Refuting Libby Anne: No, pro-lifers aren’t making children too expensive to let live

Pro-choice denizens of the blogosphere have found a new hero in Libby Anne, whose article “How I Lost Faith in the Pro-Life Movement” tries to be a one-stop shop for why pro-lifers are wrong about everything.

Fortunately, Live Action is here to refute her claims, one by one.

Kristi Burton Brown and Kristen Walker Hatten have already tackled two of ‘em, and now it’s my turn. Here, I’ll be addressing Anne’s argument that pro-lifers actually encourage abortion because the other policies of pro-life politicians make it more expensive to have children.

(Naturally, left unmentioned is the ghoulishness of deciding whether to kill a child based on finances, making abortion the only area of life where liberals aren’t instinctively repulsed by the thought of putting money above basic human compassion. But I digress.)

Citing data from the Guttmacher Institute (which is nowhere near as objective as she wants her readers to believe), Anne begins with a simple proposition:

One thing I realized back in 2007 is that, given that six in ten women who have abortions already have at least one child and that three quarters of women who have abortions report that they cannot afford another child, if we want to bring abortion rates down we need to make sure that women can always afford to carry their pregnancies to term. Maternity and birth is expensive, adding your child to your health care plan is expensive, daycare is expensive, and on and on it goes.

While it’s obviously true that children are expensive, Anne’s link between low income and abortion isn’t quite a slam-dunk. Analyzing a Guttmacher study on rising abortion rates among poor women, Witherspoon Institute researcher Michael New points out that “this finding is not consistent among racial and ethnic groups” – even as abortions spiked dramatically among low-income white women, they rose only slightly among low-income black women and declined among low-income Hispanic women, an inconsistency Guttmacher doesn’t “adequately explain.”

New also observes that there’s another painfully obvious explanation for these abortions – because state governments are paying for them – and that, even more embarrassingly for Anne’s side, this increase happens to coincide with an increase in public funding of the very services she hails as the key to abortion prevention: “federal grants to Planned Parenthood increased from $165 million in 1998 to $363 million in 2008.”

Further, Patheos blogger Marc Barnes, in another reply to Anne worth reading, compares NARAL’s state scorecards with state abortion rates and finds that the most pro-life states tend to also have lower abortion rates – meaning that if those states’ pro-life leaders are also enacting the burdensome economic policies Anne attributes to them, it’s not having the effect she predicts.

If we found a way to offer more aid to parents, if we mandated things like paid maternity leave, subsidized childcare, and universal health insurance for pregnant women and for children, some women who would otherwise abort would almost certainly decide to carry their pregnancies to term. But the odd thing is, those who identify as “pro-life” are most adamant in opposing these kind of reforms. I knew this back in 2007, because I grew up in one of those families. I grew up believing that welfare should be abolished, that Head Start needed to be eliminated, that medicaid just enabled people to be lazy. I grew up in a family that wanted to abolish some of the very programs with the potential to decrease the number of abortions […]

And lately, it’s gotten worse. You see, in some cases conservatives are actively working to make it harder for poor women to afford to carry unintended pregnancies to term […] In other words, this bill would make it so that if a poor woman gets pregnant, she has to decide whether to have an abortion or whether to carry to term, have the baby, and see her welfare benefits slashed, taking food out of the mouths of the children she is already struggling to feed.

It’s easy to list a bunch of nice-sounding things and then browbeat your opponents for being against X, Y, and Z. It’s much harder to engage the reality that behind the innocuous names and superficial goals lie complex policies with little things called “details” and “effects.” Any serious thinker knows that it isn’t the thought that counts, that truly responsible policymaking requires weighing benefits against costs and recognizing that even the most well-intentioned measures can have unintended consequences.

For instance, forcing employers to pay for one benefit means reduced compensation somewhere else. The “universal insurance coverage” she’s talking about is actually a hornet’s nest of increased costs for women. And when conservatives speak critically of our welfare status quo, we’re not talking about throwing destitute women into the streets – we’ve got very real waste and abuse in mind, as well as the undeniable harm done to a populace conditioned against recognizing the difference between a hand up and a handout. (Besides, the conservative theory of government is to make life less expensive for people in a far simpler way: by not taking as much money from them through taxes.)

