Future of Abortion Debate

Why the world will inevitably and slowly become more pro-life.

An analysis of major technological, socio-economic, and evolutionary trends.

In 2007 the polling firm Gallop reported that for the first time ever, more Americans identified themselves as pro-life than pro-choice (50% to 45%), while another Gallop poll found the same thing in 2010 (46% to 45%). These numbers would have been unthinkable even a couple of decades ago, when pro-choice Americans outnumbered pro-life ones by 2 to 1. The number has sense crisscrossed a few times.

There are several reasons for this shift, and this article examines some of the trends and projects them out to the future.

Technological Trends

Projecting the development of technology is always risky (just grab a copy of Popular Mechanics from the 1930s if you have any doubts) but general trends are pretty safe. For things currently against the laws of physics such as perpetual motion or backwards time travel, humans may never accomplish them. Yet things that are merely difficult will generally be accomplished in time. It’s also a safe bet that current technology will become faster, smaller, and cheaper over time.

Imaging Techniques – One of the central pro-choice arguments is that a fetus is not a separate “person” and thus not deserving of the same protections as other people. Thus it’s not surprising to see Planned Parenthood literature describing fetuses as “the products of conception” or “the contents of the uterus.” This language seeks to dehumanize the fetus, and thus make terminating the pregnancy easier. The biggest weapon in the pro-life arsenal is the ultrasound machine. Crisis Pregnancy Centers have reported that after seeing ultrasound images and hearing heartbeats, over 90% of women end up choosing life for their babies. Even very early in pregnancies, the embryo looks like a human. Newer ultrasound technologies such as GE’s 4D ultrasound can even provide stunning 3d pictures and videos (the 4th dimension is time) of a baby sucking on her thumb or rolling and kicking. By using the Doppler Effect, these new machines can even colorize the image to see things like the umbilical arteries and veins. There is no doubt that in the future ultrasound machines will become clearer, able to see earlier in the pregnancy, and less expensive. There is a startup company named Mobisante that is now making ultrasounds that cost less than $7000 and attach to a smartphone. These developments will lead to increased use. (2019- This device is now $2500) Twenty to thirty years ago having an ultrasound was rare. Recently, at risk pregnancies may have more that 30 different ultrasounds during the pregnancy.

Think that imaging techniques don’t matter? Consider the story of Dr. Bernard Nathanson. One of the founders of the pro-choice movement, Dr. Nathanson performed over 75,000 abortions. One day he got an ultrasound he used one to watch one of the abortions he was performing. Once he saw the fetus twisting away from his knife as if in pain, Dr. Nathanson stopped performing abortions and became a leading pro-life advocate. He would later describe abortion as “the most atrocious holocaust in the history of the United States.”

In Utero Surgeries – Doctors are now able to perform surgeries to correct congenital diseases while the baby is still in the womb. Such surgeries are naturally extremely difficult and risky, but have the potential to allow the fetuses to develop normally. There is no doubt that the use of these surgeries will increase in the future as surgeons gain experience and tools. This further humanizes the unborn, for instance in the famous picture (view at http://www.michaelclancy.com/) of a baby ‘shaking hands’ with a doctor who had just successfully saved the baby from spina bifida. Although the fetus wasn’t cognizant or understanding, the picture circulated wildly on the internet and could help to change people’s minds.

Social Media – Social media sites such as Facebook have become much more prevalent in the last few years. They are powerful tools for organizing and disseminating information, but as such can be equally used by both pro-life and pro-choice sides. Why will the development of social media sites make people more pro-life? As anyone with more than a few hundred friends knows, there is usually at least one person who is pregnant on there. Fewer people are likely to post about having abortions than those who are posting about how excited they are to be pregnant. The availability of apps that can post the fetal stages of development has lead to many more people becoming aware of just how soon the heart starts to beat or the ears start to take shape. Heartbeats and ears are things associated with human beings, not ‘contents of the uterus.’ The ability to share pictures exposes users to a large number of ultrasound images, which further humanizes the fetus. After birth, many parents will post status updates such as ‘up all night with sick baby’ but in general, parents post updates, pictures and videos that are highly complimentary of their babies. There are many more videos of ‘World’s cutest baby laughing’ than ‘World’s stinkiest diaper.’ When magnified hundreds of times, this can subtly change attitudes towards fetuses and child-rearing, especially among young people, who are most likely to use social media.

