A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


"New study finds finds social and economic supports for women significantly reduce abortions"

That's the promise of the new study released today by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. According to the group's news release, the study is the first of its kind and looks at the "long- and short-term effects of public policy on the abortion rate over a twenty-year period. The findings reveal that social and economic supports for women and families dramatically reduce the number of abortions. As Democrats gather in Denver for their national convention, and as Republicans prepare to gather next week, the study offers compelling findings that pro-life and pro-choice leaders from both political parties can unite behind to reduce abortions."Indeed, if this holds true, the findingswould (I would think) provide ammunition for those looking to move beyond the stalemate over Roe v. Wade. Apparently the findings were presented at a "town hall" meeting in Denver with Sen. Bob Casey, Rep. Heath Shuler and others,and sponsored by Democrats for Life of America. I haven't seen a write-up, so don't know what they may have added.Catholics in Alliance commissioned the study, which wasconducted by Joseph Wright, a political science professor at Penn State University and a visiting fellow at the University of Notre Dame, and Michael Bailey, a professor of American government at Georgetown University. You can read it here (in a 19-page PDF file). Tom Roberts at NCR also hascoverage.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

If this is all it seems, then it is very good news indeed.Of course, such a study can and will be used by both "sides" to bash one another. Here's hoping that principled legislators will cut through that clutter and sponsor legislation that enacts some/all of these recommendations.

This is indeed very good. I fully expect Republicans to endorse, support and move forward on the policy positions that flow from the study. Conservatives need to hold their elected officials accountable in this regard. Lets see what happens.

There is actually already some good legislation before Congress that would begin to address some of these concerns. I recommend looking at Feminists For Life's webpage for details on the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Act. They (FFL) have also just published an interesting study of how difficult it is for college age women (who account for half of all abortions) to find resources to support them when they face unplanned pregnancies.

Giving assistance to families and access to employment would significantly lower the poverty rate as well. There is a high incidence of poverty in single-parent households. Both my Mother and one of my sisters were Social Workers and they both felt that these two things were key factors, along with improving education, to lowering the poverty rate as well.

Exxon Sponsored Study Proves Global Warming a Hoax!Reynolds Tobbaco Scientists Prove Smoking Increases Lung Capacity!Aside from pointing out the obvious conflict of interest that I am sure Commonweal contributers would have mentioned had the subject been anything other than this, this study completely ignores the most obvious evidence that a direct cause and effect of social welfare spending and abortion can't be proved. From the late 1960's to the early 1980's social welfare spending grew at a faster rate than in any other time in US history, and both the number of procured abortions and and their rate more than doubled. There have been many studies about why the rate of abortion dropped - slightly - in the 1990's, and there are a number of reasons given - economics, changes in social stigma, the fact that the young women who may heve gotten and abortion in 1995 had been aborted themselves in 1975.Even assuming this study's findings are accurate, treating this a principal method to prevent abortions is morally dangerous. We have an obligation to care for young mothers - absolutely. And there is a connecttion between our obligation to the unborn and our obligation to care for the newly born - certainly. That doesn't, however, equate to social welfare programs as a means of abortion prevention. It is like saying that because we can fix a cancer patient's ingrown toe nail we don't have to take him to chemotherapy. Yes, fix the toe nail, but don't say you are working for a cure.Another point worth making. For all the talk about the GOP taking a hard stance on abortion without supporting social programs that help. During the period studied, at the federal level, and in most states, underlying legislative policy was dictated by Republicans, the rate of spending increases slowed, and abortion rates went down while in the period of booming social welfare spending under almost exclusive Democratic control, rates doubled.

"there is a connection between our obligation to the unborn and our obligation to care for the newly born"That connection is that Human life is Sacred because it is a Gift from God.The Pope, speaking to the general assembly of Caritas Internationalis, stated that:"Changing unjust structure is not in itself sufficient to guarantee the happiness of the Human person. The Church's mission is to promote the integral development of people which includes their spiritual and emotive dimensions. The greatest challenges facing the World...such as globilization, human rights abuses, unjust social structures, cannot be overcome unless attention is focused on the deepest needs of the Human person which is the promotion of Human Dignity, well being, and eternal Salvation."

Sean,You aren't suggesting, are you, that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, is as little to be trusted on the issue of social services as are any of the major tobacco companies about health issues and smoking?

