Monday, September 15, 2008

Why the Democratic Abortion Strategy is Worse

In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, David Gibson argued that the Democratic Party's strategy to reduce abortion is more effective than that of the GOP's:

[E]ven overturning Roe would not end abortion. It would only turn the matter back to the states, most of which are not likely to eliminate the right to abortion. Moreover, new research sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good shows that "social and economic supports for women and families dramatically reduce the number of abortions" -- a strong argument for a broad-based approach like Mr. Obama's. As Mr. Kmiec told the New York Times, "the better question is how could a Catholic not support Barack Obama?"

On its face, Gibson's claim is hard to believe: The party of NARAL, the National Abortion Federation, and NOW will reduce abortion more than the party of the National Right to Life Committee, Focus on the Family, and the Christian Coalition? It is an implausible claim -- and the closer you look at it, a false one. The GOP's abortion strategy is better -- far better.

For one thing, the Democratic Party platform continues to support the expansion of taxpayer-financed abortions. This is not idle talk. Democrats are serious about it. On President Clinton's first day in office, he issued an executive order overturning the Mexico City policy, which probihited U.S. dollars being spent on organizations that perform abortions or provide abortion counseling; the policy was not rescinded until 2001 when President Bush took office. In addition, President Clinton signed into law the expansion of funding of abortion through Medicaid. Obama has pledged to do the same things.

Government funding of abortion increases rather than decreases the abortion rate. As the study commissioned by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good points out, which Gibson failed to mention, Medicaid funding of abortion is associated with an increase in the abortion rate by one-tenth.

Granted, government can promote economic policies to reduce abortion. The CACG study notes that removing the family cap on welfare and increasing welfare funding by $1,350 per person is correlated with a 31 percent reduction in the abortion rate. Now, I don't doubt that Democrats would be far more likely than Republicans to remove the family cap, which would lower the abortion rate by 16 percent. But it is unlikely that Democrats would spend $1,350 more per peson on AFDC-TANF payments, the sum that the study's authors say is necessary to realize a 20 percent drop in the abortion rate.

For another thing, as Rick Garnett notes, national Democrats oppose any real legal protections for unborn infants. This is a key point that both Gibson and the CACG study overlook. (It is also directly contrary to Catholic social thought. As the Catechism says, “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”)

If Roe were overturned, dozens of states would do more than ban partial-birth abortion or enact parental consent laws; they would ban abortion in the "easy" cases -- economic and familial circumstance, psychological and emotional reasons, etc. Banning abortion in these cases would not only be possible; more than three-fifths of Americans support banning abortion in the "easy" cases. It would also be desirable; more than 90 percent of abortions are performed for those reasons.

Just consider the chart below. When abortion was illegal in all but the hard cases, abortion was rare, or relatively so. Now it's not. Indeed, the abortion rate is more than a quarter higher today than in 1973.

Number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44, by year

It is clever and counter-intuitive to argue that the Democratic Party's abortion strategy is better than the GOP's. But it is not true.

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