October 13, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) -- Every four years, there are people who declare that they are pro-life but plan to vote for a political party dedicated to preserving the so-called right to kill children in the womb. It is always jarring to hear it, because it is difficult to understand how someone who believes that abortion kills a human being would also state that they are planning to vote for a party that sees abortion as a fundamental plank in their platform. This year, for example, the group “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden” is claiming to be … well, both “pro-life” and “for Biden.” Biden, of course, is “for abortion.”
To justify this, some pro-lifers voting for pro-abortion candidates will claim that the abortion rate goes down under Democrat presidents. This argument is thrown out so often it has become something of a trope, and this election year is no different. I’ve seen the argument making the rounds on social media, and I’ve seen it used by pro-life people who really badly want to believe that a vote for Joe Biden can be morally neutralized by this alleged fact. As you might imagine, it isn’t true. At least, not in the way that those using it intend.
Listen to this full interview here:
To debunk this assertion, I turned to pro-life researcher Dr. Michael New, a visiting assistant professor of Political Science and Social Research at the Catholic University of America, as well as an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute and a fellow with the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton. He has a Ph.D in political science and a Master’s degree in statistics from Stanford, and has served as a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard-MIT data center and as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts. He is one of America’s foremost experts on abortion rates. Here’s what he had to say.
Where does the claim that the abortion rate goes down under Democrat presidents originate?
There are several online memes which claim that there have been considerably larger abortion rate declines during Democratic Presidential administrations than during Republican Presidential administrations. It is interesting, as pro-lifers have made gains in the court of public opinion, some of our opponents have changed their strategy. They do not like to argue that pro-lifers are wrong, they instead they have changed their approach and instead argue that pro-life policies are ineffective. Here are some other examples from recent elections.
In 2004, there was an article written by Glen Harold Stassen which claimed (using preliminary data) that abortions were going up in the early years of the George W. Bush administration. However, more complete data showed abortion rates continued to decline during George W. Bush's Presidency.
In 2008, Catholic in Alliance for the Common Good published a study which purportedly showed that welfare and other social programs were a more effective strategy for reducing the abortion rate than enacting pro-life laws. However, their study contained methodological errors. When the errors were corrected, welfare spending had inconsistent impact on the incidence of abortion across time.
In 2012, Stephen Schneck of the Catholic University of America claimed that Mitt Romney's proposed cuts to Medicaid would increase the abortion rate, but provided no actual data or research to support that argument.
In 2016, Rachel Held Evans wrote a widely circulated column encouraging pro-life voters to support Hillary Clinton. She claimed that pro-life laws are not effective at reducing the abortion rate -- even though there is plenty of evidence that the incidence of abortion is sensitive to its legal status. Evans also claimed that more spending on social programs would reduce the abortion rate – but failed to provide any evidence or research to support that argument.
Finally, she also said that efforts to make contraception more available would reduce the abortion rate. However, research shows that few sexually active women forgo contraception because of the high cost or lack of availability. Finally, many efforts to increase the contraceptive use are either ineffective at best or counterproductive at worst.
Overall, these memes are misleading. They do not mention the fact that the U.S. abortion rate increased under Democratic President Jimmy Carter. These memes often do not mention that California quit reporting abortion data to the CDC in 1997. This exaggerates the abortion rate decline that took place during the Clinton administration. Some memes use the overall number of abortions instead of the abortion rate. This is misleading because it allows them to report an increase in the number of abortions that took place during the Reagan administration. However, the abortion rate actually decreased during the Reagan years -- the reported rise in the number of abortions is due to the fact there was an increase in the population of women of childbearing age between 1981 and 1989.
Is there any truth to this claim?
It is true in the sense that since 1980, there has been a long-term, durable decline the U.S. abortion rate that has persisted through both Republican and Democratic Presidential administrations.
In percentage terms, there have been somewhat larger percentage declines in the abortion rate during Democratic Presidential administrations than during Republican Presidential administrations. However, it is by no means clear that these declines are due to any policy change enacted or legislated by these Democratic Presidents. It should also be noted that policy changes at the state level likely have a larger impact on the incidence of abortion than policy changes at the federal level. Furthermore, in both 1994 (during the Clinton administration) and in 2010 (during the Obama administration), Republicans made significant gains in many state legislatures. This led to an increase in the number of state level pro-life laws, many of which were upheld by judges appointed by Republican Presidents.
Do robust social policies (such as in Hungary and Israel) have an impact on the abortion rate?
The research on the impact of social policies on the abortion rate is mixed. However, the Hungarian government should be lauded for their efforts to reduce the incidence of abortion in Hungary. They have invested money in educational efforts encouraging women to carry pregnancies to term. They have increased the maternity benefit and the child care allowance. They have also offered free or reduced cost services for children. Between 2010 and 2019 the abortion rate in Hungary fell by over 35 percent. There was also a study in the journal "Labour Economics" which showed that increased maternity leave benefits reduced the probability of abortion in Romania.
These sorts of policies are not a substitute for enacting pro-life laws. Pro-lifers want to see a world where all unborn children are protected in law and welcomed into life. However, the policies that have been enacted in Hungary and Romania certainly merit attention from pro-lifers.
What, in your view, is actually bringing the abortion rate down?
An important reason for the decline in the U.S. abortion rate is because a higher percentage of unintended pregnancies are being carried to term. According to data from the Guttmacher Institute, 54 percent of unintended pregnancies were aborted in 1981. In 2011 (the most recent year for which we have data), only 42 percent of unintended pregnancies resulted in an abortion.
I often present this statistic to pro-life audiences because it nicely demonstrates that the efforts of pro-life activists have been effective at reducing the abortion rate. If more unintended pregnancies are being carried to term that means that 1) hearts and minds are being changed, 2) there are more resources available to assist pregnant women or 3) protective pro-life laws are now in place.
All of this nicely shows that pro-life educational, service, and legislative efforts have all been effective.
Is it true that the most recent data shows a slight uptick in the abortion rate?
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A recent analysis published by the Charlotte Lozier Institute found that abortions in the United States increased by 1.78 percent between 2017 and 2018. This is partly due to an increase in chemical abortions. There is some preliminary data from Florida which may indicate that the incidence of abortion may be increasing this year.
There are also anecdotal reports from abortion facilities and abortion funds which indicate that the incidence of abortion has increased during the pandemic.
These reported increases in the incidence of abortion certainly do not undo the impressive, long-term progress that pro-lifers have made reducing the abortion rate. However, as always, pro-lifers should continue to be vigilant.
Jonathon’s new podcast, The Van Maren Show, is dedicated to telling the stories of the pro-life and pro-family movement. In his latest episode, he interviews Marjorie Dannenfelser from the Susan B. Anthony List who tells Van Maren that this election is crucial for the pro-life movement. Dannenfelser warns listeners that if the Democrats win, it will have a generational impact, as the left will fight to take away the core principles of our nation's founding.
You can subscribe here and listen to the episode below: