The Magazine

What the Schneck?

A Catholic University scholar’s data-free theory on Romney and abortion.

Oct 1, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 03 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Professor Stephen Schneck is a conundrum. He’s a Catholic who works for the Catholic University of America (CUA). But he’s involved with the group Catholics for Obama—despite the church hierarchy’s view that the president is attacking the religious freedom of Catholics. He’s pro-life. But he supports Democratic politicians universally—even though the party has become manifestly hostile to pro-lifers. Schneck’s most puzzling contradiction is this: He claims that while Democrats support abortion rights, it’s really Republicans who cause abortions.

Professor Stephen Schneck

Professor Stephen Schneck

Catholic University of America

Schneck is very specific about it. He has numbers. At an event in Charlotte earlier this month during the Democratic convention, Schneck spoke on a panel hosted by Democrats for Life. He asked the audience, “Can one vote for Romney if it means a 6, or 7, or, God forbid, 8 percent increase in the number of abortions in America?”

That’s an interesting question. Interesting because (1) it contradicts the received wisdom about abortion and (2) it does so with seeming mathematical precision. Schneck doesn’t foresee a 4 percent jump. Or a 12 percent jump. He locates the projected rise in a narrow band. It’s the kind of figure that brings you up short. Because Stephen Schneck isn’t just some crank professor trying to rile up his undergraduates. He’s the director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies—CUA’s in-house think tank. As IPR says on its website, the “institute continues to bring rigorous academic research to bear on contemporary questions of public policy and religion.”

So when Schneck says that the number of abortions will increase under Mitt Romney, by 6 or 7 or 8 percent, he isn’t just popping off. He’s a serious academic, wearing Catholic University’s pointiest, most rigorous, social science hat.

Or so, at first, I thought.

Schneck made that claim twice during the panel—once in his prepared remarks and again in response to questioning from the audience. Neither time did he qualify it with any of the hedges social scientists normally use. He didn’t say that this was “a theory,” or “it’s entirely possible that.” He explained his numbers thus:

Medicaid now pays for more than one-third of all births in America. Pregnancies are expensive. The medical costs of newborns are expensive. An abortion by contrast costs hardly anything at all. So what will gutting Medicaid by 40 percent mean for abortion? I’m convinced that the number of abortions in America would skyrocket if those cuts are made. The rate of abortions will likely skyrocket if Romney and Ryan are elected and have their way with Medicaid.

After the event I asked Schneck for a bit more detail on these numbers. I assumed he had published research on the topic. He had not. Here is how he explained how he arrived at his figures.

First of all, as I said, [there will be a] 40 percent cut in Medicaid, and one-third births are now paid for by Medicaid. And we’ve seen already that with the extension of things like Medicaid that we’ve already talked about [in] Massachusetts [under Romneycare], that it’s decreased the abortion rate. And so this is just a reversal of that logic. So if we have good evidence that it decreases abortion rates if we provide more extensive Medicaid coverage, and so forth.

I pressed him a little more on where his data came from. After all, if this really was just an extrapolation which assumes that births being paid for by Medicaid would become abortions after Medicaid was cut by 40 percent, then the number of abortions would increase by 13.2 percent, not between 6 percent and 8 percent. Here’s what Schneck told me:

The numbers are coming from .  .  . the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, so they’ve got all the numbers on Medicaid and their analysis of, you know, how the cuts are likely to play out. Now they don’t have an analysis of the abortion rates. Uh, that’s research that I think is still desperately needed to be done.

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