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Friday, September 25, 2020

Deep Dive: Federal Elections and the Abortion Rate

Yesterday, Live Action News published an excellent article by Dr. Michael New entitled "No, Democratic presidents do not cause large declines in the abortion rate." The article debunks a recent round of memes which purport to show major abortion declines under Democratic presidents compared to Republican presidents — a claim so stale, Snopes rated it false four years ago.  

Dr. New correctly points out numerous problems with these memes. Among other things, they use data from the CDC (rather than the more reliable Guttmacher Institute data), treating California's refusal to report its abortion data to the CDC from 1997 onwards as if it were an actual decline during the Clinton administration instead of a statistical artifact. They also "neglect to mention that the U.S. abortion rate rose sharply during the presidential administration of Democrat Jimmy Carter." Dr. New does the service of providing the correct numbers:


Ranking those from best to worst (assuming you want a low abortion rate), that's Obama (D), Clinton (D), Reagan (R), Dubya (R), Bush Senior (R), and Carter (D). Data for Trump aren't yet available.

Young woman holds "I Vote Pro-Life First" sign
Image via Students for Life
This makes it seem like the occupant of the White House has very little to do with the abortion rate. Maybe all that matters is the state of the economy, you might fairly hypothesize, because studies show that most abortions are motivated by financial distress.

I don't doubt the impact of the economy. And yet we also know from prior studies that abortion restrictions like informed consent, parental consent, and waiting periods reduce the abortion rate. That's why pro-choice states have higher abortion rates than pro-life ones, despite similar pregnancy rates. 

So what gives? Does electing pro-life politicians matter or not?

One thing informed consent, parental consent, and waiting periods have in common is that none of them have been legislated on the federal level. No president, Republican or Democrat, has ever signed one into law. They are all state-level legislation. How you vote definitely matters for babies in your state. (See: the "Tea Party" wave during the Obama administration.)

But that's not to say what happens in D.C. stays in D.C. You may have noticed that the abortion lobby is constantly filing lawsuits over state-level legislation, and they usually do so in federal courts. It thus matters a great deal who a president has nominated to the federal judiciary, especially the Supreme Court of the United States. That effect, however, is time-delayed. Consider the recent setback in June Medical v. Russo, which struck down Louisiana's requirement for abortionists to have hospital privileges. June Medical was decided during the Trump administration, but the five Justices in the majority were appointed by Clinton (Ginsburg and Breyer), George W. Bush (Roberts), and Obama (Kagan and Sotomayor).

It's also important to note that past experience is no guarantee of future results. There are good reasons to believe that abortion policy will become increasingly federalized, and as that happens, the occupant of the White House will have a more immediate impact. The Hyde Amendment, which restricts taxpayer funding of abortion through federal Medicaid dollars, is Exhibit A. The Hyde Amendment has been in effect since 1976, covering all presidential administrations from Carter to Trump and saving over 2.4 million lives. But Democrats in Congress have signaled their desire to kill it if they have the votes to do so in 2021. Destroying Hyde would create a huge, federally-driven increase in the abortion rate.

Dr. New will speak on that very topic during our Out of Hyding virtual rally on Wednesday, September 30 at 9pm Eastern (6pm Pacific). We will celebrate the 44th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, affirm the dignity of Medicaid kids, and organize to preserve Hyde for the next generation. Registration is free. See you there!

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