Voting for pro-life politicians increases abortion

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 am a Christian ethicist, and trained in statistical analysis. I am consistently pro-life. My son David is one witness. For my family, “pro-life” is personal. My wife caught rubella in the eighth week of her pregnancy. We decided not to terminate, to love and raise our baby. David is legally blind and severely handicapped; he also is a blessing to us and to the world.

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):

During the eight years of the Reagan presidency, the number of legal abortions increased by more than 5 percent; during the eight years of the Clinton presidency, the number dropped by 36 percent. The overall abortion rate (calculated as the number of abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44) was more or less stable during the Reagan years, but during the Clinton presidency it dropped by 11 percent.

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!).

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120 Responses to Voting for pro-life politicians increases abortion

  1. 1
    Ampersand says:

    Janelle, you’re being exceptionally civil so far – don’t worry about it. Every blog has different rules, so it’s fine to discover them as you go along.

    If every soul is precious to God, then what about the souls of babies who would not have been born but for abortion?

    Let’s say that Cindy Brady gets pregnant at age 15, feels unready to deal with it, and so gets an abortion. At age 28, married to a nice guy and with economic security and personal maturity, she gets pregnant on purpose and has a wonderful child, who she and her husband named Steve. But if Cindy hadn’t had an abortion at 15, her life would have gone on a totally different course – and almost certainly would not have led to her meeting the man she ended up marrying and giving birth to Steve.

    Would God really have preferred Cindy to give birth the first time – and thus have caused Steve to never exist at all? If so, then how can you say that God considers Steve’s soul to be precious?

    In the USA, most women who give birth are only going to give birth to one to three children; it’s rare for Americans to have more than three children. When women in the US have abortion, sometimes they’re choosing not to have children; but more often they’re choosing to control the timing of when they have children. If abortion didn’t exist, for most women, it wouldn’t mean that they’d have more children; it just means they’d have different children. The children who are born because abortion helped their mother to control her reproduction are just as precious as any other children; and a world in which they were never born, because their mother gave birth earlier when she didn’t want to, would not be an improvement over this world.

  2. 2
    Elkins says:

    So what you’re saying is that you would gladly have let your mom kill you if she wanted to?

    Before I had a functioning cerebral cortex? Before I was capable of thought or emotion? Sure.

    I’m an organ donor too, by the way. That means that I’ve also given hospitals full permission to kill me should I become brain-dead.

  3. 3
    ko says:

    Seems real simple:

    Janelle and others believe a zygote has a soul. I respect this. Janelle should never be forced to have an abortion against her will.

    Amanda and others don’t share Janelle’s belief. I respect this. Amanda should never be forced to go through her pregnancy.

    Thoughtful, intelligent and well-meaning people come to different conclusions. Janelle, you need to respect that. I don’t think Amanda expects you to go against your beliefs. Please do not force Amanda to go against hers (by supporting anti-abortion laws).

    Freedom is a precious thing. We should all be free to practice our beliefs.

    A FAR more useful topic is how to reduce abortions because we might find some common ground there.

  4. 4
    Janelle says:

    In a nutshell, all souls exist because God willed it and He creates them himself at the moment of conception (Christian worldview talking here). Each person he creates is *unique and unrepeatable*. If we’re all the same and there’s nothing particularly special about any of us, then what’s the use of arguing against abortion! But if the opposite is true, then once a baby is aborted, the chance that person could have had to be the doctor/teacher/artist/spouse/parent that they were meant and created to be is gone forever… and they can’t be replaced. Therefore, God wishes all children to be cared for and given a chance at life, even despite the circumstances surrounding their conception or birth or indeed any aspect of their lives. And God, being all-powerful and Love itself, can and does bring good out of the mistakes people make in their lives. A woman pregnant at 15 may just as well marry a wonderful man and at 28 give birth to a planned for child had she kept her first baby. It happens.

    “What about the souls of babies who would not have been born but for abortion?”
    This logic baffles me. Children are not born *because* of a previous abortion. God creates each soul individually. All souls who are conceived are those who he wills to be born. There are no “what ifs” with God.

    “Would God really have preferred Cindy to give birth the first time – and thus have caused Steve to never exist at all? If so, then how can you say that God considers Steve’s soul to be precious?”
    Yes, because God would have brought Steve into existence anyway, if that were His intention. God can work through any circumstances. He can and will bring new life into existence regardless of whether or not a woman has an abortion.

    “The children who are born because abortion helped their mother to control her reproduction are just as precious as any other children” -
    Children who are aborted are just as precious as any other children. One ought not to be sacrificed for the other. Cindy’s “wonderful child” (as you describe her second) is not more nor less precious in God’s eyes. Both her first and second children are very precious and very loved because they ARE, because they exist.

    Back to the pregnant at 15 story – if the timing of a pregnancy is not ideal, such as in the case described, then adoption would be the far more positive action. The mother gives life to the child, the child brings joy to an adoptive family (they often wait years until there is a baby available to adopt), and the mother’s life goes on.

