I’ve posted in the past about the curious fact that, if pro-lifers main goal is reducing abortion, they’d be better off supporting pro-choice politicians. Internationally, the countries with the lowest abortion rates are invariably countries that have legal abortion, strong welfare states and widely available (and encouraged) use of birth control. (In contrast, not a single country that has banned abortion has a low abortion rate; they simply have high rates of illegal abortion.)
Now the evidence shows that what’s true internationally is true domestically – in the USA, the policies pursued by pro-life politicians are associated with higher abortion rates. From Souljourners:
I look at the fruits of political policies more than words. I analyzed the data on abortion during the George W. Bush presidency. There is no single source for this information – federal reports go only to 2000, and many states do not report – but I found enough data to identify trends. My findings are counterintuitive and disturbing.
Abortion was decreasing. When President Bush took office, the nation’s abortion rates were at a 24-year low, after a 17.4% decline during the 1990s. This was an average decrease of 1.7% per year, mostly during the latter part of the decade. (This data comes from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life using the Guttmacher Institute’s studies).
Enter George W. Bush in 2001. One would expect the abortion rate to continue its consistent course downward, if not plunge. Instead, the opposite happened.
I found three states that have posted multi-year statistics through 2003, and abortion rates have risen in all three: Kentucky’s increased by 3.2% from 2000 to 2003. Michigan’s increased by 11.3% from 2000 to 2003. Pennsylvania’s increased by 1.9% from 1999 to 2002. I found 13 additional states that reported statistics for 2001 and 2002. Eight states saw an increase in abortion rates (14.6% average increase), and five saw a decrease (4.3% average decrease).
Under President Bush, the decade-long trend of declining abortion rates appears to have reversed. Given the trends of the 1990s, 52,000 more abortions occurred in the United States in 2002 than would have been expected before this change of direction.
How could this be? I see three contributing factors:
First, two thirds of women who abort say they cannot afford a child (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Web site). In the past three years, unemployment rates increased half again. Not since Hoover had there been a net loss of jobs during a presidency until the current administration. Average real incomes decreased, and for seven years the minimum wage has not been raised to match inflation. With less income, many prospective mothers fear another mouth to feed.
Second, half of all women who abort say they do not have a reliable mate (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life). Men who are jobless usually do not marry. Only three of the 16 states had more marriages in 2002 than in 2001, and in those states abortion rates decreased. In the 16 states overall, there were 16,392 fewer marriages than the year before, and 7,869 more abortions. As male unemployment increases, marriages fall and abortion rises.
Third, women worry about health care for themselves and their children. Since 5.2 million more people have no health insurance now than before this presidency – with women of childbearing age overrepresented in those 5.2 million – abortion increases.
I’d add a fourth reason; the Bush administration has used the “bully pulpit” to argue against birth control, and has encouraged abstinence-only education. Abstinence is indeed the most effective birth control (although “abstinence,” from a pregnancy-prevention point of view, can also include having lots of oral sex and homosexual sex); but it doesn’t follow that abstinence-only education is the most effective pregnancy-prevention education.
Mark Roche – a Dean at at the University of Notre Dame – is another pro-lifer who has realized that if the goal is reducing abortion, rather than punishing women, abortion bans simply don’t work. In a New York Times op-ed, he writes (emphasis added by me):
There are many reasons for this shift. Yet surely the traditional Democratic concern with the social safety net makes it easier for pregnant women to make responsible decisions and for young life to flourish; among the most economically disadvantaged, abortion rates have always been and remain the highest. The world’s lowest abortion rates are in Belgium and the Netherlands, where abortion is legal but where the welfare state is strong. Latin America, where almost all abortions are illegal, has one of the highest rates in the world.
None of this is to argue that abortion should be acceptable. History will judge our society’s support of abortion in much the same way we view earlier generations’ support of torture and slavery – it will be universally condemned. The moral condemnation of abortion, however, need not lead to the conclusion that criminal prosecution is the best way to limit the number of abortions. Those who view abortion as the most significant issue in this campaign may well want to supplement their abstract desire for moral rectitude with a more realistic focus on how best to ensure that fewer abortions take place.
Links via “Grassroots Mom” at DailyKos.
UPDATE: Hey, it turns out Body and Soul wrote almost the exact same post – but she wrote hers two days earlier. Great minds think alike (and somewhat less great minds think alike except they do it two days later!).