Baby Supply and Demand

Ross Douthat, Megan McArdle, and some other conservative writers today are sorrowing that all those selfish women are getting abortions, resulting in fewer babies available for adoption.

A number of non-troglodyte bloggers already have agreed with Tbogg, who wrote,

… there is no more repellent reason for opposing abortion than the notion that poor women who choose to not bring a baby to term are somehow obligated to do so because it is a sellers market. That is some seriously fucked up shit.

Yes. But if people want to complain about the dearth of healthy American-born babies available for adoption, don’t complain about abortion. Complain that these days unmarried women who give birth are far less likely to put the baby up for adoption than was true years ago.

Douthat even points this out in his column before he goes back to whining about abortion:

Prior to 1973, 20 percent of births to white, unmarried women (and 9 percent of unwed births over all) led to an adoption. Today, just 1 percent of babies born to unwed mothers are adopted, and would-be adoptive parents face a waiting list that has lengthened beyond reason.

Yes. However, Douthat continues,

Some of this shift reflects the growing acceptance of single parenting. But some of it reflects the impact of Roe v. Wade. Since 1973, countless lives that might have been welcomed into families like Thernstrom’s — which looked into adoption, and gave it up as hopeless — have been cut short in utero instead.

The Fetus People refuse to believe this, but social historians and statisticians who study abortion in American think the rate of abortion in America today could be about what it was before Roe v. Wade. Since there were no records kept for illegal abortions there is no way to know for sure, but it is well documented that the rate of abortion in countries around the world is not impacted by criminalizing abortion. There is no reason why the U.S. would be an exception.

So, if alleged libertarian McArdle got her second-dearest wish (the first would be, I believe, an exemption from paying taxes) and American women lost access to legal abortion, it would likely make no difference in the supply of health white babies. If the trends in other nations are any guide, in very little time an underground and notoriously unsafe abortion industry would be thriving, the rate of abortion would remain about what it is now, and all but 1 percent of unmarried woman who give birth will still keep their babies. Because in the absence of very strong social and family pressure to do otherwise, mothers will keep their babies. This is human nature. It’s also mammal nature and bird nature.

It is very sad that some people who want children are infertile. It’s very sad that some people who want health care can’t get insurance. It’s very sad that some people who want to earn a living can’t get work that pays a living wage. It’s very sad that families lose their homes. It’s very sad that there are children who don’t get enough to eat. I’m personally sad that lamebrains like Douthat and McArdle actually make livings as pundits. The world is full of injustice.

Cope, people.

14 thoughts on “Baby Supply and Demand

  1. When I saw the title of Dootbag’s article I knew where he was going. What an obnoxious twerp! Women are not “breeding machines”.

    Having said that, we need some adult supervision in the agencies that set up adoptions. I have a couple of dear friends about my age (early fifties). They are kind, gentle people who have been known to take in (informally) troubled teens to straighten them out and help get them on their feet. They have tried for YEARS to adopt an orphan 3rd world baby and have been turned away as “too old”. Too old? They are about my age and I have a natural 6 year old of my own. I don’t seem to have any trouble managing her. What are these agencies thinking?

  2. There is a need to add that the stigma of having a baby out of wedlock is close to non-existent these days. My 20 year old grandniece just had a baby with her livein boyfriend; and, not being married does not phase them at all. Nor does it seem to bother other people as far as I can tell. However, the father (my brother) of her father (my brother’s son, my nephew) was not married to his son’s mother. My nephew never married my grandniece’s mother; thus, we have a third generation of not marrying. There has been no stigma of “bastard” on any of the children. Thus, this is a fact that needs to be thrown into the mix. I love my brother, nephew, grandniece, and now my new great-grandniece without exception. Of course, I am sure most conservative hypocrites will condemn all these nice people to hell for that; but, we (the family) just don’t care.

