On abortion and the cost of adoption

This post comes from a *spirited* discussion at a party I attended over the weekend. For reasons you wouldn’t normally expect at such spirited discussions, the topic of conversation moved to abortion, and whether it should be permitted at all.

One person at the party made the point that it should be illegal beyond a certain point in the pregnancy, unless there were strong medical reasons for doing so. It was met with a counterpoint of abortion being the mother’s choice. Which was met with the moral argument about why the costs of killing a born child and an unborn child should be different. The discussion was veering towards one on the question of when life begins.

In my opinion, abortion is a simple case of transaction costs. If you have a baby that is born that you don’t want for whatever reason (maybe you’re going bankrupt, or breaking up, or getting into difficulty), there exists a simple solution for you to get rid of the baby while preserving its life – you can simply give it away for adoption (the liquidity of the adoption market is another topic in itself, and we will not go into it here).

If you don’t want the baby when it is not yet born, though, things aren’t that simple. You need to carry the baby through the rest of the pregnancy and wait for it to be born before you can give it away for adoption (see the movie Juno, for example). And considering the difficulty of pregnancy and childbirth, this can introduce significant costs to the mother. And this is a transaction cost – borne by the mother until the baby is born, and something she bears unwillingly.

I know this can again veer into the discussion of what point it is in the pregnancy that the transaction cost borne by the mother to see out the pregnancy is lower than the cost of killing the unborn child. This is a tricky problem, since there is no good solution for it – there is no reason we should move the limit one day forward or back, and that argument continues.

What helps is that there exists one point of discontinuity in terms of the costs faced by the mother – the time of the baby’s birth. Once the baby is born, the cost to the mother of keeping it drops dramatically, so that represents a kind of “obvious point” around which to frame regulation.

Which means that from the transaction cost point of view, abortion should be legal till the point of the child’s birth!

Weekend spiritual guidance (that led to this discussion): Old Monk with Thums Up

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