The Guttmacher Institute recently released a literature review about the effects of restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortion. Overall, the results indicate that there is a very strong consensus among both public-health researchers and economists that public funding restrictions lower abortion rates. The Guttmacher literature review contains citations to 20 academic studies documenting this. These studies analyze data from a range of sources including surveys and aggregate data from the federal, state, and local level. Conversely, Guttmacher identifies only about four studies which show that the effects of public-funding restrictions are inconclusive.
The evidence presented about the effectiveness of public funding restrictions is very persuasive. A 1999 study by Cook et al. analyzed North Carolina’s provisions for public funding of abortions. North Carolina is unique because instead of funding abortions for low-income women through Medicaid, they did so through a separate state fund which periodically ran out of money. When funds were unavailable, the authors found a consistent increase in the birth rate and a decrease in the abortion rate. Furthermore, these trends were more pronounced among blacks. Another Guttmacher study found that the abortion rate among Medicaid recipients was more than twice as high in those states that publicly funded abortion through Medicaid.
These findings provide additional evidence that the rhetoric of President Obama on sanctity of life issues does not match his record. During the 2008 Presidential campaign Barack Obama took a moderate tone and often spoke about finding common ground on abortion. After his inauguration, he launched a White House Task Force to reduce the need for abortion. Furthermore, when he met with Pope Benedict XVI he explicitly stated that he wanted to reduce the number of abortions that are performed.
However, on the policy side, President Obama has consistently demonstrated a willingness to promote funding of abortion both at home and abroad. Shortly after taking office he rescinded the Mexico City Policy which prevents U.S. foreign aid from going organizations that perform abortions. Additionally, the White House budget explicitly urges Congress to repeal a law that has prevented tax-funded abortions in the District of Columbia.
Finally, there are serious concerns that health-care legislation promoted the Obama administration may result in public funding for abortions. Last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted to add a provision to the Kennedy health care bill that would require abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood to be included in any health insurance network. Furthermore, the Enzi Amendment which would have removed abortion mandates from health-care reform legislation recently failed in Committee.
All these developments should give serious pause to the dwindling number of pro-lifers who still believe that President Obama is actually serious about preventing abortions.
– Michael J. New is a visiting fellow at the Witherspoon Institute and an assistant professor at the University of Alabama.