  3. “Prior to 1973, 20 percent of births to white, unmarried women (and 9 percent of unwed births over all) led to an adoption.”
    What’s the operative word here?
    Could it be – WHITE?
    That there is a seller’s market, is largly because because the buyers want their precious little model children in any color, as long as it’s white.
    I personally know of 2 couples here who’ve adopted infants in Russia. Both had issues of out of control violence with their child, probably due to fetal alchohol syndrome. Yet, the market there is still strong (is everything market-based with these people?). Chinese and other Asian countries also have waiting lists.
    That’s why I’ll give Madonna (let’s not get into the questionable aspects of the one adoption), Pitt and Jolie credit, they have gone and adopted black children from impoverished 3rd world countries. I’m sure that they weren’t doing it to be some sort of trendsetters, but they ARE trendsetters, and it can only help increase the rate of children from those countries being adopted.
    They are attacking a woman’s right to choose from every angle, and this is a new one.
    And maha, last year, or the year before, you wrote about how some of the younger women in this country are less adament about their rights regarding choice. And I think a part of that is that never-married single motherhood is no longer the horrible social stigma that it once was. That, in and of itself, has probably lowered the rate of abortion, as to what it once was (interesting, though, about the whether or not the rate is unchanged since Roe). In order to ingrain in the minds of women who are amibilvilant about choice, I’d remind them that their only ‘choice’ then would be “Forced Labor.”
    I won’t even talk about McArdle. She’s a minor league dim-bulb, and a good part of her readers are people who go there just to watch the awesome trainwreck that is her statistical analysis, and read the greased pretzel-logic that is her “thought process.”
    But Baby Bobo’s getting to be as bad as spiritual Daddy, David Brooks, and he gets prime space in the NYT. Douthat is now our freshest-faced great moral authority. I’d have had more respect for him if he’d had the balls to write this column looking instead at how abortions may affect inmate populations, and how with the steady/growing rate of black and hispanic prisoners, it’s because less poor white women decide to carry a child to term, and need to do so to help to increase number of white prisoners. And yes, I do see a problem with that argument. I’m just wondering if he would?
    I wish Hawthorne was alive now. If he was, he might have written a different “The Scarlet Letter” today; it would be about how a woman who had the abortion had the letter “A” branded onto her forehead by the anti-choice zealots, the doctor who performed the procedure was shot in his church, and how the honor of the father of the fetus had been restored.
    They’re coming at Roe from any and every angle now, hoping to find somehing that sticks. Baby Bobo’s argument is rather specious. But I’m not worried, paid moralizers like him are plentiful, and will find some other angle(s), chip-chipping away like a colony of termites hoping that the house will finally come down. And I’m very worried that this one will.

  4. “The Fetus People” won’t believe it because it’s not true. Post-Roe, conceptions rose while births fell, as Steve Levitt noted in Freakonomics. The source of the oft-heard argument that Roe had no effect turns out to be, as far as I have been able to discern, serial malpractice with dodgy data–some guy decades ago estimated that illegal abortions pre-Roe were anywhere from 200,000 to 1.3 million; then some idiot took the very upper bound, compared it to post-Roe abortions, and concluded that they hadn’t risen–this even though we know that abortions rose dramatically from 750,000 in the first year after Roe, to their peak around 1.6 million.

    As for my dearest wishes, had you done any research, you would of course have known that I am pro-choice, and have been rather actively advocating for letting the Bush tax cuts expire.

    • Megan, my dear, if you had done your research, you would know that worldwide there is no relation between abortion rate and abortion law. There are many nations that ban abortion that have higher abortion rates than the U.S. There are many nations with legal abortion that have lower abortion rates than the U.S.

      Regarding the availability of babies for adoption: In 2007 a record number of babies were born to out-of-wedlock American mothers, more than in the 1950s, when no one was worried about the supply of babies for adoption. This suggests to me that the primary reason “adoptable” babies are scarce these days is not abortion, but the sharply decreasing percentage of unwed mothers who put their babies up for adoption.

      And if you do want to reduce the rate of abortion, the one sure way to do that is to encourage use of contraceptives. Contraceptive availability and use do not necessarily go hand in hand. U.S. teens in particular have notoriously low rates of contraceptive use compared to teens in other developed countries.

      But let’s get back to abortion rates. If you could read, you would have noticed that I said abortion rates TODAY are possibly what they were before Roe v. Wade, although no one knows for sure, which makes your next statement irrelevant —

      this even though we know that abortions rose dramatically from 750,000 in the first year after Roe, to their peak around 1.6 million.

      I have been talking about abortion RATE, which is usually given as the number of abortions per year per thousand women of childbearing age in a population. The RATE is more telling than absolute numbers, given that populations tend to grow. The RATE of abortions in the U.S. fell 33% since that peak of 1.6 million, from 29 to 20, by 2004.

      This is the pattern. In nations in which abortion is decriminalized, the rate of abortion tends to increase immediately, then stabilize, then decrease. This has been happening in the U.S., and my understanding is the same pattern has repeated itself in other countries. The argument in some quarters is that the CURRENT rate could be in the same ball park as the rate of abortions before Roe v. Wade. Thus, your argument about the increase after Roe v. Wade is irrelevant.

      Given the well-documented pattern in other countries, it is entirely possible that if abortion were criminalized in the U.S. the rate of abortion would, in a few years, stabilize to about what it was before criminalization.

      Further, the 750,000 of abortions in the first year after Roe does not rule out the possibility that many women were continuing to self-abort or use back-alley abortionists in that time. Legal abortions may not yet have been readily available in large parts of the country.

      But, again — given that worldwide there is no correlation between abortion rate and abortion law, there is no reason to believe that the number of abortions in the U.S. would be substantially reduced from what it is now if abortion were criminalized. As in other nations, abortions would be performed “underground,” often by pills purchased on a black market. This is what happens elsewhere; why would the U.S. be an exception?

  5. since the social stigma of bastard babies is all but about gone where does this leave the power of the church in organizing the daily lives of it’s supposed flock? and why have Americans whole heartedly turned away from this crippling and asinine notion of organized religion? what part does our expanded social safety network play into this, where I live there is not one teen mother who is not supported by the state in the forms of welfare WIC and medicaid

  6. Is that really what mcArdle is saying! Sounded pretty close to rational to me. What did I miss?

  7. WOW!
    It must be the real Megan McArdle!
    Because if she knows about anything, it’s about “serial malpractice with dodgy data.”
    If it is you, Ms. McArdle, what you’re saying by your comment is that you at least accept the lower 200,000 number, and then believe that legalizing abortion in the first year only increased less than 400% from when it was illegal. If you think about it, that’s remarkable. I guarantee you that when they stopped Prohibition, the percentage of people legally buying alchohol was far higher than that the first year.
    Are they related statistics? I don’t think so. I don’t know. But you do that all of the time. At least when I used to try to read your articles.

    And if you are pro-choice, isn’t it better to point out that even at the peak rate of 1.6 million, that those now legal procedures were done in as safe and sterile an environment as possible, as opposed to the alternative – that 200,000 to 1 million+ women annually underwent illegal procedures in potentially unsafe and unsterile conditions? It would be interesting to look at the death rates pre and post Roe. But pre-Roe are unknown and unknowable, because deaths in these procedures were assigned to any cause but the real one -death during an illegal abortion.
    And how about the pre and post Roe number of women who were crippled, maimed, or psychologically scarred by the procedures? Or the rates of infection, serious or not?

    Sorry, Ms. McArdle, but I gave up reading you years ago. Your statisitical analysis leaves a lot to be desired, whether it was about the cost of the needless wars and occupations, or the lead up to the economic crisis that we faced, and continue to face. You lack any legitimacy on issues, and I refuse to waste my time reading you.
    Thanks for stopping by, though!

  8. Thanks, Maha.
    So, it WAS Megan, with her usual “serial malpractice with dodgy data.”
    She has about as much self-awareness as Judith Miller bitching about WikiLeaks not asking for authentication of sources and materials recently.

  9. If abortion were criminalized in the US, the result would be 1) rich women (or those with the means to borrow) would travel overseas for the procedure (just like they used to); and 2) poor women would find underground/back alley procedures and or do it themselves in some manner. I guess that we’d see a rise in ER admissions. Although there are more ways now to effect an abortion chemically, I think that poor women or those with little knowledge or support might not be able to access newer methods. But abortion would not be stopped. Women have always looked for ways to control their reproduction options; what we’ve done in the last few decades is to make it safer and accessible as a medical procedure.

  10. Yeesh. Ross cites a statistic on births & adoption and tries to use it to make a statistical point about abortion. A perfect example of “dodgy data.”

    But, ultimately, since what we’re talking about here is other people’s morality, I have to agree with Tbogg’s final assessment. The Fetus People have no business playing moral arbiters for the rest of us, because their essential argument is sick. They love to play the “sanctity of life” card, but when they unintentionally show their hand, we learn that they view babies as marketable product. Meanwhile, the rest of us get busy trying to feed, clothe and provide health care for babies; other people’s babies, not just our own.

  11. I’d just like to note that illegal abortions today are far easier than ever thanks to a number of “abortion drugs.” In the past, desperate women had to find a guy with a coat hanger and submit themselves to a humiliating, painful and dangerous procedure. Today, they only need to find the right drug dealer. In Latin America, where abortion is mostly illegal, there is a thriving black market for abortion drugs. In fact, this black market extends to the USA, because the black market drugs are cheaper than a legal abortion (especially since many have no health insurance).

    Quote from Wikipedia (
    The cheap prescription synthetic prostaglandin drug Misoprostol – used in the U.S. to treat gastric ulcers – is often used as an abortifacient in self-induced abortion in Latin American countries where legal abortions are unavailable, and its use has also been observed in immigrant populations in New York.[

    Which means that any statistics about illegal abortions are, at best, wild guesses.

    As already pointed out, when the USA finally makes abortion illegal, the rich will just hop on an airplane for Canada, the UK, maybe even Russia or China, and get the surgery done in style. The poor will be gobbling black market drugs. And the wingnuts will be claiming that they are “saving lives” with their repressive laws. Of course, when a wingnut family finds out their precious 16-year-old got knocked up as a result of abstinence-only sex education, they’ll be grateful for their local drug dealer. And of course, God will forgive them – putting other people’s daughters in prison for illegal abortion is OK, but their own daughter deserves a pass.

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