An Important Pro-Life Vote Today

by Michael J. New

Today the House of Representatives will likely be voting on H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act, sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) and Dan Lipinski (D., Ill.). This bill would permanently prohibit the funding of abortion in any federal program. Specifically it would make pro-life riders like the Hyde Amendment permanent law. Furthermore, it would also permanently ban taxpayer-funded abortions in the District of Columbia. Even though the Hyde Amendment passes every year, it is always possible a partisan shift in Congress could jeopardize its passage. The enactment of H.R. 3 would make the funding restrictions included in the Hyde Amendment permanent.

The passage of H.R. 3 is an important priority for the right-to-life movement. There is a fairly broad consensus among social scientists and public-health scholars that public funding restrictions are the best legislative tool that pro-lifers have to stop abortion. The reason for this is that these restrictions are largely self-enforcing. Other types of pro-life laws — including waiting periods, parental-involvement laws, and informed-consent laws — effectively require abortion providers to police themselves. Indeed, a 2009 Guttmacher Institute literature review found that 20 of 24 peer-reviewed studies demonstrated that public-funding restrictions led to abortion rate declines.

There is also a growing body of research which finds that reductions in the number of abortion providers also reduce the incidence of abortion. My recently published study in State Politics and Policy Quarterly finds statistically significant evidence of this. Between 1985 and 2005, the number of abortion providers in the United States declined by 33 percent. If public-funding reductions cause additional abortion clinics to close down, even more abortions will be prevented.

Regardless of the outcome of today’s vote, pro-lifers should take heart. In the aftermath of the 1994 election, Congress never even voted on defunding Planned Parenthood. This year, there was already a concerted effort to remove Planned Parenthood funding from the remainder of the FY 2011 budget. The ban on taxpayer-funded abortions in the District of Columbia was reinstated. Now Congress is voting on a bill that would effectively make the Hyde Amendment permanent. Indeed, the increased attention that this Congress is giving to sanctity-of-life issues is evidence of the increased popularity and influence of the pro-life movement.

Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.