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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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After the Charlotte event, the remark stuck with me. Surely he wouldn’t claim that abortions will increase under a Romney administration by a given percentage and then say that there isn’t any research on the subject. So I emailed to follow up. We exchanged a few notes back and forth. He said he was busy. He said he might write about
the subject himself at some point in the near future. After my third attempt to get him to explain how he arrived at his “6 percent to 8 percent,” he stopped answering.

It turns out that there has been some research on the topic. In 2010, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study by Patrick Whelan reporting that in the first year under Romneycare, which passed in 2006, the number of abortions in Massachusetts dropped by 1.5 percent. That suggests some support for the first part of Schneck’s theory, that increasing access to Medicaid-like subsidies for births reduces abortions.

But there was an obvious complication. Abortion had been generally declining in Massachusetts since its peak in 1979. Between 1979 and 2006—the year before Romneycare took effect—the annual number of abortions in Massachusetts had decreased by 45 percent. As Whelan admitted in his paper, it’s difficult to say how, exactly, medical subsidies influenced abortion behavior. When you look at almost any pair of consecutive years, you generally see a decline in abortions. Between 2003 and 2004, for instance, the number of abortions in Massachusetts fell by 5.3 percent. So you could just as easily suggest that Romneycare contributed to abortion by slowing its rate of decrease to a mere 1.5 percent over two years.

To Whelan’s credit, he understood the limitations of his finding. In his conclusion, he merely offered:

 I believe it is reasonable to conclude that the possibility of some federal subsidization of overall care, for a fraction of the additional 31 million people who would be covered, would not mean a significant or even a likely increase in the number of abortions performed nationally.

Very little research turns on the exact question of what happens to abortion when public assistance for births is cut. Michael New, a University of Michigan-Dearborn professor who specializes in the economics and law of abortion, observed in National Review that there’s not a single peer-reviewed study that’s directly on point. But there is some research that comes at the question obliquely.

A 1996 study by William Niskanen for Cato Journal suggested that as welfare payments increased, so did abortion rates. Another study that year in the Journal of Health Economics looked at what happened to abortion rates in states which maximized their welfare benefits, and found that higher benefits either had no effect on abortion rates, or increased them slightly. One other study, a 2008 report from the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, found that increasing welfare spending had small, uneven effects on abortion—sometimes increasing it slightly and sometimes decreasing it slightly. Generally speaking, there seems to be no “income effect”—increasing resources does not reduce the demand for abortion.

There are more data coming at the question from another angle. In 2009 the Guttmacher Institute did a survey of the literature concerning what happens to abortion when public funding for it is restricted—as the speakers at the Democratic National Convention assured America it would be under a Republican president. There have been 38 studies on the subject and nearly all of the research suggests that if a Romney-Ryan administration reduced public funding for abortion, the number of abortions would greatly decline. Guttmacher found that when Medicaid funding for abortion was cut, anywhere between 18 percent and 37 percent of pregnancies that would have been abortions were converted to births.

In other words, the nation’s premier pro-choice think tank concluded the exact opposite of what Schneck suggests.
Of course, even the “40 percent cut in Medicaid” is nonsense, as Michael Fragoso pointed out writing for the Witherspoon Institute. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities study Schneck cites admits that they are only presenting a theory about what a Mitt Romney budget might look like based on press releases and news stories. There is so little data to support his claim then, that Schneck might as well have predicted that a Romney administration would cause a 6 percent to 8 percent increase in unicorns.

There’s nothing particularly novel or shocking about a Catholic professor supporting President Obama, or cutting against the church hierarchy, or taking counterintuitive views of social science. Catholic academia, after all, is still academia.

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