Decreased Age of Viability – Medical advances have decreased the age that children can be born at and increased the chance of survival for a child born at any given gestational age. The first advancement was surfactant which allowed the lungs to start breathing earlier. With respirators, heating lamps, feeding tubes, and sterile environments, doctors can keep babies alive who are born after 22 weeks gestation. Those babies often have significant problems later on in life, however. It’s a safe bet that with new technology, perhaps rudimentary elements of an artificial womb, this viability age will decrease. This is important because polls show viability is an important concern for many people in deciding whether or not to support legalized abortion.

Artificial Wombs (Ectogenesis) – Although the artificial uterus (or womb) may seem like science fiction, there is no technological reason why it won’t be accomplished. Researchers at Cornell have already succeeded in growing a human womb scaffolding and implanting fertilized human eggs. The eggs grew and developed for 6 days, after which the experiment was halted and the embryos destroyed. (2019 It’s now 13 days, and destroyed due to legal and not technical reasons) Researchers in Japan have taken on the other end, implanting goat fetuses at 17 weeks into their artificial uterus, where some lived for three weeks. The effect that an artificial uterus will have on the abortion debate should be pretty clear. It would allow mothers to become ‘unpregnant’ while still allowing their children to live. It would also allow fathers to take full responsibility for the future well-being (financial and otherwise) of a child. Such a development (depending on if the artificial wombs were readily available and affordable) would almost certainly cause a massive shift in public opinions on abortion to the pro-life side.

Stem Cells – Stem cells (cells which can turn into any other cell type) offer a huge number of potential medical advantages. Adult Stem Cells (derived from a person’s own body) have already been successfully used in thousands of cases to treat dozens of diseases. They are non-controversial and receive the full support of nearly the entire population.  Embryonic Stem Cells on the other hand are derived from a human embryo, either by cloning or by using a leftover in-vitro fertilization embryo. They are controversial due to the embryo being destroyed, and have yet to help a single patient. The main argument in support of using ESCs is that they are totipotent, meaning that one cell can turn into every type of tissue in the body. Recently, however, scientists have found a way to achieve totipotency in adult stem cells, bypassing the cloning stage. This completely removes the need for creating human embryos in the first place.  Few if any people would have a problem with taking a skin cell and growing a new heart valve from it. Many people consider it unethical to create a new unique human embryo and then grow the heart valve from that tissue. Critics call this practice ‘human-farming’ and liken it to ‘modern day vampirism’ i.e., taking a weaker life in order to prolong your own. Embryonic stem cells has been the pro-life community’s most difficult and least popular argument, yet the totipotency of adult stem cells all but removes this issue from the table.

Medical Abortion – The only technological trend favoring the pro-choice side is the development of medical abortion, or pills taken to end a pregnancy. The reason that this helps the pro-choice side is that it makes it so that abortions can happen anywhere, even in a woman’s own home. If the pills could be sent in the mail, this can also allow abortions that are against the law (for instance parental consent laws) or in areas out of the reach of a local clinic.

Fetal Neuro-monotoring – Several states enacted laws in 2011 prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks due to the suggestion that the fetuses can feel pain during the procedure. There have also been developments in brainwave scanning technologies to the point where crude games like Mind-Flex can be sold for $50. What will happen when scientists are able to read the brain waves of a developing fetus? Will they be able to say that the fetus is happy, troubled, etc? Emotions are things that are associated with people. This can change public opinion.

Socio-Economic Trends

Autocratic countries – The history of the world is full of many different political systems. However, over the last half century, there has been a clear movement away from centralized, highly powerful authoritarian regimes towards more democratic regimes. The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the USSR is one example of this.  Autocratic regimes can only exist because the populace fears them. They can handle isolated dissidents, but not a full uprising by a large segment of the population.

