The Corner

The Effectiveness of Pro-Life Laws

Last month, State Politics and Policy Quarterly published a study of mine that documents the effectiveness of state-level pro-life laws. This study analyzes state abortion data over a span of 21 years from two separate sources and holds constant a wide range of economic and demographic factors. A range of statistical tests provide robust evidence that public-funding restrictions and informed-consent laws reduce state abortion rates, and that parental-involvement laws reduce the incidence of abortion among minors.

To be honest, many of these findings are not entirely new. A substantial body of peer-reviewed research documents the effectiveness of both public-funding restrictions and parental-involvement laws. When the Guttmacher Institute reviewed 24 academic studies, it found that 20 of them indicated that public-funding restrictions reduce the incidence of abortion. Separate peer-reviewed studies of the parental-involvement laws in Massachusetts and Texas found reductions in the minor abortion rate and short-term increases in the minor birth rate.

However, much of this research has appeared in public-health journals that receive little attention from the Beltway policy community, and this is first study to analyze data from multiple states and find that informed-consent laws are effective. Informed-consent laws vary state by state, but they typically require women to receive information about fetal development, health risks, and sources of support for single mothers prior to the abortion. Informed-consent laws are relatively new policy innovation. The Supreme Court affirmed their constitutionality in its Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey decision in 1992, and approximately 35 states have enacted them since the early 1990s.

Another important finding is that reductions in the number of abortion providers reduce the abortion rate. Between 1985 and 2005, the number of abortion providers in the United States has declined by 33 percent. The impact of provider reductions is not dramatic, but this finding should provide encouragement to the pro-lifers who are working to cut off federal funds to Planned Parenthood. If funding reductions cause Planned Parenthood to close clinics, abortions will be prevented.

#more#The recent gains that the pro-life movement has made in the court of public opinion have put the Democratic party in a difficult position. The party continues to receive political support from feminists and considerable financial support from America’s multibillion-dollar abortion industry, so much of the Democratic-party leadership refuses to support even the most modest regulations on abortion. However, many Democrats have shifted their rhetoric. They often state that they would like to see fewer abortions and claim the best path to abortion reduction is through more generous welfare benefits or greater contraception funding.

However, pro-lifers should not be fooled by this gambit. No peer-reviewed research supports the idea that increased funding for welfare benefits or public health care have any impact on the abortion rate. Additionally, no analysis of actual abortion data has found that more spending on contraception programs reduces the incidence of abortion.

Meanwhile, the pro-life movement continues to make impressive progress in both Washington, D.C., and in numerous state legislatures. Congress recently passed a continuing resolution that will cut off federal funding for abortions in Washington, D.C., throughout the rest of Fiscal 2011. Pro-lifers are strongly pushing Congress to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood. A number of states are pursuing fetal-pain laws that would make abortions illegal after 20 gestational weeks. One such law was signed in Nebraska last year, and Kansas governor Sam Brownback is expected to sign another shortly.

Overall, this research should hearten those who tirelessly advocate for legislation that would provide greater protection to the unborn.

— Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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