I want to say I’m surprised, but I’m really not, because I’m remembering rumblings underneath the polished surface of the things I was taught. This idea that women shouldn’t “spread their legs” if they’re not ready to raise the results of their promiscuity, that the government shouldn’t be expected to pick up the tab for some slut’s inability to say no.

Actually, Anne has just alluded to the ultimate refutation of her point: pregnancy doesn’t just happen. The women she’s talking about presumably know they can’t financially handle parenthood, yet have chosen to bring the possibility of pregnancy into their lives. All of them could have chosen to say “not tonight,” and it wouldn’t have cost them a cent. Why isn’t it reasonable to expect people to factor basic responsibility into their decision-making? Why isn’t your preparedness for children something you should consider before having sex? And once you’ve brought about a situation you’re not ready for, why should the burden for alleviating it automatically shift to the rest of us? Most importantly, why should your child pay the ultimate price for costs you’ve incurred?

So far, Libby Anne’s reasons for leaving the pro-life movement aren’t withstanding closer scrutiny. Might we win her back? Stay tuned.

  • JivinJ

    Hi Calvin,

    Based on what Libby Anne has written I’m positive her story isn’t true. She claims to be a former SFL president but in the comments she showed she knew basically nothing about 2nd trimester abortions. She was one of those people who thought 2nd trimester abortions were only allowed in a small set of circumstances. People as familiar with the prolife movement as Libby Anne claims she was don’t believe the things she does. To me she comes off as a sheltered pro-choicer writing a fictitious account.

    • Gordon Duffy

      Sure, why not lie about Libby Anne. After all if what she says is true (hint: it is) then your side is not just wrong but morally bankrupt (hint: it is)

      • Julia

        I would call the side that advoactes people being allowed to kill babies morally bankrupt, and not the side that tries to prevent it ( even if they don’t go about it in the most efficient way).

        • Leigha7

          That’s a false dichotomy, though. If it was a scientific fact, that we knew with 100% certainty, that a fetus was a baby in any real sense, then abortion would inarguably be killing babies. But that’s not the case. In reality, there is no clear time when one truly becomes a living person. That’s something everyone decides for themselves. People who are okay with abortion are generally those who do not think an embryo or a fetus is a person. Many would argue that since they do not have any higher brain function, and are in some ways more similar to a shrimp than a human, there is no reason to see abortion as “killing babies” and, therefore, no moral issue with it.

          The debate is not over whether killing babies is acceptable, it’s over at what point it becomes a baby.

          • “In reality, there is no clear time when one truly becomes a living person.”

            Shouldn’t you make some basic effort to familiarize yourself with embryology before wading into the abortion debate?

          • Leigha7

            Ah…shouldn’t you? I’m not talking about when it becomes living in the sense that cells are growing and dividing, I’m talking about what religious people might call ensoulment. When does it become a PERSON? Is a fertilized egg really a person? Is a fetus, or an embryo? People don’t agree about these things. Some people consider it a person from the moment of fertilization, but calling a single cell a person seems sort of ridiculous to many (myself included).

            Even if you don’t believe there’s really any such thing as a soul, per se, there is definitely SOMETHING that makes people human, as opposed to just another animal. And no one seems to agree on when exactly that happens.

          • Calvin Freiburger

            First, the perceived ambiguity of the matter is all the more reason to oppose abortion. If there’s a possibility that the act kills that soul/personhood/special something, then basic morality compels us to err on the side of caution and avoid the risk.

            Second, what “seems” ridiculous is quite a bad method of moral reasoning. Science has long demonstrated how unreliable subjective and superficial impressions like that can be — for instance, looking around us with merely our two eyes certainly makes the earth *seem* flat, with the possibility of it actually being a big ball *seeming* ridiculous.

            Third, that people won’t agree to a consensus doesn’t mean the logical superiority of one side’s answers can’t be deduced. For instance, if there is a soul, then conception – the point where a new and separate human being comes into existence – is the most logical and least speculative time for ensoulment.

