In recent election cycles, Democrats have made a series of ham-handed attempts to convince voters that they would actually do a better job lowering abortion rates than Republicans have. In 2004, Sojourners ran an article by Glen Harold Stassen which used data from a sample of states to claim the abortion rate went up under President Bush. However, comprehensive data later released by the CDC revealed the abortion rate actually fell during President Bush’s first term in office. In 2008, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) released a study which purportedly found that welfare spending was effective at lowering abortion rates. However, after a data-coding error was corrected, the results indicated that welfare spending had inconsistent effects across time.
This year is appears that Stephen Schneck will be taking on this role for the Democratic party. Schneck used to be the chair of the Department of Politics at Catholic University of America. He is currently director of CUA’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies and is associated with the group Catholics for Obama. At a panel hosted by Democrats for Life on Wednesday, Schneck attempted to make the case Stassen and CACG tried to make in 2004 and 2008 respectively.
However, based on his Wednesday remarks, it does not appear he will be any more successful than his predecessors.
Schneck’s main argument is that since one-third of all births are paid for by Medicaid and the Romney-Ryan ticket wants to cut Medicaid — women who would have used Medicaid to pay their childbearing expenses will instead obtain abortions. There are obviously lots of problems with this logic. Schneck cites no research which shows that Medicaid spending is negatively correlated with abortion rates. There is also no evidence that women respond to higher childbearing costs by obtaining abortions in greater numbers. There is no guarantee that any Medicaid cuts would be focused on prenatal or perinatal care.
Medicaid is jointly run by the states and federal government and states could respond to federal cuts by increasing spending. Finally, past Republican efforts to cut spending have not always met with much success and there is no guarantee a President Romney would actually be able to cut Medicaid.
In the past, a number of Democrats have tried to make the case that social spending will reduce abortion rates. However, there is not one peer-reviewed study which shows that Medicaid spending or any other kind of welfare spending actually reduces the incidence of abortion.
There is, however, a substantial body of research which documents the effectiveness of pro-life laws. In 2009 the Guttmacher Institute did a literature review on public-funding restrictions for abortion. Of the 24 studies they considered, 20 found that abortion rates fell after public funding was reduced. They even acknowledged the best research indicates that restricting public funding lowers abortion rates. There is also an academic literature which documents the effectiveness of parental-involvement laws and properly designed informed-consent laws.
President Obama has pursued policies which will almost certainly increase the incidence of abortion. He rescinded the Mexico City policy which had prohibited foreign aid to organizations that perform abortions. He signed an appropriations bill which provided taxpayer funding for abortions in Washington, D.C.
His administration sued to prevent Indiana from defunding Planned Parenthood and stepped up with an HHS grant when New Hampshire cut taxpayer funds for Planned Parenthood. And, of course, Obamacare poses numerous problems for pro-lifers. If abortion is listed as a federal health benefit, that could easily nullify or weaken a number of state-level pro-life laws. Obamacare also provides federal funds to insurance plans which cover abortion. The HHS contraceptive mandate could require employers to cover abortifacients and is also a taxpayer bailout of Planned Parenthood.
The pro-life movement has been very shrewd in its marketing and Democrats can see the pro-life position making gains in the court of public opinion. They also know that their support for legal abortion is hurting them with several key demographic groups including working-class whites and Catholics. It is unfortunate that instead of actually offering substantial legal protections for the unborn, Democrats insist on trotting out these tired, unpersuasive arguments every election cycle.