Juggling Act: Rallying to protect the unborn is one thing. What about after they're born?

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

I was a young reporter working on a story about homeless students many years ago when I visited a shelter in Wayne County and met a woman with nine children.

I don't remember the circumstances of how she ended up homeless with nine kids, but I remember being surrounded by all of them, their young faces and the baby swaddled in her arms. I wondered how she would ever find her footing. Would she work? How could she make enough money to support nine kids? Where was her partner? I wondered what would happen if more children were to come.

A pro-abortion protest and rally starts at the Theodore Levine Federal Courthouse in Detroit on May 3, 2022.  Several people spoke and then the group marched on the streets of downtown.

I was reminded of that woman and her plight this week and our continued failure as a society to help those most in need as news unfolded about the mind-blowing possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade 50 years after abortion rights were established.

Moral arguments aside about abortion — and we can debate until we're blue in the face about whether abortion is morally right or wrong or when life truly begins and still disagree — I'm most interested about what happens after we tell women they can't make decisions about their own bodies and must carry unintended pregnancies, no matter what, to term. Will those who advocate for the unborn be there to help after those babies are born?

There's a reason photos of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" are circulating social media right now and that's because it's hard to fathom this is happening in the United States. In 2022.

No one wants to get an abortion. It's nuanced, complicated and wrenching. And it's personal. And there are multiple reasons why people decide they want to end a pregnancy — financial, physical and emotional. Yes, adoption is an option but it's not the choice for every woman or circumstance.

But what happens next? As passionate as abortion critics are about protecting the unborn, where does that fervor go as soon as the umbilical cord is cut? Will they be there when those children grow up in possibly struggling households? Will those critics pay more in taxes for daycare? College? Diapers? Caregivers if a child is disabled? Will they be as passionate then about providing support? Birth is just the beginning.

And it's incredibly expensive to raise kids. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has been tracking the cost of raising children since 1960, a family will spend approximately $12,980 annually per child in a middle-income two-child, married-couple family. Middle-income, married-couple parents of a child born in 2015 (the most recent year data is available) could expect to spend $233,610 on food, shelter and other necessities to raise a child through age 17. That doesn't include college.

Moral arguments aside, the reality is even if the Supreme Court moves forward with its draft opinion and Roe v. Wade is struck down, abortion rights will still exist — for some. But low-income women and women of color will likely be most affected. In Michigan, a 1931 law will kick in that makes abortion illegal, though county prosecutors appear to be mixed on who will and won't enforce it. 

Wealthier people will still have the means to travel to states where abortion services would still be provided. But what about everyone else?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, meanwhile, nearly half, or 45%, of all pregnancies are unintended or unplanned, down from 51% in 2008. Nearly half. Unintended pregnancy rates per 1,000 women are highest among women who are 18 to 24 years, low-income and haven't completed high school. Black women and Hispanic women also have higher unintended pregnancy rates.

Add poor access to health care, birth control challenges and education to the mix and it's even more complicated.

Moral argument aside, if we deny women the right to make decisions about their own bodies, we have to be prepared for what’s next. Will we pay more in taxes for needed support? Programs exist but they’re underfunded and incredibly hard to navigate.

Meanwhile, 13,000 children are already in foster care in Michigan, according to the state's department of Health & Human Services — 13,000 kids who already need support. Are the abortion critics stepping up to care for and support those children and their parents? Opening their homes to foster children? Some might. May also happens to be National Foster Care Month.

I keep going back to the mother in that shelter so many years ago. She had long hair and an almost  dazed look in her eyes. I'd be dazed, too. I can't imagine being in her shoes or the choices she likely had to make. I met her for a brief moment and then was gone, perhaps as much a part of the problem as anyone else. Did she find her way or get support? I'll never know.