Monday, October 27, 2008
Here's the piece by Father Thomas Reese, SJ, referenced in Fr. McBrien's piece in the immediately, preceding post:
Abortion: Rhetoric or Results?
Abortion has been one of the most divisive and polarizing issues in American politics for the past 35 years. Despite the extensive public debate, people's views are not changing. Opinions on abortion have remained relatively stable since 1995 according to a recent report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Support for keeping abortion legal in all or most cases has fluctuated between 49% and 61% while support for making abortion illegal in all or most cases has fluctuated between 36% and 48%. Currently the numbers are 54% for keeping it legal; 41% for making it illegal. Neither side is convincing the other.
Opponents of abortion argue that morality is not based on public opinion. That is true, but law is often based on public opinion. Certainly laws cannot be enforced without the support of public opinion. The inability of the United States successfully to enforce laws against illegal immigration, drugs, prostitution and gambling shows how difficult it is to enforce laws that significant numbers of citizens, even a significant minority, do not support.
In many countries where abortion is illegal, the laws are simply ignored. For example, in Argentina abortion is against the law but state hospitals perform abortions and the state pays for them. They have a much more flexible attitude toward law than Americans do. We believe laws should be enforced.
For years, Republicans have been courting the pro-life public by arguing that the Supreme Court is only one vote away from overturning Roe v. Wade. Vote for a Republican president, they say, and he will appoint pro-life justices. In fact, Republican presidents have appointed a majority of the justices since 1973 and the decision is still in place. The reluctance of justices to reverse earlier decisions (stare decisis) makes the hurdle very high even for a conservative justice.
Let me be clear. I think Roe v. Wade was a bad decision. It was bad law. It was a classic case of judicial activism. At the same time, to think that reversing Roe v. Wade will solve the abortion problem is naive. It will simply return the issue to the states and most states will keep abortion legal. And in states where abortion is made illegal, those seeking abortions will simply drive to another state.
A recent study by Catholics United found that in only 16 states does over 45% of the population self-identify as pro-life. A total ban on abortions in all 16 states would only affect 10% of the abortions in the country. This number does not take into consideration the women who will go to other states for their abortions.
Nor does a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion have a chance of passing Congress let alone getting approved by the states. Any activity that is engaged in by over 1 million people a year is not going to be outlawed, especially if 54% of the country does not think it should be outlawed.
Those wanting to do something about abortion must face the political reality that abortion is not going to be made illegal in the United States. Granted that fact, then the political question has to change from "Who will make abortion illegal?" to "Who will enact programs that will reduce the number of abortions?"
Democrats can argue that their programs will in fact reduce the number of abortions. This year, for the first time, Democrats placed in their party platform language calling for programs that will reduce the number of abortions.
Congressional Democrats have supported the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act (HR 1074, known as the DeLauro-Ryan bill) and the Prevention First Act bill (HR 819).
Congressional Democrats have also worked on making other alternatives more attractive with the Adoption Promotion Act of 2003 (Public Law No: 108-145), which was championed by Senator Hillary Clinton.
Democrats for Life have made an important contribution with their Pregnant Women Support Act that aims to reduce the abortion rate in America by 95 percent in 10 years by enacting the social and economic supports that actually do something to help women avoid going through this ordeal. The U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference supports this bill.
Do these programs actually help reduce the number of abortions?
During the Reagan Administration, the number of abortions rose significantly and peaked during the George H. W. Bush Administration. In contrast, during the Clinton Administration the number of abortions fell significantly (to 1.3 million a year from 1.6 million a year during the Bush administration), and were performed at a significantly earlier stage in pregnancy. During the current Bush Administration, these declines have slowed almost to a standstill. In fact, rates of abortions among teenagers and poor people appear to have increased. For abortion statistics click here.
A landmark 2007 study by Catholics United shows that lower unemployment, higher rates of health insurance coverage, and greater availability of Head Start centers are more effective at lowering abortion rates than lower availability of abortion providers. The study, which looks at county-level data in Kansas from 2000 to 2004, suggests that abortion reduction is best achieved by addressing the root causes of abortion than restricting access to abortion services. Access the full report here.
In another study released in August 2008, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good examined 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. The study of all U.S. states from 1982-2000 finds that benefits for pregnant women and mothers, employment, economic assistance to low-income families, quality child care for working mothers and removal of state caps on the number of children eligible for economic assistance in low-income families have reduced abortions. Access the full report here.
Another study by Rutgers University found that the number of abortions among New Jersey women on welfare went up when the Republican State Legislature told mothers on welfare that they would not get additional funds if they had another child. See James Kelly, "Sociology and Public Theology: A Case Study of Pro-Choice/ Prolife Common Ground," Sociology of Religion, Vol. 60, No. 2 (Summer, 1999), pp. 99-124
About three-quarters of women having abortions say that they cannot afford to have a child. If "It's the economy stupid," then any pro-life strategy that is worth is salt must be willing to spend money to help women choose life. A Catholic Democrat like Joseph Biden can say that he will do everything possible to reduce the number of abortions short of putting women and doctors in jail. Republicans can only say that they will do anything possible to reduce the number of abortions short of voting for programs that cost money. The U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference is one of the few groups that are willing to say it wants the government to do both.