Communications technology, most notably the internet, Facebook, and the mass proliferation of cell phones has allowed people to talk to each other, and also to hear news from other countries. People naturally want more freedom, and will not stand for a small minority imposing their will without regard to the rule of law.

How does this affect the abortion debate? Powerful, centrally controlled countries can implement draconian abortion policies, such as China’s infamous one child policy. This policy has led to millions of abortions, many of them forced. It is considered by many to be the single greatest human rights abuse in the history of the world. According to the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/941511.stm) this policy has prevented 250 million births from 1978 to 2000.  In the future as the world moves away from powerful centralized countries, we are not likely to see this again. Less abortions means less need for doctors, less profit for companies providing them, and less societal acceptance of the procedure. Update: In 2015 China moved away from its one child policy, citing the need ‘to improve the balanced development of the population.”

Demographic Issues – Thomas Malthus observed in the 18th century that population increases exponentially, thus the Earth will eventually reach carrying capacity. Others, notably Paul Erlich in his book The Population Bomb, saw the rapid growth of the world population in the 1950s and 1960s and started making dire predictions. The alarmist book and others convinced many people that drastic measures to curb population must be undertaken immediately. Erlich promoted the wide availability of abortion, and other ‘solutions’ such as cutting off all food aid to India, because he didn’t see how they would ever be able to feed 200 million people. They now have more than 1 billion and the average person has more calories per day then they did in the 1960s. He also predicted mass starvation and famines in the 1970s and 1980s. He never took into account the fact that science and technology can increase production and help humans. See Rational Technologist vs Population Alarmist. 

While the world population is still growing, the rates have decreased sharply, especially in developed countries. Without immigration, the United States would shrink in population. As children transition from being an economic benefit to an economic cost, there will be fewer of them. Women are having fewer children, and are having them later on in life.

In general, countries that have more liberal laws regarding abortion are also more politically leftist, and also have more generous social safety nets. These safety nets, retirement pensions, etc. are funded by current workers. This leads to the so-called “4-2-1” problem, in which one worker has to support 7 people – himself, two parents, and 4 grandparents. As this trend projects out, countries will have to do what they can to promote children. For instance Russia (1.2 children/woman) recently offered $9200 to couples who have another child. Based on median incomes, that’s like offering a US couple $36,000. Portugal (1.5 children/women) has proposed setting payroll taxes based on how many children a worker has. The more children you have, the less taxes you would pay because those children will go on to become productive members of society later on. Turkey gives gold coins for mothers and Singapore spends $1.3 Billion annually on encouraging children. (Source)

Eventually these societal pressures will reach a point where they lead to government or school education regarding the value of children, less abortions (less doctors and money for companies performing them), and outright bans of the procedure.

We may also see bans of sex-selective abortions come about first. In China, there are 111 males for every 100 females. Having a large number of frustrated teenage/young adult males who cannot find partners is never a good thing for a society. It’s no stretch to see how this causes increases in prostitution, violence, and emigration.

Doctors who choose to perform abortions – Doctors who perform abortions are generally not given the same respect in society as doctors in other specialties. A cardiologist or brain surgeon has no trouble introducing herself at any party, and immediately earning people’s admiration. An abortion doctor has no such luxury. There are many abortion doctors who honestly and sincerely believe in what they are doing, and there are no doubt many other doctors who do not routinely perform abortions, but will do them occasionally if they believe they are needed. However, it is natural that the best and brightest doctors will choose other specialties. This will lead the doctors who are performing abortions to be the ones graduating at the lower end of their class. One admittedly extreme example is Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor recently arrested for murder. He allegedly delivered live babies and then killed them with scissors, had dried blood, urine, and cat feces all over his office, allowed nurses with no training to perform abortions, transmitted STDs from one patient to another by reusing equipment without sterilizing it, allowed teenagers to administer anesthetic, and killed at least 2 women by misadministering anesthetic. (http://www.myfoxphilly.com/dpp/news/local_news/abortion-dr.-kermit-gosnell-arrested)

This doesn’t represent the norm, and there are malpractice cases against all types of doctors. The old adage is still true – “What do you call the guy who graduates last in his class at medical school? Doctor.” However, if there remains a stigma with being an abortion doctor, it will continue to attract people who were rejected from other specialties. Malpractice cases will continue to increase which will cause the specialty to be regarded even less by the public, which will then cause only the lowest ranking doctors to pursue it.

