In recent weeks the pro-life movement has done a good job of putting the Obama administration on the defensive with regard to its health-care-reform proposals. In his nationally televised address last week, President Obama specifically argued that his health-care reforms would not include federal funding for abortion. Furthermore, in other forums, President Obama and various surrogates make a concerted effort to either address or downplay the concerns of pro-lifers.
However, it seems that supporters of Obama’s health-care-reform are now changing their approach a bit and going on the offensive. The organization Third Way, which describes itself as the “leading think tank of the moderate wing of the progressive movement,” issued a memo stating that health-care reform “would likely reduce the number of abortions.” The memo argues that greater coverage of contraceptives and more support for low-income women will reduce abortion rates.
Unfortunately, Third Way’s analysis is faulty. Studies done by the Guttmacher Institute, which strongly supports legal abortion and funding for contraceptives, indicate that a very small percentage of sexually active women forgo contraceptives because of either cost or lack of availability. Furthermore, while it is true that a disproportionately high number of abortions are performed on low-income women, there is no credible social-science evidence that more generous welfare programs significantly reduce the abortion rate.
More importantly, the arguments that President Obama and his surrogates are making about excluding abortion services from federal funding are based on a rhetorical sleight of hand. Under most proposals, the federal government would be paying for abortions out of a pool of funds that would include both taxpayer dollars and individual premiums. Since money is fungible, abortions would, in fact, be paid for by taxpayer dollars.
Furthermore there is plenty of evidence that subsidizing abortion increases abortion rates. Additionally, if abortion becomes a federally mandated benefit, it is possible that state pro-life laws could be jeopardized. As always, the pro-life movement would do well to be vigilant.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a visiting fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.