Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Does Increased Spending on Welfare Programs Reduce Abortion?

Michael J. New, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Alabama and a visiting fellow at the Witherspoon Institute says, No!

I quote from a Witherspoon Institute report:

“An August 2008 study released by the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good had Obama supporters (and some editorial boards) swooning. Analyzing state level abortion data from 1982 to 2000, it purportedly found evidence that increased spending on various welfare programs resulted in substantial reductions in state abortion rates. The spin given to the results was that many pro-life laws, such as those requiring parental notification for abortions performed on minor girls, had little effect. So the paradoxical message to pro-life voters was that they could best advance their interests by electing pro-choice Democrats instead of pro-life Republicans.

Not surprisingly, this study had a substantial impact on the debate over sanctity of life issues during the 2008 Presidential election. Self proclaimed pro-lifers who support Democratic Presidential nominees can be found in every election cycle. However, this study gave Doug Kmiec, Nicholas Cafardi, and others intellectual legitimacy in arguing that pro-life voters should vote for [pro-choice] liberals, even if they favor abortion-on-demand and its public funding, in order to advance the pro-life cause. At last, there was a methodologically sophisticated study which allegedly demonstrated that the welfare policies favored by Democrats were more effective in preventing abortion than the pro-life laws supported by Republicans. It seemed too good to be true.

It was. In November, with no public announcement, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good removed this study from their website. A replacement version was uploaded shortly thereafter. The replacement version differs from its predecessor in a number of interesting ways. First and foremost, one of the authors of the August study, Professor Michael Bailey of Georgetown University, removed his name from the November version. Joseph Wright, a Visiting Fellow at Notre Dame, is the sole author of the current study.

More importantly, the results of the new version fall well short of the original press release. The original study argued that three welfare policies had significant effects on state abortion rates. First, family caps, which deny welfare recipients extra benefits if they have additional children out of wedlock, increased abortion rates. Second, increased spending on the Women Infants Children (WIC) program reduced abortion rates. Third, increased spending on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) also reduced abortion rates.

However, after the original study was released, the authors discovered that they used incorrect abortion data for the years following 1997. Furthermore, after some dialogue with me, the authors decided that it would be appropriate to eliminate data from states, such as Kansas, where abortion reporting was inconsistent over time. These changes have had a substantial effect on the study’s findings.

The new version provides evidence that welfare policy has no more than a marginal effect on the incidence of abortion. In fact, the new regression results indicate that none of the three welfare policies which the authors previously argued were effective tools for reducing the incidence of abortion have a substantial abortion reducing effect. Wright clearly states that “WIC payments are not correlated with the abortion rate in the 1990s.” Additionally, the regression results consistently indicate that the presence of family caps has only a marginal effect on state abortion rates. Furthermore, while Wright argues that increased AFDC/TANF spending reduces state abortion rates, his regression results raise serious doubts about the reliability of this finding.
Wright runs a series of regressions using only data from the 1990s which shows that increases in AFDC/TANF spending is correlated with statistically significant abortion declines. However, regressions run on data from 1982 to 2000 find that AFDC/TANF spending only has a marginal impact on the incidence of abortion. Furthermore, when Wright runs regressions on data from the 1980s, he finds that AFDC spending actually increases the incidence of abortion and the coefficient approaches conventional levels of statistical significance.

For social science findings to be reliable, the results should be fairly consistent across time. These findings certainly are not. Furthermore, Wright makes no effort to explain why welfare spending has such disparate effects on abortion rates during different time periods.

Furthermore, many of the flaws in the previous study’s analysis of pro-life legislation are still prevalent in the current version. Wright states that parental involvement laws, like the other state laws restricting abortion, have little impact on overall abortion rates. However, since parental involvement laws only directly affect minors, Wright should have mentioned that analyzing their effects on the overall abortion rate is not a methodologically sound way to gauge their actual impact.

Similarly, Wright continues to argue that informed consent laws are ineffective. However, he fails to acknowledge the substantial differences in the effects of nullified and enacted informed consent laws. In truth, by the criteria he sets forth on page 6, his results provide evidence that informed consent laws are effective. However, he makes no mention of this in the paper.
Unfortunately, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good continues to miss the boat and mislead the public. There exist plenty of peer reviewed studies which find that public funding restrictions and parental involvement laws reduce the incidence of abortion. However, instead of acknowledging the positive impact of pro-life legislation and constructively working with pro-lifers to promote social policies that will further reduce abortion rates, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good seems primarily interested in providing moral, political, and theological cover for supporters of Barack Obama and other Democrats who support “abortion rights.”

Unfortunately, their latest study indicates that their original findings have been unable to withstand serious scrutiny.

Sadly, just weeks into his administration, President Obama has already demonstrated considerable disregard for the sanctity of human life. One of Barack Obama’s first acts as President was to revoke the Mexico City Policy. Now non-governmental organizations receiving funds from the U.S. Government can perform and promote abortions overseas. It is unfortunate that the faulty research of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good was used as political cover to help make such a thing possible. As the Obama administration continues its assault on laws and policies upholding the sanctity of human life, pro-lifers need to hold this organization morally accountable.

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