, would you be surprised to find that better financial and social support for mothers would make women less inclined to seek abortion? Some of the most common reasons women cite for getting abortion are financial concerns and concerns about how the pregnancy will disrupt their jobs.

I think sometimes we read that reasoning and we picture a financially secure woman concerned about her career for purely ambitious purposes. No doubt there are some women who choose abortion for that reason. However, a disproportionate amount of women who seek abortion are below the federal poverty level. How many women seek abortion because they're afraid they can't afford to go unpaid for weeks in order to have the child? How many job-hunting women fear no one will hire them if employers find out they're pregnant? In most cases, we aren't talking here about a woman who gets an abortion because she is vying for her next promotion; we're talking about a woman who is afraid she won't be able to pay rent.

Inability to pay rent doesn't justify having another human being killed. But my point here is not to justify women getting abortions, it's to understand why they do it and try to find solutions beyond legislative change. I am all for swaying hearts and minds to see unborn children as members of our species worthy of protection. And I believe it is easier to sway those hearts and minds if, at the same time, we assuage concerns about how restrictive abortion laws would negatively impact abortion-minded women.

With that in mind, I leave you with this NPR graphic to consider. As NPR describes it:
Sweden and Norway have among the best parental leave in the world — more than a year paid for the mother and father combined. Contrast that with Tunisia, which only gives women 30 days to recover from childbirth. And the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn't mandate that parents of newborns get paid leave.

(Click to enlarge)


Jameson Graber said...

Because I've heard it so many times, the statistic that "the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn't mandate that parents of newborns get paid leave" doesn't really shock me. But when I think about it, it really is surprising. There are some economic arguments to be made against such a mandate, but in my experience most people (right or left) don't really buy economic arguments against such regulations. So there must really be some social factors here that, upon reflection, are possibly quite disturbing.

Still, it must be said that the US does have *some* regulation in this direction. I occasionally get the impression that people think there are simply no laws on the subject. See here:

Germany is an interesting case to point to because, as I've recently discovered, German women are finding some of their country's policies backfire on them. That is, there seems to be fewer full time employment opportunities for them precisely because they are well protected by regulations. The Nordic model seems to work out better in terms of male and female equality: as I understand it, Swedes and Norwegians don't simply get maternity leave, but in fact the time is given to both the mother and father to decide how to divide it among themselves.

It is also worth mentioning that America has the most liberal abortion laws among Western nations, but we are probably behind in terms of sex education, at least in certain regions of the country.

I would be in favor of regulations that can be proven to lower the rate of abortions. That seems like a public good to me. But alternatives have to be taken into account. Labor regulations aren't the only way to help workers: direct transfers are sometimes a more economically efficient way to help people who need it.

JW said...

I believe it is an injustice and outrage that the US does not have the kind of parental leave policies and other support to parents that Germany, Sweden, Norway, and other nations have. Even if such policies had no effect on abortion rates, I would support them.
If we look at abortion rates, however, I would note that Sweden has about the same rate as the United States: 21 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in Sweden (in 2009) versus 20 abortions per 1,000 women in that age range in the United States (in 2008). Norway is a little better, with a rate of 17 as of 2008. Germany is much better, with a rate of 7 in 2009! [This info is from a table in the Guttmacher Institute's report "Legal Worldwide Abortion in 2008"].
These figures reinforce this blog post's point that parental leave alone does not determine abortion's frequency (although parental leave is still very important).

johno said...

Isn't abortion not allowed after 12th week in Germany?