Last Monday, David Frum wrote an essay for CNN.com titled “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 affected 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 toward 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 one 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 because 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 which 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.
Pro-lifers do realize that many women seek abortion due to economic hardship. That is why they enthusiastically support the thousands of pregnancy resources 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 agree that pregnancy resource centers have played a valuable role in helping countless women who decided to bring a crisis pregnancy to term.
As 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 an Assistant Professor at The University of Michigan – Dearborn and an Adjunct Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.