The Corner

Politics & Policy

Study: Waiting Periods Can Reduce Abortion Rates

You can read it here. From the abstract:

I . . . measure the causal effects of mandatory waiting periods for abortions, distinguishing between “one- trip” waiting periods that allow counseling and information to be provided remotely and “two-trip” waiting periods that require two in-person appointments. The results suggest that one-trip waiting periods do not have substantial effects on abortions or births. Two-trip waiting periods are estimated to reduce abortions and delay those that still occur, increasing second trimester abortions by 19.1%, reducing resident abortion rates by 8.9%, and increasing births by 1.5%. These effects are larger for young women and for women of color. These effects also are larger in counties that are far from abortion providers and in counties with high poverty and unemployment. These findings support a “burden” rather than a “cooling-off period” interpretation of the findings.

Basically, the paper looks at trends in states that changed their laws, relative to trends in states that didn’t, and finds that waiting periods reduce abortion rates by nearly a tenth — provided the law requires two separate trips to a clinic. However, such laws also delay abortions that still occur, sometimes pushing them into the second trimester.

The reference to a “burden” evokes the Supreme Court’s current rule that no abortion restriction may create an “undue burden” on someone trying to abort a child before viability. In Casey, the Court ruled that a waiting period was not an undue burden; the author of the study is suggesting this might not be the case, depending on one’s definition of “undue.”

I see the findings through a different lens. Frankly, I don’t care whether waiting periods violate the undue-burden rule, because the Supreme Court is reconsidering the standard anyhow; indeed, it’s reconsidering the entirety of its abortion jurisprudence, which has no connection to the actual Constitution. Whatever my uncertainties about which path the Court will take, I am quite confident it won’t expand the undue-burden rule to cover waiting periods.

My takeaway from the study, instead, is this: If the Court overrules Roe and Casey and lets states ban abortion if they wish to, these sorts of halfway measures will decline in importance. But if the Court stops short, rules like waiting periods — which reduce abortions on the margins by making abortion more difficult and nudging mothers to reconsider — will remain an important part of the pro-life toolkit.


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