Abortion rates are down because it’s OK to be a single mom



I’m a little late to this discussion but experts have been trying to make sense of the declining abortion rates in this country. Is that the pro-lifers won? That women have more access to birth control? No, and no, says this Slate article. The answer?

It’s no longer as shameful to be a single mom, writes senior editor David Frum:

When marriage was the near-universal norm in American society, a pregnancy out of wedlock pushed a couple toward one of four choices: shotgun wedding; adoption; abortion; or single motherhood, in that order of social acceptability. The result was a society in which both abortion and single motherhood were rare.

In the decade after 1965, both women and men claimed greater sexual autonomy for themselves. The shotgun marriage seemed an increasingly outrageous imposition to meet increasingly irrelevant social expectations. After 1970, adoption of native-born American children by non-related parents rapidly dwindled. Yet outright single motherhood remained comparatively unusual for middle-class Americans, and especially for white middle-class Americans.

The abortion spike between 1975 and 1990 reflected a new ranking of acceptable responses to an unmarried pregnancy: abortion, single parenthood, shotgun wedding, and adoption, in that order.

Since 1990, the pro-life movement really does seem to have changed American minds about the morality of abortion, while only a fifth of Americans support outlawing abortion, today just 38 percent say the procedure is “morally acceptable.” At the same time, marriage rates — especially for low-income people — is on the decline.

Frum continues:

As marriage fades, unwed motherhood has evolved from an acceptable outcome to something close to an inevitability. The order of choices in the face of an unexpected pregnancy has thus shifted again: single parenthood, abortion, shotgun wedding, and adoption.

I have never had an abortion. Both my children were conceived within my marriage, though this was a complicated matter, as I wrote about here. But thanks to a combination of the time in which we live, as well as my own personality, I don’t suffer shame for being a single mom. Sure, the questions and inquisitive looks can be annoying, and I do find myself on the defensive from time to time. But I am grateful every day that I live in a time that allows women like me the financial and social freedom to raise children independent of a man.

That said, there is the downside. Since single motherhood is so acceptable, it makes marriage that much harder to fight for. And there has been plenty written about how your social circles influence your decisions — from whether you smoke, are overweight, or divorce. Suddenly, we live in a time when it is OK to be a single mom. That is great news, but it also reduces the motivation to marry, work at those marriages, and teach men that they are critical to women, children and families.

What is your experience? Do you feel stigmatized by your single mom status? Have you ever had an abortion? What do you think of these recent trends? Share in the comments.


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Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, Oprah.com and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog Wealthysinglemommy.com, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

3 thoughts on “Abortion rates are down because it’s OK to be a single mom

  1. I have felt shamed and shunned for being a single mom at many, many times in the last few years. I strive for the experience you describe though. I’m learning how to answer the questions in ways that are dignifying for my little family of two. And at this point (two years in) I can say I’m able to walk away from the bad moments laughing at the a@#holes much more.

    I’m firmly pro-choice so I don’t have any feelings about abortion rates going down or up. I just hope all women, no matter what they decide, find the support they need. Both choices require a lot of support!

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