Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Abortion Rates Under Clinton and Bush

There's a steady stream of folks who continue to perpetuate an urban legend about the abortion rates in the US. (Kept alive, no doubt, by the fact that Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, John Kerry, and Barack Obama have all cited it.)

The idea is that because of Bill Clinton's policies the abortion rate dropped under his administration, and because of George W. Bush's policies the abortion rate rose under his administration.

If you break it down, there are actually four claims being made here:
  1. Abortion rates dropped under Clinton.
  2. Abortion rates dropped under Clinton because of Clinton.
  3. Abortion rates rose under Bush.
  4. Abortion rates rose under Bush because of Bush.
Only premise 1 is correct.

The Alan Guttmacher Institute--founded in honor of the former president of Planned Parenthood, with one of their goals being to protect reproductive choice--did a piece a few years ago on Trends in Abortion in the United States. It included the following chart, which shows that abortion rates have been decreasing over the past 20 years:

So much for premises 3 and 4.

What about premise 2--the claim that the abortion rate dropped due to President Clinton's policies?

It's not true. We must remember that correlation does not equal causation. In addition to Clinton being President, state legislatures during these years were dominated by Republicans who were able to pass modest legislation (like public-funding restrictions and informed-consent laws) that effectively reduced state abortion rates--as shown most recently by Michael New. Dr. New also shows that increased spending on welfare only marginally effects the abortion rate. did a post on the Bush part of this urban legend in 2005, called The Biography of a Bad Statistic.

I would encourage anyone who thinks that the abortion rate will continue to drop under President Obama to read my post answering the question, What Is the Freedom of Choice Act?