Roe Counterfactuals

In a recent episode of TV’s Big Bang Theory, the characters play a game of “counterfactuals”: change one fact, and debate what happens. “In a world where the rhinoceros is a domesticated pet… who wins the Second World War?” Uganda. Clearly.

Hilarious! But to Rick Santorum, absurd and overly simplistic hypotheticals are deadly serious, and a way of life. For example, in a world where abortion is illegal… Social Security remains solvent!

Lunacy, to be sure, but worth addressing because a surprising amount of anti-choice rhetoric focuses on the “if only…” effect. But even the easy what-ifs don’t follow. It’s not safe to assume, for example, that the number of abortions equals anywhere near the number of babies that would otherwise be born. Overruling Roe wouldn’t stop abortion. It would stop legal abortion.

And though it was an odd argument to make, then and now, the Casey majority was right: Roe is by now a deeply-rooted rule of law, one that informs sexual behavior, in addition to governing the result. People make decisions based on its existence. If Roe were overruled tomorrow, would there be less unprotected, or loosely protected sex? Maybe. Or maybe reliance would shift to RU-486, or some new technology. It’s impossible to say; all we can know is that the number of aborted pregnancies is a variable that depends on much, much more than Roe.

Roe is nothing more than one thread in the very complicated tapestry covering reproductive life in the United States. It’s a very big thread, true, but it doesn’t define the pattern, and more importantly, it’s so intertwined with its neighbors that its removal would probably create a wild and unpredictable result. Good legislation in this area — to maximize freedom, and minimize moral unease — requires big-picture thinking, careful analysis, and compassion. But as his willingness to make inflammatory generalizations shows, that’s neither Rick Santorum’s interest, nor the Republican Party’s, generally.



  1. If abortions were reduced by 50% that would be around 500,000 more Americans being born every year – and eventually paying into social security.

    I doubt this equals solvency but I would think liberals would be drooling over the potential tax revenue.

    1. We’re already severely overpopulated, with the problem getting worse every year due to immigration and too low of a death rate, and you’re suggesting that it’s desirable to add another half a million people a year to the birth rate?

      1. Steve – when you say ‘we’ are over-populated do you mean the U.S.? If so, you will have to define ‘over-population’.

    2. oneiroi · ·

      There’s also a hypothesis out there, debatable, like yours, that it would also greatly increase the number of people on welfare, as people who are not prepared to have children, have them, and could create additional families who may not be able to support themselves when forced to have a child.

  2. That’s idiotic. The same people would also cost the government money, not just add to it; and there’s no reason to think that less abortion = more people. That’s the point of the post. If abortion is unavailable, behavior modifies, so maybe the pregnancy doesn’t happen. Or maybe it happens, but is terminated in some other way.

    1. So then wouldn’t banning abortion be a good think i.e modifying bad behavior?

    2. So it really does all boil down to the notion that sex is bad, doesn’t it.

      1. Ames – you just phoned that one in. You were the one that brought up a reduction in unwanted pregnancies due to abortion being banned. I was simply saying that sounded like a plus.

        And no – sex isn’t bad. Just irresponsible sex.

      2. I was aware of the implication. I just don’t think using bans on abortion not to “save lives” but to target and punish irresponsible sex is a good idea. Who are you to say what’s responsible?

        1. I never said that was my primary motivation for ending abortion. For me it’s always been about saving the lives of the unborn. YOU mentioned that it might ALSO change people’s sexual behavior. I’m simply agreeing with you that it would be a good ADDITIONAL benefit to an abortion ban. Think of it as win, win.

  3. Know what else would help Social Security?

    If half the baby boomers suddenly dropped dead.

    1. Or just retired later.

    2. Ah – but since that type of genocide isn’t likely – why not engineer one with those who are too small to object…right?

      1. Genocide? You really want to go there?

        Anyway, if abortion is a genocide, it hasn’t completed its goals after over a hundred years. If it’s genocide, it’s really bad at it.

        1. That doesn’t even make sense. The Japanese failed to exterminate everyone in China – but it’s still called a genocide. Who said a genocide only counts if they get a 100% success rate?

          1. Genocide is an an attempt to eradicate an entire ethnic group. Abortion doesn’t target a particular ethnic group; the definition simply doesn’t apply. I mean, what are you even arguing, that women are trying to commit a genocide against … themselves?

            I know why you’re using the word. Forced childbirth advocates like to use “genocide” and “holocaust” when talking about abortion because they’re trying to lay claim to the moral clarity of fighting the Nazis, the ultimate personification of evil in American society.

            But I’d argue there is an acceptable response to genocide: violence. When the US mobilized against that actual genocide, there were over 400,000 American military killed. The fact that abortion foes aren’t (generally) willing to back up their rhetoric with the response it calls for, shows they’re just that, all rhetoric. They’re willing to talk the talk, but they’re not willing to carry the big stick.

            1. Genocide also applies to national or cultural groups i.e. the unwanted children of pregnant U.S. mothers. Regardless, the point is that it’s the systematic murder of a population.

              And there HAS been violence against abortion providers/seekers. Fortunately the US anti-abortion population has chosen to work within the law to try and stop abortions.It’s a tactical choice and a smart one albeit sad that so many are going to die in the meantime.

              1. Genocide generally refers to national, cultural, ethnic and religious groups. Blastocysts do not fall into any of those categories. Furthermore, women that get abortions are not part of any concerted effort to exterminate all pregnancies. It’s a personal choice they make as individuals, one option among many.

                And I suggest the very fact that violence against women who get abortions is so rare is evidence that this abortion-as-genocide comparison is empty rhetoric. You don’t work inside the legal system against a genocide. That’s like saying the French Resistance should have sent the Nazis a sternly worded cease and desist letter.

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