David,I think Sean is stating the obvious: that an organization strongly in favor of a particular outcome conducted a survey that reached the conclusion the sponsors of the survey hoped to reach ... and that in a similar situation, various groups would be questiopning the objectivity of the findings ... Moreover, his key point is that the actual historical record shows that abortions declined when social spending declined and rose when social spending rose, which objectively suggests that more money is not always the answer. Indeed, I recall other surveys that explored the reasons women had abortions even though contraceptives were easily available--reasons that included such grotesque answers as 'I wanted to see how my boyfriend would react' to "I wanted to test whether I could get pregnant' (I am paraphrasing from memory--I read about the study in graduate school 20 years ago)Thus, this 'Common Good' survey should not be seen as a blanket endorsement--or a blank check--for more spending.

Robert,I don't want to characterize Sean's position, although we have had similar discussions many times, but it seems to me there is "tension" between, on the one hand, Catholic social teaching on what government should do for the poor and, on the other hand, what American conservatives (including the Catholic ones) feel the government can actually accomplish and what they also feel is the appropriate role of government. So we have something like this:

On the contrary, it is the task of law to pursue a reform of society and of conditions of life in all milieux, starting with the most deprived, so that always and everywhere it may be possible to give every child coming into this world a welcome worthy of a person. Help for families and for unmarried mothers, assured grants for children, a statute for illegitimate children and reasonable arrangements for adoption - a whole positive policy must be put into force so that there will always be a concrete, honorable and possible alternative to abortion.

This seems to me to call for almost radical change, and a major role for the government. But the conservative argument is that government spending money only makes things worse, so something like "assured grants for children" is immediately tossed out the window.I guess my overall point is when the Church says something really quite clearly, there is always a way to argue against it, or to say you accept the goal of help for the poor, so you actually agree with the Church, and consequently, since you agree, then you are not bound to support "assured grants" because you are committed to doing what the Church wants, the only thing is that you have a different approach.So anything that comes out, be it the Declaration on Procured Abortion, or a study from the Catholic Aliance, can pretty much be dismissed once you say, "Of course I agree that we should work to end abortions, but that doesn't mean we have to do it the way so-and-so says.

Sean and Robert: Certainly one must be aware of the funders of a project, but it must always stand--or fall--on its own merits. Comparing Catholics in Alliance to Big Tobacco and Big Oil, who have track records of deceit, and implicating the two researchers in such deceit, is unjust. Moreover, before assuming the study is flawed one would have to explain how and why. I'd be interested in a critique of the study.

From the late 1960s to the early 1980s social welfare spending grew at a faster rate than in any other time in US history, and both the number of procured abortions and and their rate more than doubled.And yet the study excludes evidence about abortion prior to 1982, thus avoiding any need to explain the massive rise in abortion after Roe in 1973. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

I'd think that, to promote human flourishing, we must be willing to examine the problem of abortion in all its aspects. Legal hurdles do not exhaust the list of obstacles to achieving a just society. If the conclusions and policy recommendations of this research are as founded as they seem to me (not that I'm a regular reader of such things), then I'd think we'd be remiss not to at least take a long, serious look at implementing these policies.I warrant that I'm as jaded and cynical as the next person about the limitations of throwing government money at a problem to make it go away. But I guess I live in that shades-of-gray world of seeing the trade-offs in policy choices and wanting to use prudential judgement to achieve worthy goals, even if it costs more money.As I weigh things, saving the lives of several hundred thousand infants, and protecting their mothers and others from serious sin, is more important than balancing a state of Federal budget. And undoubtedly there are potential savings elsewhere in the budgets.

David N,Show me where in this statement there is a mandate for large, government sponsored bureacratic solutions to the problem?On the contrary, it is the task of law to pursue a reform of society and of conditions of life in all milieux, starting with the most deprived, so that always and everywhere it may be possible to give every child coming into this world a welcome worthy of a person. Help for families and for unmarried mothers, assured grants for children, a statute for illegitimate children and reasonable arrangements for adoption - a whole positive policy must be put into force so that there will always be a concrete, honorable and possible alternative to abortion.That I oppose large, and in my opinion, dehumanizing and often inhumane government programs in favor of "laws to reform society and of conditions of life in all milieux" that favor local solutions, individual incentive, and private enterprise is not in contravavention of this teaching. Spend a day in a family or probate court and see the great success that our social welfare system is. I don't oppose some of the initiatives described because I am cheap or don't care, I oppose them because I do care and throwing money at more and more failed polcies just to assuage middle class guilt doesn't do anyone a lick of good.David G.,Researchers don't have to lie to come to results that favor a result. In the case of these researchers, I think it is informative that they isolated their study to a period in which they knew abortion rates declined and ignored the period in which they dramatically increased. It is at best an incomplete picture.As for the conflict of interest - yes, I think it is simply prudent to consider the sponsorship of the study when judging its objectivity. While you are right that a study must stand or fall on its own merit, it has been my experience that those on the left frequently dismiss such studies sponsored by vilified industries before they are even fully published. It seems to me, in judging whether a conflict exists, "Big Oil" and Common Cause should be judged by the same standard.

