Steve Jobs’ premature death has generated much online activity, some seeking to exploit his demise for political gain. In this category are articles suggesting that Jobs’ status as an adoptee is a reason to restrict abortion access in general. The arguments put forward in this regard are flawed on two levels.
First, no individual circumstances can change the overarching reality that women and girls have abortions when they need them, regardless of the legal context. Restricting abortion access does not make the practice scarce, it merely makes it unsafe.
More than 30 percent of women in the United States will have at least one abortion before they are 45 years old, even though many live in states with few or no abortion providers. Most women who have abortions already have one child or more, and many refer to their desire to have time to parent as a key reason for needing an abortion.
In fact, in my experience interviewing women around the world about pregnancy and child-bearing, abortion is the end rather than the beginning of their decision-making processes. Women talk to me about food for their children, time to play and concern with paying for their children’s education. They talk about expensive birth control and child care and about limited health care options. They talk about how difficult it is to decide when and if to become a mother. And they talk about abortion as an option where other options have failed.
They rarely, if ever, refer to the legality or availability of abortion services as a decision-making factor. If a woman or girl feels she needs to terminate her pregnancy, she will find a way. I once spoke to a girl who had fired a gun into her abdomen because she felt too young to be a mother and abortion was illegal in her country.
It is also noticeable that abortion, in the United States, is more and more the recourse of women without financial resources. In 2008, more than 40 percent of those having abortions in the United States were living under the poverty level, and this proportion is growing. There is a reason for that: children are expensive and the United States provides few legal protections for parents. There is no federal law to protect paid parental leave or sick days, and there are no allowances for time off to breast feed. Federal law guarantees 3 months of unpaid extended sick leave to be used as parental leave, and only for those who are eligible, which excludes about 40 percent of American workers. There are no general provisions for health care—not even, in most states, for children. In 2010, almost 10 percent of all children (15 percent of children living in poverty) in the United States had no health insurance.
In short, though access to abortion services is becoming more expensive in the United States mainly because service providers are farther away, some women and girls see abortion as the only viable choice available to them. In cases where women or girls might initially be inclined to carry a pregnancy to term and give the infant up for adoption, many would not be able to pay for prenatal care and to give birth—or even get time off for visits to the doctor and for the birth itself. This in addition to the many very valid—and private—reasons women and girls might have to not want to carry a pregnancy to term, even if adoption were an easier and less costly option than it currently is.
Secondly, Steve Jobs’ life experience doesn’t work as an argument for limited abortion access, even by its own logic.
It is a fact that Steve Jobs was born before the legalization of abortion in the United States. It has been suggested that Jobs’ biological mother, faced with an unwanted pregnancy, contemplated having an abortion before she decided to carry the pregnancy to term and give the infant up for adoption. Her decision to do so was based on personal, and private, considerations. This is as it should be.
Had Steve Jobs’ biological mother decided to terminate her pregnancy in 1954 when she discovered she was expecting, she would have had to have an illegal and therefore potentially unsafe abortion. And she might have died as a result, as more than half a million women worldwide continue to do every year because abortion access is illegal or severely restricted in their countries. Let us not wish ourselves back.