    My question to you is this – could not Cindy have, at 15, given her child up for adoption and yet had her life’s outcome remain the same? Could not her situation have quite possibly been identical to that which you proposed?

    That wasn’t exactly in a nutshell, was it!

  5. 5
    Janelle says:

    Ko:
    I respect differences of opinion, certainly. However, what you are proposing goes beyond that and is called moral relativism. This creates chaos, not freedom. We certainly have the freedom to believe whatever we want, but we do not have the freedom to do whatever we want.

    True freedom is not the same as license. It is not the power to do whatever we like but to choose what is good.

    “Morality is not a barrier to our freedom but a condition of authentic self-realization.” – Lord Acton

  6. 6
    alsis38 says:

    I’m really not interested in the “moral relativism” bit being dragged out yet again. My morals are my morals, and they don’t in the slightest impinge on Janelle’s morals. My trouble with the pro-life movement, as I’ve stated repeatedly, is that they are incapable of giving any breathing room to anyone whose moral compass operates differently than their own. I don’t intervene with a pro-lifer who wants to have a baby, yet too many pro-lifers use their own moral compass to justify their desire to force me to have a baby when I don’t want one.

    You can call this “relativism” if you like. Hell, you can call it “Cleveland” for all I care. But I have enough faith in my own sense of morality to say, as many times as I must, that your morals are not mine. I don’t require you to adhere to my morals to the degree that your own life is negatively impacted. You should return that respect, and yet your whole modus operandi is bent upon not respecting me.

    You don’t have the market cornered on morality, Janelle. You can claim you do until the last of the polar icecaps melt, but you don’t.

  7. 7
    ko says:

    Janelle, of course it would be chaos to allow people to do anything they want. That’s simple common sense. I’m not proposing that. What’s more, I suspect you know I’m not proposing that.

    I’m talking about good, honest, intelligent, well-meaning, MORAL people having differences.

    You said “In a nutshell, all souls exist because God willed it and He creates them himself at the moment of conception”. That is opinion, not a fact. Please do not confuse the two.

    I happen to agree with many of your points. You cross the line when you imply your morals are superior and should be enforced through legal means. That, in itself, is immoral.

  8. 8
    Amanda says:

    Good point, Amp. It is striking to me that anti-abortion activists often use good woman (mother) vs. bad woman (has abortion) models, not acknowledging that plenty of good mothers have had abortions without regret.

  9. 9
    Janelle says:

    I do not mean to imply that *my* morals are superior. They are not even my own. What I am saying is that there are laws of the universe which are absolute, and if a person violates these laws, negative consequences will follow for the people involved and for society as a whole. Morality is not individual, it is universal.

    Natural law and the moral code does not change and is not dependant on someone’s opinion. People can have differences all they want, and indeed, ‘good, honest, intelligent, well-meaning, moral people’ disagree all the time. This still leaves the fact that people can make wrong choices that hurt themselves and others – and they should be told so, because there are some choices which are flat out always morally incorrect.

    I will try to explain more later.

    And Amanda, it’s not about good vs. evil people, but about good vs. evil *actions*. In no way should a person be condemned for their actions. It is the immoral actions themselves, which are separate from the person, that are rightly subject to condemnation.

    Would any of you be interested in explaining to me your positions on morality further? (i.e. defintions of morality, how you view/practice living a moral life, etc.) I’d be curious to know what you have to say.

  10. 10
    Sarah in Chicago says:

    I don’t know why I am going to get into this, because I know we aren’t going to convince people like Janelle no matter how many rational and reasonable arguments we use, because her base is based on faith, not on rationality and reason (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, just a different place to be coming from).

    Anyways, Janelle -

    First off, this concept of Natural Law and Moral Code that you claim exist, doesn’t. How can I show this? Simply because of the variety of moral values held historically and/or cross-culturally show that pretty much nothing has been held as particularly absolute a-historically or a-culturally.

    But that said, I am not going to tell you not to believe in these absolutes, I am just pointing out the extreme lack of pragmatic evidence for them.

    Further, I would argue that it’s not too much of a a stretch to think that the majority of the people here don’t see a disconnect between a person’s actions and that person. To a lot of us a person isn’t defined by the espousal of their beliefs, but instead the consequences of their choices; namely their actions. People have to take responsibility for them. Women having control over their bodies fits into this viewpoint. I can explain this last point more if you need me to.

    My own personal moral compass is not too far away from ko’s point of good, honest, intelligent, well-meaning, MORAL people having differences. I actually think that a society derives strength from it’s diversity of approaches, as much as I may disagree with a lot of them *smile*

    Hence, my ideal of a moral life, which I try to live up to, is that I respect the beliefs and practices of those good, honest, intelligent, well-meaning, people and not infringe upon them, just as I expect them not to infringe upon mine, or those of others.

    Under that overarching imperative, I try to make society a better place than when I came into it, be nice to people (which is a cliche, I’ll admit, but still true), and do as much as I can for those I love.

