The Corner

Let’s Actually Get Real about Abortion

On Monday, David Frum wrote an essay for CNN entitled “Let’s Get Real About Abortions.” Frum chides pro-lifers for placing too much emphasis on legally restricting abortion while neglecting the material needs of women facing crisis pregnancies. Frum does not favor banning abortion and his concerns about the state of the modern conservative movement in the United States are well documented. However, it is still disheartening to see a conservative commentator spout tired liberal talking points about how generous social programs are an effective strategy for reducing the abortion rate.

Now, Frum is correct that the incidence of abortion is impacted by the strength of the economy. However, Frum overstates his case. For instance, the number of abortions rose sharply throughout the 1970s. This was not because the economy was poor, but rather because the legalization of abortion changed sexual mores and shifted attitudes on the issue. Additionally, even though the economy was strong during the 1980s, the number of abortions actually increased slightly between 1980 and 1989. Finally, today’s slow economy may be increasing the abortion rate. However, the Guttmacher study Frum cites indicates that the number of abortions increased by only 1 percent between 2005 and 2008 — hardly a dramatic increase.

Like other commentators, Frum touts Europe as a model to follow. He argues that the reason why abortion rates are lower in Germany is that they have more generous social programs. However, while the U.S abortion rate has fallen, Germany’s abortion rate has gradually increased since the early 1980s. Frum also cites the Netherlands as a country with low abortion rates. Again, despite the generous social programs, over 60 percent of pregnancies to women under 20 in the Netherlands still end in abortion. Overall, there is no body of peer-reviewed research that shows that increased welfare spending reduces abortion rates. Furthermore, studies of abortion rates in the U.S. states found that the level of welfare benefits failed to have a statistically significant impact on the incidence of abortion.

Of course pro-lifers do certainly realize that many women seek abortion because of economic hardship. That is why pro-lifers enthusiastically support the thousands of pregnancy resource centers in the country. Pro-lifers may disagree about what types of assistance the government should provide to women facing crisis pregnancies, but nearly all pro-lifers agree that pregnancy resource centers have played a valuable role in helping countless women who decided to bring a crisis pregnancy to term. Overall, veteran pro-lifers are well aware we need to pursue several strategies simultaneously. We need to change the culture, enact protective laws, and offer assistance to women facing crisis pregnancies. That is certainly a realistic approach to stopping abortion.

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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