Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Abortion and Economics

(Cross-posted from Vox Nova).

What does abortion in the United States look like? The Guttmacher Institute explores this issue in some detail. For a start, it notes that 57% of women opting for abortion are economically disadvantaged. In fact, the abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women). And when asked to give reasons for abortion, three-quarters of women say that cannot afford a child. At the same time, black women are almost four times as likely as white women to have an abortion, and Hispanic women are two and a half life times as likely. Almost half of women terminating their pregnancies have had previous abortions, and 60 percent of abortions are concentrated among women who already have children.

Clearly, the importance of economic factors is stunningly obvious. Let's explore some of the larger trends. The Guttmacher Institute also presents detailed statistics on the abortion rate (abortions per 1000 women, age 15-44) and the abortion ratio (abortions per 100 pregnancies ending in abortion or live birth). Since 1980, the pattern of abortion has been trending downwards. The rate fell by almost 10 percentage points since 1980. Although the trend was more or less continuous, the steepest decline occurred during the 1990s. Matching rates of decline to presidential terms is enlightening. During Reagan's eight years, and the first Bush's term, the average abortion rate fell by 0.3 percentage points a year. But under Clinton, this rose to an annual average 0.5 percentage points. Under the second Bush (with the caveat that data only go to 2003), the rate of decline fell by 0.1 percentage points a year, practical standstill. The data for the abortion ratio are even more stark: here, the decline under Clinton is double that of the overall Republican average. So, there we have a seeming paradox: the largest decline in abortion took place under the sole Democratic presidential regime over this period. And yet the pro-life movement is strangely silent, and still hitches its wagon to the fortunes of the Republican party.

Let's go a little further with this empirical exercise and look at poverty rates. The poverty rate, whether measured by individuals or families rose under the first Bush administration (average half percentage point a year), fell dramatically under Clinton (average half percentage point a year), and rose again under the younger Bush (quarter percentage point a year). Are these trends related? Casual observation would say yes. But let's get a little more rigorous, and look at some empirical evidence. In particular, let's do a simple ordinary least squares regression of the abortion rate and the abortion ratio on a constant plus the poverty rate, 1980-2003. Here are the results:

Abortion rate = 2.06 + 1.71 * Poverty rate (R-squared= 0.37)

Abortion ratio = 9.43 + 1.32 * Poverty rate (R-squared= 0.44).

Both poverty coefficients are (highly) significant at the 1 percent level. This suggests that if we can reduce the poverty rate, there will be a more-than-proportionate reduction in abortion. Of course, these results can be challenged on the grounds that the data could be non-stationary. Running the regression in first differences should remove trends:

Change in abortion ratio = -0.25 + 0.37 * Change in poverty rate

Again, this is significant at the 1 percent level (but using the abortion rate is not). Remember, this is a very simple methodology to explore a rather basic hypothesis. But it seems clear that economic factors, insofar as they affect poverty, affect abortion patterns. Mapping these results into policy would suggest that the pro-life movement should broaden its scope to encompass economic as well as coercive strategies, since the ultimate goal is the reduction in abortions. It is also for this reason that I am highly skeptical about the need to vote Republican on pro-life grounds. But can the pro-life movement wrest itself from the grasp of the Republican party?


Anonymous said...

. . . the pro-life movement should broaden its scope to encompass economic as well as coercive strategies . . .

Ain't gonna happen. The "pro-life party" does not come out smelling like a rose on issues favoring economically distressed people, who are often more likely to have abortions. Better not to draw attention to that and hope nobody notices. Consistency is not a strong point of the pro-life movement--a major reason they aren't taken seriously by more people.

It is also for this reason that I am highly skeptical about the need to vote Republican on pro-life grounds. But can the pro-life movement wrest itself from the grasp of the Republican party?

Or do they even want to? Pro-life honchos are so addicted to this Republican con job, it's like their crack pipe. Very hard to imagine they will go into rehab any time soon. As long as the GOP talks the talk, it can apparently be forgiven for not walking the walk. In fact, as we've seen in the past few years, it can be forgiven for just about *anything*.

Of course, the real question underlying all this political bickering is: Do you TRUST Republican politicians to take meaningful action any time soon to end abortion? And if so, why?

(1) Roe v. Wade has been upheld by a majority of Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices for the last 33 years which is not surprising given the fact that it was a majority of Republican-appointed justices which gave us Roe v. Wade to begin with back in 1973.

(2) Six of the seven justices who voted in support of Roe v. Wade were appointed by Republican presidents.

(3) Republican congresses--including the recent rubber-stamp congress--have done absolutely nothing to overturn Roe, even though Article III, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution clearly gives it the authority to except and/or regulate the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

With Republicans in control of the entire government: both houses of congress, the Supreme Court and the White House, it would seem to be the perfect opportunity to rid the country of abortion. Just DO IT! Ram it through! But No...they were too busy invading Iraq to even think about it.

(4) Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, both appointed by Ronald Reagan, wrote landmark decisions favoring abortion and gay rights.

(5) Since the Roe. v. Wade decision of 1973, Republican-appointed justices have always been in the majority by a margin of at least 7-2.

More than 30 years of an overwhelming Republican SC majority, yet Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land. Could it be they have other priorities and aren't telling us?

So here we are into the 4th decade, still waiting, hopes now pinned on Roberts and Alieto, the newest saviors who will surely set about striking down Roe. Maybe. Sort of. In a few more decades. Or maybe not. Don't hold your breath. Just keep voting Republican, it's sure to work eventually.. maybe.. sort of..

Anonymous said...

The pre-born need more than de jure protection, they need de facto protection.

The stresses tempting women to abortion eg poverty and social stigma are exacerbated by Conservative economic policies and anti-single parent rhetoric.

Voting for politicians who will alleviate poverty and social stigma will probably save more unborn lives than politicians who promise to change the law or the judiciary.

Pro-lifers should ask what policies will save more unborn lives.