    And yes, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool atheist :)

    Can you see now why your ideal of applying your rules (regardless of where you say you get them from) of morals regardless of our beliefs so fundamentally disturbs us?

    Sarah

  11. 11
    ko says:

    Janelle, you are saying the moral code you follow is THE correct code. All others are wrong. Despite your polite tone, that is an incredibly arrogant position.

    You asked
    “Would any of you be interested in explaining to me your positions on morality further? (i.e. defintions of morality, how you view/practice living a moral life, etc.) I’d be curious to know what you have to say.”

    My morals are partly a result of my Christian upbringing. I can’t think of an all encompassing description, but here’s a start. Be aware these are ideals. I’m human:

    1. Strive to leave the world a better place than it would have been without me

    2. Do not harm people, unless it’s clear self-defense

    3. Do not harm the earth, air and water we all share

    4. Help the poor and sick become productive

    5. Treat zygotes, brain-dead victims, and animals with respect, but do not give them the same status as living people

  12. 12
    Amanda says:

    Ko is right–how is it that you happen to know what *the* moral code is and it is the same as yours? What is messed up about the rest of us that we don’t have the correct moral code? And doesn’t that imply that there’s “good” and “bad” people, sifted roughly into those in the know of these natural code and those who don’t?

  13. 13
    ko says:

    ok, one more moral, then i’ll stop the corny pontificating…

    6. Be honest. Honesty means “Thou shalt not lie” and “Thou shalt not steal”. It also means searching for the truth, questioning my own beliefs, being able to admit when I’m wrong or don’t have the answer.

  14. 14
    Janelle says:

    You’re right, I have been sounding rather arrogant and I can totally see how my position could seriously disturb a lot of you out there.

    What I would like to attempt is to try and explain my views, which are obviously based on faith, using rationality and reason. There is, in fact, no disparity between faith and reason; they are entirely consistent with one another (bet a lot of you don’t believe me!).

    I can’t go into it right now (have a music rehearsal tonight for a Bluegrass mass), but I shall get to it before long…

  15. 15
    ginmar says:

    ” However, not *all* women are called to be biological mothers – but, all women, because they are women, are by nature maternal and should be encouraged to use their gifts to nuture and care for those close to them. That may or may not happen to include children of their own. ”

    This is the kind of thing that’s annoying to people. You’re talking about this like it’s a fact. It’s not.

    “Some women want to have many children, some do not.”

    The only issue in that sentence appears to be whether the woman wants to have lots of children or a few. Not having any while continueing to enjoy sex is another option as well.

  16. 16
    mythago says:

    In no way should a person be condemned for their actions.

    This baffles me. Is the person not choosing to perform those actions? Do you believe there are no bad people?

    Janelle, I could equally argue that I know you to be wrong (based on faith and reason) because my faith is quite clear that a fetus is not a human being from conception, this is a ‘natural law,’ and God’s word on the subject is clear. Can you really refute that logically?

  17. 17
    Don P says:

    Janelle:

    What I am saying is that there are laws of the universe which are absolute, and if a person violates these laws, negative consequences will follow for the people involved and for society as a whole. Morality is not individual, it is universal.

    What moral laws are those, then? How do you know that they are laws? What are the negative consequences of violating them? How do you know? You make all these assertions and offer nothing to substantiate them.

    This still leaves the fact that people can make wrong choices that hurt themselves and others –

    The fact that a choice hurts the person making it or others cannot mean that the choice is immoral. In many situations, any choice will lead to someone being hurt.

    If you mean that the choice that leads to the least harm is the moral choice, that’s just an expression of consequentialist ethics. But you cannot show that that theory, or any moral theory, represents objective truth rather than simply being a matter of preference.

    and they should be told so, because there are some choices which are flat out always morally incorrect.

    What choices are “flat out always morally incorrect?” Give us some examples. How do you know that they are morally incorrect?

    I will try to explain more later.

    Good.

    Would any of you be interested in explaining to me your positions on morality further? (i.e. defintions of morality, how you view/practice living a moral life, etc.) I’d be curious to know what you have to say.

    We don’t know if there’s any such thing as moral truth or fact. Even if there are such moral truths, we don’t know how to discover what they are. Since I have no reason to believe that there is such a thing as moral truth, I don’t believe it. I believe that our moral sense is an aspect of our minds, and our minds are a product or property of our brains, a biological organ shaped by evolution. Our moral sense is therefore also likely to have been shaped in significant part by evolutionary processes. Basically, many or most of our moral instincts or intuitions evolved to promote behaviors that helped our ancestors to survive and reproduce during our evolutionary history. These instincts and intuitions are elaborated by culture and other aspects of our environment.

  18. 18
    sarah h says:

    Janelle says: “… God would have brought Steve into existence anyway, if that were His intention. God can work through any circumstances. He can and will bring new life into existence regardless of whether or not a woman has an abortion.”

    If you truly believe that, why is abortion wrong? God will take care of it.

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