'Ghost Abortions' and You

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest pro-life organization, published a blog post on its site last week on the epidemic of “ghost abortions.” This spooky figure is not only the number of fetuses that have been aborted since the legalization of abortion. (That “sum is a staggering 58 million,” the group points out.) It is the number of female fetuses that were aborted that would have grown up and had babies of their own, had abortion not been legalized.

Relying on a calculation by activist Michael Voris of the Church Militant blog, the post walks us through the following logic:

  • “Statistically, women in the United States have their first child by age 25.  That means that female babies aborted between 1973 and 1990, on average, would have at least one child by 2015, had they lived.”
  • “How many female babies were aborted between 1973 and 1990?  A shocking 12,700,000.”
  • “Consequently, the total number of Americans who are missing due to abortion is not 58 million, but rather 70 million.”

(Since we’re deep into math wonderland, it might be worth pointing out that the fertility rate of American women is actually two children, not one. That means at least some of those 12.7 million would have had two children, putting the number of these ghosts even higher.)

  • This all has a devastating impact on the economy: “If each of the 70 million people who have been aborted or whose mothers were aborted were in the United States population, their economic contribution would be nearly four trillion dollars.”

In conclusion, the post seems to suggest, we should outlaw abortion so that the hypothetical children of aborted fetuses can be born, grow up, and become small-business owners: “Given the devastating financial impact of abortion on the United States economy, why does the government financially support the largest abortion business in America?”

Yes, why does our country not pursue prosperity through mandatory motherhood? This strategy has worked flawlessly in the past!

Abortion is a hot topic right now, particularly in Texas, so you can’t blame pro-life activists there for doing whatever they can to convince policymakers and the public that the practice is terrible. Still, the philosophical assumptions behind this post are far more disturbing than its opposition to abortion.

Not everyone supports abortion rights, but nevertheless, most people would agree that the value of a woman’s life is not determined by how many children she bears. And that not all women will follow statistical birthing averages. And that policymakers shouldn’t take into account people who never existed when passing laws.

But while we’ve got our TI-83 graphing calculators out, I’d like to figure out the cost of ghost gun deaths, ghost premature deaths from poverty, ghost farmers whose lands will be swamped by rising oceans, and ghost people dying from a lack of access to healthcare.