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Opinion: Overturning Roe v. Wade — unwanted children

Half a century ago, before nearly all women of child-bearing age were born, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) voted to legalize abortion throughout this country. The 7-2 decision is known as Roe v. Wade. This is the norm that women below the age of 50 have known for their entire lives. But on May 2, a draft opinion originally dated Feb. 10 by the current SCOTUS was leaked, indicating that Roe v. Wade will be overturned, making abortion illegal.

Over the past couple of weeks, much has been written about women’s rights, the “rights” of unborn fetuses, and decisions about the entire process of reproduction. I’d like to add another perspective to the discussion: the tragedy that will be faced by hundreds of thousands of unwanted children.

About 3.5 million children are born in this country each year, and there are approximately 620,000 legal abortions annually. According to several sources, most of these abortions were performed on women who already had a child or children, although no specific number has been given.

A child’s world

A newborn child comes into the world totally unprepared to survive in a hostile environment. The infant needs a source of food, protection from heat or cold, the maintenance of sanitation, and at least a modicum of affectionate acceptance. In 21st century America, too many newborns have lacked the appropriate amount of such protection and attention. What will happen when these unfortunate babies are joined by hundreds of thousands of unwanted children?

Assuming that there is some “survival-of-the-species” gene that will cause adults to see the newborn through infancy, will unwanted toddlers have the advantage of preschool? Will they be read to by parents who didn’t want them to begin with? Will they receive all the vaccinations they need to protect them from common childhood diseases that killed millions of children in bygone days?

Will an unwilling parent take the time to learn about foods that contain good nutrition or will she or he just grab whatever’s convenient and easy to put on the table? Will the child be encouraged to engage in outdoor activities that are necessary for both physical and mental development or will the child be plunked down in front of a TV set for most of its waking hours?

For more than two decades, I’ve written about children who have been raised in “extreme isolation,” beginning with Kingsley Davis’ classic 1949 study. The children whom he studied showed remarkable similarities to children who have been discovered living without contact with wider society, even in very recent years. In brief, they don’t develop human personalities, communication skills, or other common expectations.

Over several decades, we have developed the treatments and techniques for helping many of these children, but the question to be asked if Roe v. Wade is overturned is this: Where will we get the resources (living areas, doctors, child-care specialists, psychologists, foster or adoptive parents, etc.) to help these unwanted children achieve something that is at least close to a normal childhood, which is tantamount to developing into productive adults?

Is the fetus affected?

An article from the Energetics Institute, an organization of psychotherapists in Australia, suggests that the consequences of being an unwanted child may actually be present even before birth. The authors state that the conditions that make for an “Unwanted Child Personality” arise from the earliest interaction between the organism and its environment.

They write, “The child develops and grows in the womb. Its world is contained in the mother’s belly inside the placenta which is like a large cellular membrane. In fact, it serves the same purpose… in that is translates the stimulus of the outer environment of the mother into transcription signals that then affect the physical development of the (fetus).”

In Biology 101, we learn that we develop from our inherited DNA. True. But the researchers at the Energetics Institute add: “We develop to our DNA inheritance but signals from our environment affect the cellular process using parts of the DNA, and we develop in adaptation and response from our environment. Remember that the environment of the (fetus) is the mother, firstly the placenta and womb, then the wider body of the mother.”

Children know

Regardless of how some parents may try to hide the fact that their children were unwanted, children seem to know, and at a relatively early age. In 2015, one man, who posted his story on social media, wrote: “I remember one day when I was about five years old putting on my snow coat, going out in the yard, and laying down in the snow. Flakes were drifting down from the sky, covering and shrouding my small body from sight. I remember thinking it would be better if I could just disappear into the snow forever. I wasn’t exactly suicidal, I just felt that my being was problematic and wanted to cease being.”

Certainly, we’ve heard that bearing children may be a hardship for low-income families. We’ve heard that poorly-educated parents may have difficulty understanding the needs of their children. But, unwanted children at every level of society are at a distinct disadvantage simply because they were unwanted and may be an impediment to plans that their parents may have had for their own lives.

Consider this excerpt from the autobiography of an unwanted child, one who was not the first-born of his siblings. “Early in my mother’s pregnancy with her first child, (my father) was accepted into a doctoral program at Harvard University. He turned it down because he needed to work in order to provide for the baby. He has regretted it his entire life. Eventually he went to work in corporate America to provide for my brothers and (me), but he despises what he does. He would come home from work bitter, short-tempered, extremely depressed, basically unable to deal with my brothers and me. We were very frightened by him.”

Six members of the Supreme Court bowed to the rantings of their perceived constituency rather than following a sensible precedent. I hope that at least some of them will pay attention to the science and study of unwanted children before making a final decision.

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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He may be contacted at


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