Rick Santorum’s comments on abortion and Social Security continue to receive criticism from the liberal blogosphere. Here is some background: While on a radio show in New Hampshire last week, Rick Santorum blamed Social Security’s financing problems on high abortion rates. Specifically, he argued that the high incidence of abortion has resulted in fewer workers to support current retirees.
As I indicated in an earlier post, Santorum’s calculations do not quite add up. Legal abortion led to a more sexually permissive culture, resulting in both more conceptions and more abortions. As such, the birthrate did not change dramatically. However, Santorum deserves credit because low fertility rates are an important — and often ignored — factor in the financing problems facing both Social Security and Medicare.
In their criticisms of Santorum, many on the left have overreached. An example of this is the RhRealityCheck.org article by the Guttmacher Institute’s Cory Richards entitled “Rick Santorum Misses the Point on Abortion and Social Security.” Richards is correct that Santorum’s statement that “one third of pregnancies end in abortion” overstates the prevalence of abortion. He is also correct that legalizing abortion did not have a dramatic impact on the birthrate.
However, toward the end of his article, Richards makes the bizarre claim that the natural extension of Santorum’s purported solution for bolstering Social Security would be “to require American women and couples to have more children than they want.” No one is seriously discussing using coercive measures to increase the fertility rate. Instead, increasing the per child tax credit and finding other ways to make the tax code more “family friendly” are certainly policy ideas worthy of serious consideration. Even raising the salience of America’s low fertility rate might foster some important discussions.
Richards also does not seem to realize that low fertility rates are a very serious problem, one receiving plenty of attention from policymakers in a number of European countries. The problems in Europe are more severe than the problems in the United States; their fertility rates are lower and their social welfare benefits are higher. However, low fertility rates are still an issue that affects the United States. As such, Santorum’s comments should be fostering serious discussion instead of partisan criticism.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.