The Corner

Welfare and the Pro-Life Movement

In her Wednesday column on RH Reality Check, Cristina Page became the latest in a long line of commentators to criticize the pro-life movement for not being more supportive of welfare programs. Specifically, she criticizes pro-lifers for opposing welfare spending while at the same time praising the work of crisis pregnancy centers that sometimes refer women to public-assistance programs. She cites my criticism of the recent Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) abortion study, and my praise of the Family Research Council’s (FRC) report on pregnancy centers, as an example of this supposed pro-life inconsistency.

However, it is evident that Page misunderstands both my critique of the CACG study and the thrust of the FRC report. First, I did not criticize the CACG study simply because it found that welfare programs were effective in lowering abortion rates. My complaints about the study were twofold. For one thing, I felt that CACG did little to publicize their finding that public-funding restrictions reduce abortion rates. Instead they presented their findings in a misleading way, to make it appear as if welfare spending was a better strategy for reducing the incidence of abortion than enacting pro-life laws. They also downplayed the effects of parental-involvement laws by analyzing their effects on overall abortion rates instead of minor abortion rates.

Second, CACG retracted their original study after errors were found in the data collection. Then, without an announcement, an explanation, or an apology, CACG uploaded a new study, which was inconclusive in its findings about welfare spending and abortion. In particular, the revised study found that increases in welfare spending resulted in more abortions in the 1980s and fewer abortions in the 1990s. For social-science findings to be reliable, the results should be fairly consistent across time. These findings certainly are not.

Overall, if there were a sizable body of social-science research indicating a negative correlation between welfare spending and abortion rates, the pro-life movement would have to take this seriously. This would affect pro-life legislative strategy and policy priorities. However, no such body of evidence currently exists.

Page also misinterprets FRC’s report on pregnancy resource centers (PRCs). While it is true that PRCs sometimes refer women to public-assistance programs, they do far more than this. For instance, they themselves often directly provide assistance with shelter, nutrition, and employment. PRCs with a religious orientation can minister to the spiritual needs of women, and many also educate women about the health risks involved with a promiscuous lifestyle. These are extremely valuable tasks that no welfare program can replicate.

Overall, the pro-life movement is less ideologically monolithic than Ms. Page seems to realize. For instance, the National Right to Life Committee publicly opposed the welfare-reform bill that President Clinton signed in 1996. 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.

Page has been talking quite a bit lately about finding common ground with pro-lifers. One would think that pregnancy resource centers would be a good place to start. After all, assisting women facing crisis pregnancies is a worthwhile goal that should be applauded by all people — pro-life and pro-choice. However, Page remains sharply critical of pregnancy resource centers. Instead of criticizing the work of pregnancy resource centers and hectoring pro-lifers to support welfare, perhaps Page and other pro-choicers could take the first step. They could begin the dialogue by acknowledging the good that pregnancy resource centers have done for women who have made a choice other than abortion.

– 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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