          • Leigha7

            1. Perhaps. But that’s a philosophical issue that can be debated up and down from here to eternity. The reality is that everyone has a point in time which they feel is when personhood begins, and most feel adamant that their opinion is the correct one. You’ll find that the majority of pro-choice people strongly believe personhood begins at birth, or when the fetus would be capable of surviving on its own were it to be born now (though modern medicine makes that one tricky; regardless, there is a point where no amount of medicine short of another uterus would make that possible). I for one see no logic at all in calling something a person when there is no higher brain function, no human shape, and no capacity for thought or feelings. We don’t call an egg a chicken, why would an embryo be a human? It is a stage in human development, yes, but it is not YET a human.

            2. I agree. (Although, technically, our eyes do not make the earth seem flat–the existence of a horizon was key in proving it was round.) The best we can do is try to make the most logical decision as to what appears to be true, and hope we’re right.

            3. There’s no reason to think conception is the most obvious time for ensoulment. The religious definition of the start of life has varied throughout history, from birth to “quickening” to (currently) conception. There’s also the matter of what conception IS. The majority of pro-life people, in my experience, tend to mean fertilization. Medically, it would be more accurate to say implantation. Either way, MOST fertilized eggs do not implant, and many implanted eggs are lost well before the woman is aware that she’s (technically) pregnant. We don’t mourn these as lost lives, so why should we consider them as such when it’s deliberately induced?

            As for logical superiority…naturally, everyone considers their beliefs to be logically superior, but I can’t for the life of me see any logic to considering a single cell a human being. As far as I’m concerned, what makes us human is our ability to think, feel, and reason. Now, technically, babies can’t do that yet, either, but they have the capacity to do so and learn very, very quickly. Until there’s some form of higher brain function, I see no reason to consider it a person. That is NOT to say that an argument couldn’t still be made against abortion. If you want to argue that a potential future person (potential because, even with the best of intentions, there are no guarantees it’ll make it to term) should still be protected, I’m okay with that. I honestly have no issue with that at all. I was adamantly pro-life until a few years ago, and I totally understand how you feel about (maybe not you personally, but the perspective). My reasons for being pro-choice are complex, and I won’t get into them right now, but the reality is that while a fetus may or may not be a person (I say no), it is a living thing–as is a cow, or a chicken. Some people feel morally opposed to killing cows, and some don’t. The way I see it, neither is something that should be done for no reason. You shouldn’t just kill a cow to leave it lying on the ground, and you shouldn’t use abortion as a primary form of birth control. But I see no issue with killing a cow for food, or having an abortion early in pregnancy when you lack the ability to provide a good life for a child, or if it could cause serious harm to your own health, or if the fetus has a genetic disorder that will result in death (such as Tay Sachs). (Indeed, I think it would be cruel to knowingly carry a baby with Tay Sachs to term, instead of having an abortion so it doesn’t suffer for several years only to die without even starting elementary school.) But everyone is entitled to their own opinion. My issue is with people who do everything they can to force their belief on other people, even knowing they disagree with the fundamental principle their belief is based on.

          • Calvin Freiburger

            “But that’s a philosophical issue that can be debated up and down from here to eternity.”

            Really? Then let’s begin. Give me a reason why people should not err on the side of caution when facing the possibility of murdering someone.

            “strongly believe personhood begins at birth”

            That belief doesn’t hold up at all, inasmuch as the baby itself doesn’t change in any way; only his or her location and how they receive nourishment change. This is made all the more obvious by how much earlier or later in pregnancy some births occur than others. According to the at-birth view, you could have two 39-week-old babies, identical in every other way, yet one wouldn’t be a person simply because he or she is still inside Mom.

            “when the fetus would be capable of surviving on its own”

            Viability is another extremely dubious standard, for various reasons – (1) people are defined by what we *are* rather than what we *can do*; (2) the needs of pre-viability fetuses (shelter and nourishment) aren’t fundamentally different from anyone else’s needs, only the delivery method differs; (3) scores of injuries and illnesses can render adults non-viable without external aid like drugs, pacemakers, dialysis machines, iron lungs, or artificial organs, yet none of us question such people’s personhood.

            “I for one see no logic at all in calling something a person when there is no higher brain function, no human shape, and no capacity for thought or feelings.”

