Citing increases in the abortion rate under Republican presidents has quickly become a favorite talking point for pro-life supporters of Barack Obama and other Democrats. During his debate with Robert George at the National Press Club last night, Doug Kmiec stated that abortions increased under the first President Bush. Also, on Fox News Sunday after the Notre Dame commencement, Fr. Richard McBrien stated that the abortion rate increased during George W. Bush’s presidency.
Unfortunately, both Kmiec and McBrien are wrong. Data from both the Center for Disease Control and the Alan Guttmacher Institute indicate that abortions fell during the first Bush presidency. And the most recent data from both sources indicates that abortions were falling during the administration of George W. Bush.
Indeed, between 2000 and 2005, data from Guttmacher indicates that the number of abortions fell by 8.1 percent and data from the CDC indicates that abortions fell by 2.9 percent.
Between 1988 and 1992, data from Guttmacher indicate that the number of abortions fell by 3.7 percent and data from the CDC indicates that the number of abortions fell by 0.9 percent.
More importantly, this whole argument has struck me as a bit silly. The incidence of abortion is influenced by economic and demographic trends which presidents cannot do much to influence in the short term. Furthermore, policies enacted at the state level, such as the enactment of pro-life laws, likely have a greater impact on abortion trends.
Still, this nuance is lost on pro-life Obama supporters. It came as no surprise that Doug Kmiec credited the economy for the 1990s abortion decline, but said nary a word about the substantial increase in the number of states enacting pro-life laws during this time.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and a visiting fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.