Pregnancy Centers – Crisis Pregnancy Centers are places set up to help expectant mothers. They provide everything from tests, diapers, counseling, ultrasounds, and adoption referrals. Due to the nature of abortion, many pro-life activists are uncomfortable confronting women walking into a place like Planned Parenthood. However, they would be more than willing to give financial support to a Crisis Pregnancy Center. The numbers of these have exploded in recent years, while the numbers of abortion clinics have gone down. There are now nearly 4000 CPCs, compared to 800 or so abortion clinics. 2017 Update: The number of abortion clinics is now down to 700.

Evolutionary Trends

“Roe Effect” – The Roe Effect is a term coined by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal. He basically theorizes that since Roe v Wade legalized Abortion in 1973, the pro-choice movement was having less babies and therefore cannibalizing their own political base of support. He believes that with the closeness of the 2000 election, had abortion not been legal Al Gore would have easily defeated George Bush.

The math behind Darwin’s theory of evolution is valid in any number of situations to describe how populations change over time. Groups that have more children will eventually have more power (political, economic, military) over generations. Is it any wonder that many of the world’s major religions promote large families through doctrinal (prohibiting at least some forms of contraception) or other (promoting the value of babies in God’s plan) means? Catholics and Muslims each number more than 1 billion people in the world today and both promote large family sizes. The Mormon Church started out with a handful of people in the 1830s, and there are now more than 14 million. The math works here because children have a high likelihood to share their parent’s religious views.

The likelihood that children share their parent’s views on abortion is probably not as strong, but should easily be more than 50%. It’s not hard to see how pro-life people have more children than pro-choice ones. They have a fundamentally different view of what a child is and the value that it represents to society and to their families.

The pro-choice counter to this argument is that in most cases, abortion doesn’t change fertility, because people only have abortions early on in life when they aren’t ready for children, and then go on to have however many children they were planning to have later on. All this argument does however is cause a delay in the mathematics. Say group A and group B each start with 100 women who are 20 years old. Group A has a baby at 20 and another at 25. Group B has their first baby at 25 and 2nd at 30. Half of all babies are female.

Year Group A Population Group B Population
0 200 100
5 300 200
10 300 300
20 400 300
25 500 300
30 500 400
35 500 500
40 600 500
45 700 500

As time goes on, the gap gets even wider, even though they both have the same fertility rate.  This also doesn’t account for the percentage of people who want to have a child later, but then find out that they can’t, or the people who pass away between the ages where they had their first abortion and wanted to have their first child.

Technological or cultural trends could affect this the other way by causing children to have more pro-choice views, despite what their parents think. However, as we have seen above, the technological trends are actually going the other direction.

Winning a war by demographics is a really slow way to win one, yet it is a very difficult way to defend against.

Decreasing Age of Pro-life Movement

I just thought, my gosh, they are so young. There are so many of them… and they are so young.” This was how Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, expressed her discouragement upon watching a recent march to the Supreme Court commemorating the anniversary of Roe. (Newsweek)

In the 1970s, the under 30 group was the least pro-life. In the 1980s and 1990s, they were the 2nd least pro-life. Now, Americans under 30 are now the most pro-life group, and there is a large ‘intensity gap’ as well. Pro-life young people are much more likely to vote, donate, and march based on their position than their pro-choice counterparts.

This makes sense based on the trends laid out above, and certainly bodes well for the future of the pro-life movement.


The general trends cited above overwhelmingly support the thesis that the world will gradually become more pro-life. None of the trends above will be rapid – rather, the shift will gradually occur over the coming decades as more and more factors come into play.

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