The study strikes me as somewhat insubstantial.It demonstrates correlation, but as far as I can tell it simply asserts causation. It's not apparent to me that it does a sufficient job isolating the factors, either. And while the conclusions are certainly consistent with the statistics, I wouldn't say they are by any means proven by them.Also, if I'm reading the graph correctly, the report says that an increase of two standard deviations in male employment per population effects (again, I would say correlates to) about a 15% reduction (strictly speaking, somewhere between a tiny increase and about a 30% reduction, with 90% confidence) in abortion. But two standard deviations is 8%, and I doubt anyone is sitting on a plan to increase male employment per population by 8%. So I don't see the point of including that factor in the (not very extensive as it is) analysis. (And please correct the y-axis labels on Figures 3 and 4. A negative percent reduction is an increase!)That said, my recommendation would be to look more closely at the family cap data (which indicates that putting a cap on welfare increases the incidence of abortion) and the fertility data (which indicates that economic assistance doesn't increase the number of pregnancies). The former could lead to a clear pro-life-based recommendation to get rid of the cap, the latter could put to rest a conservative bugbear about getting more of what you reward.Oh, and also I'd try to write it as two reports, or at least as two distinct sections: one a piece of statistical analysis, the other a set of policy recommendations based on the analysis. As it is, they're intertwined, and it's not clear they're properly distinguished.

Tom: Many many thanks for the analysis. Your diagnosis sounds pretty much right. But I cannot be trusted with numbers.

I am a side-walk counselor here in Chicago and volunteer also at a center that gives material support to pregnant women through donations. I speak very often with people who are on the brink of abortion, or moments after as they come out. They continually speak of economic factors in their decisions. Last week a working class guy who had brought his sister there to the clinic told me with tears in his eyes, 'She has four kids, the dad's a loser, she makes seven bucks an hour, I'm laid off and can't help, what can she do? We're talking about food on the table. What can she do?"So it is in my mind a no-brainer that we must do more to help the average person in all those material areas. But this help must come in the form of Catholic proposals, Catholic solutions. Among these are broader distribution of ownership of the means of production. The state can assist there by selective taxation that prompts sell offs of concentrated holdings. Another Catholic solution is cooperative ownership, which no party has put forward although the perfect application could be those presently reserved oil-fields to be opened. It is incredible, given their record on alternative energy, that the big owners like Shell and Exxon should be given additional sources of profits, when those fields could be owned and developed by cooperatives. Catholic solutions preserve a firm commitment to private property and an equally firm commitment to just, fair, intelligent exercise of that ownership, and supports state intervention in both profits and wages, reference Quadragesimo Anno by Pius XI. Catholics are not allerghic to state intervention when it is necessary (but Protestants are; reference Max Weber and his thesis that unrestrained capitalism and unrestrained protestantism--unrestrained by a magisteriium--are twins).Pius XI said that economic justice was impossible for the Church to suggest without insisting with equal force on a corresponding fidelity to the moral teachings of the Church. I will not argue his points for him--it's a short encyclical, go pick it up. But I would like to say, it makes sense: if you really want effective economic change in the direction of the broadest ownership possible, with all the conflict with the very rich that this would involve, you must support moral rigor. It's too dangerous to let the tiger out of the cage unless he is firmly commited to respect for human life of any size, even millimeters, any age, any color. Neither the democratic party nor the republican party is presently delivering anything like the vision of Catholicism for a just society. Laura Ingraham et al notwithstanding.Meanwhile we absolutely cannot wait for economic justice before making abortion illegal. The great majority of women we see going into abortion mills are being pushed there by the hand of a sexual partner--I can't say boyfriend--or a parent. Just come and stand with me and watch the body language. These women will not say they are being 'forced' because they are not being whipped, but if you ask better questions, the truth comes out. We laugh bitterly, outside the clinic: going in, he's right behind her, with his hand on her back. Coming out several hours later, she's running to catch up with him.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment