In a peculiar ideological twist, some opponents of abortion are opposing cuts in aid to single mothers. Many prolifers including National Right to Life, fear that such reductions in benefits will lead to an increase in abortions. Even Henry Hyde has joined Patricia Schroeder in being skeptical of welfare reform.
If this argument persuades, it could weaken ties between the Republican party and the anti-abortion movement, which until now have been secure. The “single issue” prolifers, whose concerns conservatives have defended until now, could end up defecting to the tax-and-spend party.
But is their concern legitimate? Should we continue to subsidize single motherhood for fear that poor mothers might otherwise terminate their pregnancies? The answer is no on both counts. There is no chasm between the goals of abortion opponents and welfare reform advocates.
Far from discouraging abortion, government subsidies to single mothers have not only rewarded illegitimacy; they have encouraged promiscuity. The point of removing the subsidies is to restore the natural penalties of risking pregnancy outside of marriage. If women are no longer paid to bear children, they will be encouraged, on the margin, to become sexually responsible.
In fact, abortions and income are only tangentially related. A National Bureau of Economic Research study demonstrates that a lack of funds is even a reason why many women do not get abortions. This fact points to another pernicious aspect of federally subsidized abortions.
How can we be sure, once welfare is cut back, that promiscuity among the poor will decline? We cannot. But there is good evidence to think it will. Abortion is always a costly decision and a personal tragedy. Women who have them often suffer trauma, which is why no one takes the decision lightly.
I have counseled many women who have had abortions. I have never met one who did not regret getting pregnant in the first place. From their perspective, it is far better to say no to premarital sex or at least to avoid pregnancy. Reducing cash payments to single motherhood will reinforce this attitude.
Furthermore, just because a woman says that she plans to have an abortion because she cannot afford to support the child does not mean this is the real reason. Who would want to admit that the reason to abort is to avoid the personal turmoil and embarrassing stigma of single motherhood?
The pro-welfare, anti-abortion crowd forgets that the Great Society and the sexual revolution coincided in the first place. One logically follows the other. The government sent the message that sexual promiscuity was morally neutral and that if pregnancy results, it would offer assistance, no questions asked. Since 1964 illegitimate births have zoomed 400 percent. The welfare state encourages this by financing it.
Prolifers must avoid becoming political pawns for pro-choice welfare statists, whose ultimate goal is fewer out-of-wedlock births through access to government funded abortions. The pro-abortion side makes little distinction between conceptions and births, and dismisses premarital chastity as a mossbacked concept that no modern person could possibly abide. The anti-abortion goal should be fewer conceptions as a result of sexual restraint.
Even if welfare subsidies to single mothers are ended, there would still, of course, be out-of-wedlock births. And no one wants a society in which there is no help available. Yet the private sector can, will and, indeed, does provide for the needs of these women. According to National Right to Life there are approximately 3,000 crisis pregnancy clinics that receive no federal funding. Private citizens, in their role as charitable givers, will offer assistance - to a much greater extent then they do now-if they know they are needed.
As the welfare state has grown, people have become less inclined to support private organizations and religious groups devoted to serving single mothers. This has not been due to any lack of generosity. They have paid for Aid to Dependent Mothers with Children and the WIC program with their tax dollars, so they do not believe further assistance is necessary.
Whatever the imperfections of private charity, it is superior to public welfare for many reasons. It is voluntary, reflective of genuine charity, and more often infused with some level of moral concern. Private charity can encourage sexual responsibility - even as material assistance is provided. The more personal nature of private welfare is better at discouraging the promiscuity that can lead to future out-of-wedlock births.
Besides, if the anti-abortion/pro-welfare position is correct, then government should offer a bribe to all women not to abort their children. Surely abortion opponents can see that this is unwise public policy. Instead, we should hope to stop having the government attempt to centrally plan the lives of poor people. This alone would cause old-fashioned morality to undergo a sudden new resurgence. That's a result everyone can live with.