Friday, March 07, 2008

"Poverty and Abortion: A New Analysis"

Definitely go read Darwin Catholic's excellent analysis regarding the correlation (or lack thereof) between economic well-being and abortion rates. It seriously calls into question the notion we hear from some quarters that Democrat policies lead to lower rates of abortion.

Here's an excerpt:
... However, after hearing this argument one too many times, I decided to go dig into the data and see if even the strictly factual side of it is true. So far as I can tell, the argument has the following components:

1) Economic well-being (as measured by a low poverty rate and a high median income) has been greater under Democratic administrations than Republican ones in the last 30 years.

2) Abortion rates have either been lower or have decreased faster under Clinton than under Reagan, HW Bush or W Bush.

3) There is a strong correlation between economic well-being and the abortion rate.

I'm going to argue that all of these are partly or wholly false.
Interestingly, the big lie that abortions have gone up under Bush is still floating around out there. The other day, a commenter at Amy Welborn's blog noted:

"I didn’t vote for Bush, but I would imagine that if I had voted for him because of his stance on abortion, that I would be pretty upset that the rate of abortion has gone up during his Presidency, partially because of cuts in social programs."

Never mind the fact that the rate and number of abortions has actually decreased under Bush, exactly WHAT PROGRAMS has Bush cut in any of his massive budgets? I can't think of any.

But let's get back to the main point of this. Here's more from Darwin:
Let's try to get a good visual feel for this. On the top chart, I've plotted the abortion rate against the poverty rate. The RSQ is .47. On the bottom chart, I've charted the abortion rate against the number of years since 1980. The RSQ is .96.

So, based on the trends of the last 25 years, if you wanted to successfully predict what the abortion rate will be in a given year, you're going to be far more accurate if you base your projection on the relation between the number of years since 1980 than if you base it on the poverty rate.
And did, in fact, abortions decrease at a faster rate under Clinton than they have under W. Bush? Not so fast:
During the Clinton administration the abortion rate declined an average of 0.55% per year, versus 0.38% per year from 2001 to 2005 (more current data is not yet available from Guttmacher.) However, something interesting appears when we look at the abortion ratio, which has declined more rapidly under Bush than under Clinton. So the apparent Clinton advantage is a result of an overall decrease in pregnancy under Clinton. If we control that by looking at the ratio (the percentage of pregnant women who abort) we find that it has actually declined faster under Bush than under Clinton.
And then there's this graph showing the steep incline in the abortion ratio (the percentage of pregnant women who abort) up until about 1980-81, and then a steady decline thereafter:
And what happened in 1980-81 that might explain, at least in part, the sudden and continuous decline in the rate of abortion after it had precipitously increased since Roe v. Wade? I can't imagine what that might be. A certain growth-oriented change in economic policy, perhaps? A pro-life message that suddenly had the moral authority of a bully pulpit from which to change hearts and minds, maybe? An effort to chip away around the margins at Roe v. Wade and the appointment of judges who were sympathetic to such efforts, do you think? It could all just be a coincidence ... or not. I'm not saying there's a direct correlation to the election of Reagan, or that Reagan's election was the turning point; but if we're going to have partisan politics take credit for decreases in abortion, it certainly appears to be at least as plausible if not a better explanation than the "Democrat policies lead to fewer abortions" nonsense.

Definitely read Darwin's entire post. It is an eye-opener, to be sure. I'm certain there'll be much back-and-forth on this and arguing over numbers and methodology, as there are many who have much at stake in trying to convince pro-life voters that the Democrat Party is the real pro-life party. Sorry, folks, but the numbers just don't seem to bear that out.

Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
Number of Abortions Lowest in Decades

National Review Online: Mainstream Media Continues to Distort on Abortion

Pro-Life Quote of the Day

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At 3/07/2008 9:24 AM, Blogger Tito said...

Thanks for posting about this. This certainly empties the revolver of those cafeteria Catholics that say otherwise.

At 3/07/2008 10:13 AM, Anonymous paul zummo said...

Putting statistics aside, the argument about the correlation between poverty and abortion always seemed suspect to me simply because it assumes that abortions are done only by women in dire economic circumstances. While I am sure this is the case a lot of the time, abortions are also done on women who are in the top economic classes, and perhaps at higher rates than their proportion in the population. It isn't just about economics - it's about the selfishness of individuals who don't want the "burden" of children and who don't want their lifestyles affected.

My wife grew up in one of the wealthier parts of Houston. She had many acquaintances who had abortions. These were not women at the bottom of their economic rope. In fact, they had much more money than the average person. Sure this is anecdotal, but I believe that it is borne out by the facts. But it is nice to see posts like the one which Darwin has put together that provide a little more empirical evidence.

At 3/07/2008 11:08 AM, Anonymous BillyHW said...

You know, my grandparents were poor. And not the kind of fake poverty that exists in America today, but really actually dirt poor.

They didn't even have a word for abortion.

In fact, I think if you'd plot the number of abortions vs. the advance of socialism in the last century, you'd probably have a pretty strong correlation.

At 3/07/2008 11:16 AM, Blogger Tito said...


I like the way you put statistics in perspective.

Great analysis!

At 3/07/2008 4:59 PM, Blogger Morning's Minion said...

Esxcept: statistically, poverty is even more sttronly related to the abortion ratio than the abortion rate.

Plus: if the decline started under Reagan, why did it accelerate under Clinton?

At 3/07/2008 5:50 PM, Blogger Darwin said...


Yes, statistically the abortion ratio shows more relation to the poverty rate than the abortion rate -- because the abortion rate has been down consistently while the abortion ratio has gone up during two periods of increased poverty rate due to the number of conceptions going down during the period of increased poverty.

However, neither correllation is all that great.

Let's engage the data rather than ignoring it, huh?

At 3/07/2008 9:52 PM, Blogger Donald R. McClarey said...

Bravo Darwin! Your article is one of the main reasons why I frequent blogs: good original analysis. A first rate job!


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