Predicting the Abortion Rate in a Post-Roe world

by Michael J. New

Some pro-lifers were concerned by my Tuesday post in the Corner. It highlighted a recent National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study that used early-1970s abortion data from New York state to predict the U.S. abortion rate should Roe v. Wade be overturned. The authors predicted that the U.S. abortion rate would decline by about 15 percent. Many pro-lifers thought the reversal of Roe would result in a significantly larger decline.

I can respond to this in a couple of ways. First a 15 percent decline would mean approximately 180,000 fewer abortions performed. This is certainly a positive development for pro-lifers. More important, the authors of the NBER study are very guarded about their prediction. They acknowledge that they cannot predict with perfect accuracy how state abortion policies would change if Roe v. Wade were overturned. They also candidly acknowledge that the data they are analyzing is 40 years old and has limitations.

There are reasons to think that this study may underestimate the abortion-rate decline. First, an increasingly higher percentage of women obtaining abortions are from low-income groups. The NBER study provides some evidence that low-income women are more sensitive to the travel costs involved with obtaining an abortion. Second, there a variety of ways one can use distance to the nearest abortion provider to predict a state’s abortion rate. Different statistical models might show that long distances are a stronger deterrent. Indeed, the NBER study found that few women from states in the deep south traveled to New York to obtain abortions in the early 1970s.

Regardless of the precise abortion-rate decline, the NBER study should interest pro-lifers for two reasons. First it adds to a body of research showing that the incidence of abortion is sensitive to its legal status. Furthermore it indicates that state abortion bans in a post-Roe world would reduce the incidence of abortion. All in all, these are good reasons for pro-lifers to continue to work for greater legal protection for unborn children.

— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New

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