            First, that raises the question: how do you define “person”? Second, shape is an entirely superficial – and therefore illegitimate – criterion. Third, later-stage fetuses do possess all those qualities; do you concede that, according to the standards you yourself just posited, abortion is impermissible in such cases?

            “We don’t call an egg a chicken, why would an embryo be a human? It is a stage in human development, yes, but it is not YET a human […] I can’t for the life of me see any logic to considering a single cell a human being.”

            See, this is what I was getting at when I questioned your familiarity with embryology. A zygote and an embryo objectively and indisputably are human beings because that’s what “human being” means: an individual member of the human species.

            “There’s no reason to think conception is the most obvious time for ensoulment.”

            Really? You don’t see any logic behind the reason I gave for ensoulment at conception? You don’t see why a being COMING INTO EXISTENCE might be just a teensy bit more significant than any of the subsequent changes that being undergoes? You don’t see why the dividing line between there and not-there is kind of a big deal?

            “There’s also the matter of what conception IS.”

            Not really. I’m using “conception” for simplicity’s sake, though fertilization would be more precise and implantation is merely a change to the new being that has already been created. But suffice to say, by “conception” I simply mean when sperm and egg become a new organism.

            “We don’t mourn these as lost lives, so why should we consider them as such when it’s deliberately induced?”

            For all sorts of reasons – perception, intuition, emotion, etc. – that aren’t relevant to the key logical question of what the fertilized egg *is*. Also, it’s a huge logical fallacy to suggest the natural occurrence of death has bearing on whether human beings can intentionally cause death.

            “My issue is with people who do everything they can to force their belief on other people, even knowing they disagree with the fundamental principle their belief is based on.”

            EVERY political decision forces a belief on someone, pits one fundamental principle against another. Anybody who denies that is either deluding themselves or lying. In the case of abortion, you’re forcing your belief in the unborn’s disposability on them, and the price is their death. The way we determine which beliefs are proper to impose and which aren’t is by consulting the proper ends of just government. Here, it’s the protection of unalienable human rights, the first of which is life.

      • JivinJ


        I’m looking for an argument here and not finding one. Also, you don’t seem to understand the meaning of “lie.” In order to be lying, I would have to believe Libby Anne was a SFL president.

    • chrissy

      As Libby Anne’s younger sister, this comment just made me laugh. She was more pro-life than I was when we were growing up! She would go to yearly pro-life banquets (a big deal in our area) for the discourse, I always joked that I just went for the food. She read everything on the topic forwards and backwards and was always eager to engage someone in conversation about abortion and why it should be banned. I held signs with her during our community’s “Life Chains”. I went to SFL meetings with her when I visited her at school. I was shocked along with the rest of our family when her beliefs changed so radically during college. And she manages to come off as a “sheltered pro-choicer writing a fictitious account”? There, you’ve gone and made me laugh again.

    • Leigha7

      If you read more of what she’s written, it’s very clear she knows not just the prolife perspective but the entire fundamentalist view inside and out. There is no reason at all to doubt that she was raised in that environment.

      • No, but her writing strongly indicates she’s dramatically exaggerating how well she understood that environment or how deeply she ever really believed the values she claims to have turned away from.

        • Leigha7

          Speaking as someone who used to believe the same things and now feels similarly to the way she does now, I disagree. I totally understand how someone can go from completely, passionately being pro-life to being firmly pro-choice, because I’ve been there.

          • Calvin Freiburger

            The issue isn’t merely going from pro-life to pro-choice. Of course that can happen. The issue is that if Anne was as experienced and astute a pro-lifer as she claims, then she would have been more familiar with the counter-arguments against the various “epiphanies” that sparked her conversion. It’s unlikely she would have been impressed by such weaksauce enough to do a total 180 on something that mattered that much to her.

  • Karen

    So no woman shou,d ever have sex if she isn’t willing to get pregnant? So wives can deny their husbands sex until there is enough money for a baby?

    • People can take whatever chances they want with their own lives, but if a child is so unbearable a prospect for someone that the only option she (OR HE) is willing to consider is KILLING him or her, then of course the sane thing to do is to not risk pregnancy. It’s called “being an adult.”

