As 40 Days for Life prepares to embark on a new campaign, one of its recent podcast episodes examined whether “electing pro-abortion politicians who enact governmental social programs save[s] lives from abortion” as well as “what actually reduces abortion rates.” 40 Days for Life president and podcast host Shawn Carney interviewed Catholic University of America’s visiting associate professor of Political Science and Social Research Dr. Michael New.
Professor New holds a PhD in Political Science and a Master’s in Statistics from Stanford University, and did post-doctoral work at the Harvard-MIT Data Center. Dr. New is also the 40 Days for Life leader in Washington, D.C.
Does increased funding for welfare programs decrease abortion rates?
Carney noted, “Whenever there’s a presidential election, you see arguments that it’s pro-life to vote for an [abortion-supporting] candidate because the pro-abortion candidate will enact social welfare and economic policies that will reduce the number of abortions… Is there any truth to that?”
Dr. New answered, “No, not really. This argument comes up every election cycle and my colleagues at the Charlotte Lozier Institute and I jokingly refer to this as the whack-a-mole game. It doesn’t matter how many times we hit this argument down, it keeps coming back up again.”
New then stated that there is research available on abortion rates and abortion trends from “reputable journals, both Political Science and Economics, and Public Health Journals, and people have looked at these things – public welfare programs and other kinds of low-income earners.” However, none of it, New says, “shows that more generous benefits or universal healthcare or any kind of social welfare program really gets abortion numbers down. People have looked at this state by state, they’ve analyzed it different ways, there’s no real research that shows that [social welfare programs decrease abortion numbers].”
New also mentioned the common theory that the abortion rate decreases under pro-abortion presidents. He says there is “no good evidence” for it:
Another thing abortion supporters like to bring up is that the abortion rate fell under President Clinton, who was for legal abortion, and then they’ll bring up the fact that the abortion rate fell under President Obama, who also supported legal abortion. And they’ll come up with the backwards argument that these presidents were, you know, good for pro-lifers because the abortion rate fell. And what I tell people is that correlation is not the same thing as causation.
Yes, it’s true that abortion numbers fell under both these presidents, but it wasn’t because of anything these two individual presidents actually did. What you see is a very long-term decline in the U.S. abortion rate that started in the 1980s. That decline has been consistent, it’s been durable, and it just continued through to Democratic presidential administrations. Again, it didn’t have anything to do with anything that either President Clinton or President Obama did.
So the notion that electing politicians that support abortion will get abortion rates down is just a fallacy.
Podcast co-host Steven Karlen, 40 Days for Life’s campaign director, then stated, “We keep hearing that if we just had ‘economic justice’ we’d see abortion disappear because the so-called ‘need’ for abortion would disappear. I scratch my head when I hear that because we live in the most prosperous society in the history of human civilization. Is it really true that further redistribution or changing of income would reduce the abortion rate, much less end abortion?”
Dr. New responded that, according to research, “The level of welfare benefits doesn’t really seem to have an impact on the abortion rate. Now, additionally, welfare reform was passed in 1996. It was signed into law by President Clinton. It was something that split the Democratic Party” because it essentially conservatized welfare programs in several ways.
While he agreed that financial pressures can absolutely affect women’s decisions on abortion, “I don’t think welfare is the answer,” New said. “There are pregnancy help centers that can help people in need, that can help with a range of services including finances, healthcare, shelter, etc. I don’t see any real evidence that spending more money on welfare would do anything to get abortion numbers down.”
Pro-Life Laws that Decrease Abortion Rates
Carney then asked, “What kind of pro-life laws do save lives, and how do they do it?”
“The most effective thing pro-lifers can do if they want to get abortion numbers down is first and foremost get the government out of the business of funding abortion,” New stated unequivocally.
He noted that “one of our first political pro-life victories” was the passing of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, which “limited the ability of the federal government to fund elective abortions through the Medicaid program. There’s very good research that shows that the Hyde Amendment has saved millions of lives.”
New said this can be explained largely by “supply and demand. If abortion is free, more people obtain abortions. If they have to pay out-of-pocket, abortion numbers go down. So, certainly the Hyde Amendment and other state-level laws to ensure that state Medicaid programs don’t pay for abortion save lives.”
Parental Involvement Laws
New also noted that parental involvement laws, which require minor girls either to notify their parents or receive parental permission before obtaining abortions, have caused abortion rates among minors to decrease. “Thirty-five states have these parental involvement laws, and there’s very good research that they lower minor abortion rates. We’ve looked at different states, we’ve looked at groups of states. There’s kind of a consensus that if your state passes a parental involvement law, the minor abortion rate falls by about 15%.”
Citing Minnesota as a model example, he said that state law requires the notification of both parents before a girl can undergo an abortion. Mississippi goes further, requiring consent from both parents. And “these states have seen even larger declines” in minor abortion rates, he said.
Informed Consent Laws
Informed consent laws are a third type of pro-life laws that New said successfully decrease abortion rates. “These are laws that give women seeking abortion information” which may involve “fetal development, sources of support – both public and private – for women, health risks…. Depending on how these laws are designed, these laws can lower abortion rates anywhere from about 3% to about 10%…. You give women an alternative, sometimes they take that alternative.”
“A good solid body of research shows that laws that decrease taxpayer funding for abortion, parental involvement laws, and informed consent laws are effective, and do protect women and do protect their unborn children,” New summed up.
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