Preventing Tragedy - A Free Market Analysis of Abortion

Abortion is always a tragedy, and one of the saddest occurrences on this earth. Government ‘solutions’ are also always disastrous, and so it is hard to understand how combining a tragedy with a disaster can create any kind of positive solution. Mixing arsenic with mercury does not solve the problem of poison – and combining the violent inefficiency of the State with the tragedy of abortion does not solve the problem of family planning.

All those wishing to reduce the incidence of abortion – surely all rational and sensitive souls – must recognize that giving the government the power to combat abortion also gives it the power to promote abortion, which it currently does to a hideous degree. The best way to reduce the incidence of abortion is to withdraw State subsidies and allow the economic and social consequences accrue to those engage is sexually risky behaviours.

Reduce the incidence of abortion is not very complicated, since it is subject to all the same laws of supply and demand as any other human activity. Simply put, any activity that is subsidized will increase, and any activity that is taxed will decrease. The incidence of abortion will go down only when abortion is no longer subsidized – and when responsible family planning is no longer taxed.

Abortion is very rare in a stable marriage, and is generally only performed under an extremity of financial or medical distress. The vast majority of abortions occur to single women, or women in unstable relationships. Particularly over the past fifty-odd years, the role of sexuality has been forcibly separated from marriage and procreation. This is an entirely predictable – although perfectly horrible – development, given the role of the State in breaking down stable family structures.

Subsidizing Abortion
In general, any program which subsidizes pregnancy in the absence of a stable family structure will also tend to encourage abortion. In particular, State subsidies which encourage the pursuit of sexual pleasure in the absence of virtue, financial stability (or at least opportunity) and personal responsibility will also tend to increase the number of abortions. When the financial and social consequences of pregnancy are mitigated through State programs, risky sexual behaviours will inevitably increase – resulting in an increase of both pregnancy and abortion.

Controlling or mitigating the financial consequences of unwanted pregnancies directly alters the kinds of decisions women make about sexual practices and partners. Having a child out of wedlock is one of the most costly decisions a woman can make, insofar as it tends to significantly arrest her educational, emotional and career development. The physical impossibility of being able to work for money and care for an infant at the same time reduces most young single mothers to a life of dependency, exhaustion and poverty. The chance of meeting a good man when already burdened with a baby reduces a single mother’s chances for a good marriage. Not only does she come with a baby and significant expenses, but she also probably has few economic skills to offer. Plus, it’s hard to date when you’re breastfeeding. For these and many other reasons, single mothers often end up settling for unstable, unreliable men, just to have any sort of man around. Inevitably, the chances of having another baby increase – sadly, without a corresponding increase in relational stability.

This is why, in the past, society expended considerable effort ensuring that women did not get pregnant before marriage. The staggering financial losses incurred by childbirth without commitment usually accrued to the parents, and so it was the parents that tried to do their best to prevent such a disaster. This need, being common to all parents, was generally shared across society, creating a near-impenetrable web of sexual chaperoning. (Social self-government based on individual incentive is the only way that social problems have been – or will ever be – solved to any degree of stability.)

It costs about $250,000 to bring a child from birth to age 18, even under the current system. In a free market environment, with fully privatized and charity-supported education, health care, housing and so on, this cost would only increase. (Of course, to those horrified by such a prospect, remember that all taxation and State regulation would cease.)

However, when the welfare state enters the equation, all of the above changes. Now, if a young woman gets pregnant out of wedlock, she can survive quite nicely. She’ll never be rich – or probably even middle class – but she will be able to survive on some combination of any of the other hundreds of State subsidies which directly benefit poor mothers.

In addition to the usual suspects – welfare, Medicare, child supplements, food stamps – there are many other ways she can lean on the State. When her child grows up, the State will also pay for his or her education. Does she need to take the bus? That is subsidized as well. Drop her child off for a story at the library? Subsidized. Daycare is subsidized as well, as is her apartment through rent control or public housing. Dental problems? No problem – subsidies take care of most if not all of the bills. The amount of money and resources provided to single mothers by the State is literally staggering! And when she gets old? Not to worry if she’s been unable to save much money – Social Security will take care of her!

Since getting pregnant while unmarried is no longer a ‘life or death’ issue, a young woman has far less incentive to keep her womb to herself until the right man comes along. She won’t have a great life economically, but she’ll survive just fine – and also nicely avoid slaving away at low-rent jobs. If you were staring at a decades’ worth of McJobs before you got any kind of decent career, ‘Plan B for Baby’ might start looking pretty attractive too!

Through such State-enforced subsidies, young women are seduced into self-destructive decisions, and sink into an underworld of dependent and dangerous lifestyles. If they have daughters, those girls will grow up in a world filled with unstable men, and without a loyal father’s love and guidance. What are the odds of such girls growing up to be sexually responsible? Not nil, certainly, but not high either.

Thus is the stage set for rising numbers of abortions – and, since having an unnecessary abortion is one of the most egregious examples of preferring short-term gains to long-term gains, subsidizing error is scarcely the best method of encouraging greater rationality.

Taxing Family Planning
It is very hard to make good decisions when everyone around you is making bad decisions. Either you go along, and jump right into their pit of error, or you withdraw, provoking social ostracism and, all too often, outright hostility. When, encouraged by the endless subsidies of State programs, a certain number of unplanned pregnancies are reached, they become the norm, and vaguely something ‘not to be criticized’. Young women, in order to keep their friends and not be attacked as ‘superior’, often decide that it’s cool to engage in sexually risky activities. When combined with the financial incentives outlined above, the ‘social acceptance’ motive proves overwhelming for far too many women.

And what alternatives are available to those young women who decide to take the ‘straight and narrow’ path and avoid risky behaviours? What kind of opportunities are out there? Minimum wages, State-monopoly unions, over-regulation, crippling taxation, mind-numbing apprenticeship programs and a thousand other political factors have virtually killed off job opportunities for the poor and unskilled. Jobs are scarce, taxes are high, and careers almost impossible. State schools fail to train poor youngsters for anything useful, and so higher education is probably out of the picture as well. So it’s fairly safe to say that productive and honorable lifestyles are as thwarted as irresponsibility and instant gratification are encouraged.

So far we have only been talking about women – but what about men? How has male behaviour been affected by these fundamental reversals in social values? Well, as the negative effects of sexual indiscretion become less and less, men also become conditioned to expect let us say ‘short term’ interactions with the fairer sex. As more and more women decide to engage in risky sex without requiring a commitment, the value of education, integrity and hard work for man go down proportionally. And, as male virtue becomes debased, other values, more sinister and shallow, take their place. Women go for ‘hot’ guys, or guys with lots of cash to spend, or with the kind of predatory status that comes with gang membership. The entire ecosystem of sexual attraction and stable provision is turned upside down, and the men formerly viewed as losers become winners – and vice versa.

Thus a woman looking for a ‘good’ man faces a distinct scarcity of such paragons – and may also face the mockery of her peers if she chooses a geeky provider over a shifty stud-muffin. ‘Good men’ become scarcer – and objects of ridicule to boot. Female attractiveness, formerly the coin that purchased male loyalty, now becomes a magnet for shallow and unstable man-boys looking for another notch in their belts.

Questions like abortion are so complex that they cannot be solved without reference to the shifting nature of rewards and punishments created by an ever-growing and ever-violent State. Like most social problems, the solution must be voluntary, and based on the financial, social and moral realities of biology and economics.

Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (, the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a "Top 10" Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.

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July 2024

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