Why addressing poverty is an anti-abortion measure

Economic vulnerability and the chance to be pro-life advocates

August 31, 2021

This fall, the Supreme Court will take up a court case that could pose a threat to Roe and Casey precedents which protect the right to an abortion. If Dobbs — the case out of Mississippi — does what the brief field by the state’s attorney general hopes, then abortion will cease to be a federally protected right. Instead, a variety of state legislative positions will go into effect, ranging from complete abolition of abortion to complete protection of access. If this case is successful, the pro-life movement will suddenly be faced not with one fight but with dozens across the country, each unique.

Even with the unique challenges that will face the pro-life movement, there is almost certainly one constant: one of the most commonly cited reasons that women seek an abortion is that they don’t think they can afford a child. Therefore, moving forward, it will be necessary to not only think about making abortion illegal, though that is necessary and vital, but also making it unthinkable. One part of that is ensuring that women do not see a positive pregnancy test as an economic crisis, but for the joy that it is: a new life bearing the image of God. 

Economic instability increases abortion vulnerability

There are a number of reasons that women seek abortions including age, number of previous children, and pressure from their partner. However, the most common reasons given are rooted in socioeconomic concerns, namely that the birth of an additional child is an economic crisis which endangers an already meager financial situation. One study found that over 70% of women who reported receiving an abortion listed money concerns as a reason. Similarly, this is not just a concern in the United States. In countries around the globe, socioeconomic factors are at the top of the list for why women receive an abortion, whether because they think themselves too impoverished to care for one child or to provide for an additional dependent. 

Each year there are hundreds of thousands of abortions (800K+ in 2018) in the United States, and statistically 75% of those abortions will be provided to women who are considered poor or impoverished. Poverty here is defined by the federal poverty level which, in 2020, was an annual income of $17,331 for a family of two or $26,246 for a family of four. While the number seems incredibly low — and it is — the number of individuals who fall into that category is not. There were over 34 million people below the poverty line in 2019. For comparison, that is the equivalent of the entire state of Texas, and an additional 4 million people. In the face of such poverty, the birth of an unexpected child, with all the attending costs — healthcare and insurance, doctor’s visits, milk, formula, time off from work, and diapers (just to name a few) —looks like an insurmountable hurdle. 

In the face of these circumstances, these vulnerable women are preyed upon by an abortion industry that offers them an inhumane answer to their economic uncertainty. They are offered the chance to make it go away, for a price. Because of the Hyde Amendment (and even this is subject to constant renewal), the federal government is barred from providing money through Medicaid to pay for abortion except in specific cases. However, several states allow the state’s contribution of Medicaid funds to pay for the procedure. In those states which allow funding, over half of the abortions were paid for by Medicaid. Further, they are allowed to receive government funds as reimbursements for other medical services provided. That amount, which varies from year to year, has seen an uptick since 2016 and was over $600 million in 2018. Not only does the abortion industry prey upon the most vulnerable in its destruction of life inside the womb, it profits off the economic instability of their mothers, with promises that economic security lies just past the procedure that ends their child’s life and lines the abortion provider’s pockets. 

Countering abortion through poverty measure

Poverty prevention and alleviation is one of the areas where the church has a unique opportunity to prevent abortion vulnerability. Churches often have networks that are already in existence whereby the impoverished can come to them for help in the form of benevolence funds. Further, they can be the hub for connecting abortion vulnerable women to the social services available to them and help to bridge them through difficult financial times. 

Poverty prevention is not a distraction from the work of the gospel but rather a recognition that the care of the poor is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. From the commands to leave crops for them to glean in the Old Testament laws (Lev. 19:9-10), the condemnation of those who unjustly oppress the poor (Is. 3:14-15), or the praise of Jesus for those who have cared for the poor, hungry, and naked (Matt. 25:36-40), the scriptures speak clearly of the Christian’s duty to care for the poor. 

Not only at the local level, but at the state and federal level, measures to alleviate poverty are methods that can decrease the need for abortion. Though politicians and political operatives may argue about the measures that will best correct the crisis that is poverty, there is no doubt that it must be addressed. One recent example is the expansion of the Child Tax Credit that resulted in direct payments to families with children that helped to decrease the number of children living in households that were identified as economically vulnerable. Daniel Williams, in his book The Politics of the Cross, argues that another method is to expand healthcare availability and ensure that the working poor have better wages and improved opportunities. 

The correction of poverty through the alleviation of poverty is a tool that the pro-life community has employed in the past. Again, Daniel Williams, in his history of the pro-life movement before Roe v. Wade, shows that prior to the court’s ruling, pro-life advocates combatted abortion through their advocacy of poverty measures. Since the Roe decision, anti-abortion advocates have focused on overturning the decision and restricting access. This is a needed (and incredibly effective) tool. 

However, the goal is not just to end abortion, but rather to make it unthinkable. While we also need to address the suburban woman sitting in a Southern Baptist pew who is tempted toward abortion, one of the means of helping to make abortion unthinkable is to provide vulnerable women with the tools they need so that an unexpected pregnancy is no longer an economic crisis. Addressing abortion through poverty will not end the practice, and it must be paired with state and federal measures that limit access to the practice. But removing this one concern makes it less likely that the women will fall prey to the predations of the abortion industry. It removes the concern that a woman faces between having another child or feeding the baby she already has. And it clarifies the church’s commitment to serving the least of these.

Alex Ward

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24