Wrapping Up on Welfare and Abortion

by Michael J. New

On Friday, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig responded to my latest Corner post about welfare and abortion. Last week we debated whether or not a child allowance would reduce the abortion rate. She thinks such an allowance would alleviate the economic pressures that drive many women to obtain abortions. I think a child allowance would have unintended consequences and do more harm than good. During this exchange, both of us have expressed our respective positions clearly and diplomatically. As such, I am not going to engage in a point by point response, but Bruenig has raised a couple of issues that I want to address.

First in both of her responses to me, Bruenig states that by providing assistance to pregnant women, pregnancy resource centers are, in effect, increasing the population of single mothers and undermining norms against pre-marital sex. To put it another way, if single mothers are carrying their children to term because of either a child allowance or because of assistance from a pregnancy resource center, the effect is the same. I see Bruenig’s point, but I disagree with her. When one receives assistance from a charity there is a greater norm of reciprocity and less of a chance of repeat behavior. That is why I was concerned about a child allowance providing additional income for each additional child that was born.

Second, in her original article, which appeared in The American Conservative, Bruenig cites two separate studies which find that a high percentage of women resort to abortions because of financial pressures. However, both the 2005 Guttmacher study and the 2013 study that appeared in BMC Women’s Health allowed women to offer multiple reasons as to why they sought an abortion. Both studies did find that economic pressure certainly played a role in a significant percentage of women’s decisions to obtain an abortion. That said, since many women cited multiple reasons for having an abortion, both studies are less clear about how often economic pressures were the most important factor. Economics may not play as large a role as Bruenig surmises.

Bruenig concludes her most recent post by saying that “It is worth it to me to reduce abortion on the margins.” I agree. I would certainly support a policy that would reduce abortion at the margins. In fact, I would like to go beyond that and see all unborn children legally protected. I just disagree that a child allowance would help pro-lifers achieve that goal.

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