Pro-Life? Look at the Fruits
I am a Christian ethicist, and trained in statistical analysis. I am consistently pro-life. My son David is one witness. For my family, "pro-life" is personal. My wife caught rubella in the eighth week of her pregnancy. We decided not to terminate, but instead to love and raise our baby. David is legally blind and severely handicapped; he also is a blessing to us and to the world.
I look at the fruits of political policies more than words. I analyzed the data on abortion during the George W. Bush presidency. There is no single source for this information – federal reports go only to 2000, and many states do not report – but I found enough data to identify trends. My findings are counterintuitive and disturbing.
Abortion was decreasing. In the decade before George W. Bush became president, the number of abortions in the United States fell from 1,610,000 to 1,330,000. That is a decline of 17.4% over the decade of the 1990s, an average decrease of 1.7% per year. (The data come from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, which gets them from the Guttmacher Institute.)
Enter George W. Bush in 2001. One would expect the abortion rate to continue its consistent course downward, if not plunge. Instead, the opposite happened.
Three states have posted several years of recent statistics through 2003: Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Here's what happened to their abortion rates: Kentucky's increased by 3.2% from 2000 to 2003. Michigan's increased by 11.3% from 2000 to 2003. Pennsylvania's increased by 1.9% from 1999 to 2002.
I found 13 other states that reported statistics allowing comparison of abortion rates in 2001 and 2002. Here's what happened: Eight states saw an increase in their abortion rates: Arizona (+26.4%), Colorado (+67.4%), Idaho (+13.9%), Illinois (+0.9%), Missouri (+2.5%), South Dakota (+2.1%), Texas (+3.0%), and Wisconsin (+0.6%). Five states saw a decrease: Alabama (-9.8%), Florida (-0.7%), Minnesota (-4.4%), Ohio (-4.4%), and Washington (-2.1%).
In total numbers, 7,869 more abortions were performed in these sixteen states during George W. Bush's second year in office than previously. If this trend reflects our nation, 24,000 more abortions were performed during George W. Bush's second year in office than the year before (or three years before in the first three states). Had the previous trends continued, 28,000 fewer abortions should have occurred each year of the Bush era. All in all, probably 52,000 more abortions occurred in the United States in 2002 than expected from the earlier trends.
How could this be? I see three contributing factors:
One – Two thirds of women who abort say they cannot afford a child (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life website). In the past three years, unemployment rates increased half again. Not since Hoover has there been a net loss of jobs during a presidency until this president. Average real incomes decreased, and the minimum wage has not been raised to keep up with inflation for seven years. With less income, many prospective mothers fear another mouth to feed.
Two – Half of all women who abort say they do not have a reliable mate (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life). Men who are jobless usually do not marry. Only three of my sixteen states had more marriages in 2002 than in 2001; in those states abortion rates decreased. In the sixteen states overall, there were 16,392 fewer marriages than the year before, and 7,869 more abortions. As male unemployment increases, marriages fall and abortion rises.
Three – Women worry about healthcare for themselves and their children. Since 5.2 million more people have no health insurance now than before this presidency – with women of childbearing age overrepresented in those 5.2 million – abortion increases. My wife and I know – as does David – that doctors, nurses, hospitals, medical insurance, special schooling, and parental employment are crucial for a child with special needs. David attended the Kentucky School for the Blind, as well as several schools for children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. He was mainstreamed in public schools as well. We have two other sons, and five grandchildren, and we know that every mother, every father, and every child needs public and family support.
What does this tell us? Economic policy and abortion are not separate issues; they form one moral imperative. Rhetoric is hollow, mere tinkling brass, without healthcare, health insurance, jobs, childcare, and a living wage. Pro-life in deed, not merely in word, means we need a president who will do something about jobs and health insurance and support for prospective mothers.
Glen Stassen is the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA.