Recently, hundreds of thousands of pro-life supporters marched in Washington in the annual March for Life, just days after hundreds of thousands marched (and some rioted) across the country in support of issues like abortion, immigration, health care and the environment.
The demonstrations called to mind "Steve Jobs," the biography by Walter Isaacson. In it, Jobs said, "I wanted to meet my biological mother mostly to see if she was okay and to thank her, because I'm glad I didn't end up as an abortion. She was twenty-three and she went through a lot to have me."
This raises an interesting hypothetical question: If Steve Jobs’ mother became pregnant with him today instead of in 1955, would he be born? Would external cultural influences like family, faith, medical opinion and media encourage or discourage an abortion?
According to the Guttmacher Institute, Jobs’ birth mother, Joanne Schieble, fits the demographic description of a woman most likely to get an abortion:
- Schieble was 23 years old at the time of the pregnancy (20-24 year olds account for 34 percent of induced abortions, the highest of any age group)
- She was single and had never been married (46 percent of induced abortions are received by women who have never married)
- Schieble was white (39 percent of women receiving induced abortions are white, the highest of any race)
A paragraph in Walter Isaacson’s biography explains why:
"When they [Schieble and her boyfriend, Abdulfattah Jandali] returned to Wisconsin she discovered that she was pregnant. They were both twenty-three, but they decided not to get married. Her father was dying at the time, and he had threatened to disown her if she wed Abdulfattah. Nor was abortion an easy option in a small Catholic community. So in early 1955, Joanne traveled to San Francisco, where she was taken into the care of a kindly doctor who sheltered unwed mothers, delivered their babies, and quietly arranged closed adoptions."
Some of the strongest factors influencing Schieble in 1955 appear to be cultural — the small Catholic town and the adoption-minded doctor. Do cultural factors have an impact in 2017?
The answer appears to be yes. At 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44, the current U.S. abortion rate is at its lowest point since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, down from a high of 29.3 in the early 1980s. The rate has been falling steadily for 30 years.
Yet today’s abortion rate is still roughly four times higher than it was in 1970, three years before Roe. So while culture influences abortion decisions, pro-life culture has not been strong enough to completely overpower the effects of changes to abortion law, increased access to abortion and approval in much of major media.
And the loss of life is staggering. Consider this: We can all agree that Steve Jobs was “one in a million.” So with 58 million abortions performed in the U.S. since Roe, has humankind been robbed of the life-altering, humanity-blessing contributions of 58 geniuses? To say nothing of the incalculable good the other millions could have brought to the world (which would surely outweigh the harm caused by the small percentage of wrongdoers). But good or bad, “talented” or “beautiful” or “smart” or not, human beings are intrinsically of inestimable worth.
And even if children are to be born into difficult circumstances, why not let them live and grow and determine what kind of life they can make for themselves? Is their life worth less because they are born into poverty, or with special needs, or a difficult home environment? How many of our friends, neighbors and heroes come from such circumstances?
This choice can be terribly difficult, and we should always be sensitive and loving to those anguishing over such a decision. Some of our loved ones have to make that decision with the additional burden of unimaginable, harrowing circumstances, such as pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest, or when the mother is faced with a life-threatening medical condition. We can give nothing less than our unconditional love and support.
We must strengthen our homes, support our friends and watch out for our neighbors so that fewer and fewer of our loved ones have to make such a decision. And when that decision time comes, the culture we have made — our families, our faith, our communities of caring — will help more and more mothers to be empowered to make the same life-giving, hope-filled decision made by Joanne Schieble, the mother of Steve Jobs.
David Buer is the father of five boys and communications director at Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City-based think tank.