      • Leigha7

        So you would be completely okay with it if your wife told you, “Honey, I don’t want to have any more kids, ever. I think the number we have is enough. I’m incredibly adamant about this, so to be absolutely certain we don’t accidentally have another child, we aren’t going to have sex at all until after I’m through menopause. Of course, that won’t be for another 15 years or so, but after all, it’s a small price to pay to avoid the possibility of having an abortion. Oh, and don’t you dare even think about cheating on me. You can have sex in about 15 years. No complaining.” And that should be something nearly every married couple should do once they have the desired number of kids, even if it means 15-20 years without sex? Yeah, good luck with that.

        • Now that sounds like an accurate, serious analogue to the comment you’re allegedly responding to!

          • Leigha7

            I think that was supposed to be sarcasm, but the reality is, it was a completely accurate and serious response. I once saw an ad that was distributed soon after birth control pills became accessible to the general public, about a married couple who wanted to have sex (because they loved each other and it’s an important part of the marital relationship), but they couldn’t afford any more kids and were terrified of accidental pregnancy, so they were afraid to have sex in case that happened. The thing is, that’s an entirely realistic scenario. And you said yourself that if you don’t want kids, the “adult” thing to do is not have sex. Plenty of married couples don’t want kids (either at all, or more than they already have), and you seem to be implying it would not only be reasonable but actually EXPECTED for them to simply not have sex for 10, 15, maybe even 20 years just so they can be absolutely certain they don’t have a kid.

            And basically no married couple will ever do that, and it’s ridiculous to expect them to.

          • Calvin Freiburger

            I know pro-aborts have a lot emotionally and intellectually invested in various demeaning and idiotic caricatures of what pro-lifers think, but if we’re gonna have an actual dialogue, I must insist you make some effort to accurately characterizing the statements you’re purporting to refute.

            No reader acting in good faith would conclude I expect married couples to not have sex for years. I said people can take whatever chances they want with their own lives. People should feel perfectly free to take whatever (non-murderous) measures they wish to reduce pregnancy’s likelihood.

            I was simply responding to the extremes of the pro-abortion scenario: pregnancy’s possibility being so unbearably intolerable that the parents “have to” kill their son or daughter. And sorry, but if that’s the case, then responsible adulthood does dictate that avoiding murder trumps sexual desire. Live by the foolish extreme, die by the foolish extreme.

          • Leigha7

            I find it sort of amusing that you’re trying to say I’m being biased and irrational, while using such phrases as “pro-aborts” (for the record, basically no one is actually pro-abortion; most who are pro-choice would prefer to see the abortion rate drop, but via lower pregnancy rates rather than infringing on women’s rights) and “demeaning and idiotic caricatures,” In that particular comment, there was nothing to indicate whether I was pro-life or pro-choice (though, as you’ve responded to all of mine, you know what my personal opinion is).

            The fact of the matter is, you actually SAID that people who don’t want to have a baby shouldn’t have sex. To point out that many married couples don’t want babies and shouldn’t be expected to abstain is not at all an absurd point to make in response to that. And you can’t even claim your comment had nothing to do with married couples (and especially not that this should be obvious), because the comment you were responding to said “So wives can deny their husbands sex until there is enough money for a baby?”

  • JethroElfman

    It looks like the statistics have you backed into a corner. You know that over half the women who get abortions already have a child at home, right? Do you really have any expectation that such people can just stop having sex? Perhaps they can try natural family planning. While the effectiveness of the pill as birth control is better than 99% when used correctly, the actual-use statistic is down around 95%. Do you really think that people who can’t figure out how to take a simple pill every day are going to manage to do natural family planning as birth control? Doesn’t this mean it’s time to come up with a better abortion-prevention strategy than telling people not to have sex?

    • I’m always amused when people who ignore data and analysis that doesn’t conform to their desired outcome claim *their opponent* is the one backed into a corner by facts.

      I don’t have any expectations of what people will or won’t do. I just state the obvious: if you know at the outset Scenario X is utterly intolerable, then it’s a bad idea to risk bringing it about. Weighing the pros and cons of any given decision is one of the basics of growing up (in every walk of life except sex, apparently).