Fake Pro-Life Catholic Group Withdraws Study Blasting Pro-Life Laws on Abortion

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 17, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Fake Pro-Life Catholic Group Withdraws Study Blasting Pro-Life Laws on Abortion

by Dr. Michael New
August 17, 2009

LifeNews.com Note: Dr. Michael New is a political science professor at the University of Alabama and holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

It is not a surprise that pro-choicers would vigorously deny the obvious-–that pro-life legislation results in many fewer abortions. Nor would anyone doubt that pro-choicers would strive to come up with what they insist is a superior way to lower the number of abortions.

By having the effect of doing both, an August 2008 study released by the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good had Obama supporters (and some editorial boards) swooning. The far greater media attention was paid to the group’s analysis of state-level abortion data from 1982 to 2000, where it purported to have found evidence that increased spending on various welfare programs resulted in substantial reductions in state abortion rates.

But the study pulled double duty by also contending that many pro-life laws, such as those requiring parental notification for abortions performed on minor girls, had little effect. So the paradoxical message to pro-life voters was that they could best advance their interests by electing pro-choice Democrats instead of pro-life Republicans!

The truth that was lost in the rush to embrace the study is that there exist a number of studies in competitive, peer-reviewed economics and public health journals which demonstrate that a number of pro-life laws including public funding restrictions, parental involvement laws, and informed consent laws all reduce the incidence of abortion. Unfortunately, the mainstream media typically gives these studies short shrift, and that was conspicuously so in 2008.

Self-proclaimed pro-lifers who support pro-abortion Democratic presidential nominees can be found in every election cycle, but to little effect. However, the substantial coverage given to the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good study had a major impact on the debate over sanctity of life issues during the 2008 election.

This study gave Doug Kmiec, Nicholas Cafardi, and others intellectual legitimacy to argue that pro-life voters should vote for candidates, even if they favor abortion-on-demand and its public funding, in order to advance the pro-life cause. At last, there supposedly was a methodologically sophisticated study allegedly demonstrating that the welfare policies favored by Democrats were more effective in preventing abortion than the pro-life laws supported by Republicans. It seemed too good to be true.

It was.

Just four months later, with no public announcement, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good removed this study from its web site. A replacement version was uploaded shortly thereafter. The replacement version differs from its predecessor in a number of important ways.

First, one of the authors of the August study, Professor Michael Bailey of Georgetown University, removed his name from the November version.

Joseph Wright, a visiting fellow at Notre Dame, is the sole author of the current study.

Second, and more importantly, the results of the new version fall well short of the claims asserted in the original press release. The original study argued that greater welfare spending had significant effects on state abortion rates. In particular, the authors found that increased spending on both the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) significantly reduced state abortion rates.

However, after the original study was released, the authors discovered that they used incorrect abortion data for the years following 1997.

Furthermore, after some dialogue with me, the authors decided that it would be appropriate to eliminate data from states, such as Kansas, where abortion reporting was inconsistent over time. These changes had a substantial effect on the study’s findings.

The new version provides evidence that welfare spending has no more than a marginal effect on the incidence of abortion. In fact, the new regression results indicate that none of the welfare policies which the authors previously argued were effective tools for reducing the incidence of abortion have a substantial abortion-reducing effect.

(To analyze the effect of various types of welfare spending on abortion rates, the authors make use of a statistical technique known as a "regression." Regression analysis makes it possible to "hold constant" the effects of various factors that might influence state abortion rates, such as demographic shifts or economic fluctuations.

This makes it possible to more accurately predict the effects of more welfare spending or the enactment of pro-life laws on the incidence of
abortion.)

Wright clearly states that "WIC payments are not correlated with the abortion rate in the 1990s." But Wright continues to argue that increased Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)/TA NF spending reduces state abortion rates. However, his regression results raise serious doubts about the reliability of this finding.

Wright runs a series of regressions using only data from the 1990s.

This shows that increases in AFDC/TANF spending is correlated with statistically significant abortion declines. However, regressions run on data from 1982 to 2000 find that AFDC/TANF spending has only a marginal impact on the incidence of abortion. Furthermore, when Wright runs regressions on data from the 1980s, he finds that AFDC spending actually increases the incidence of abortion and the coefficient approaches conventional levels of statistical significance.

Why is this important? For social science findings to be reliable, the results should be fairly consistent across time. These findings certainly are not. Furthermore, Wright makes no effort to explain why welfare spending has such disparate effects on abortion rates during different time periods.

In addition, many of the flaws in the previous study’s analysis of the impact of pro-life legislation are still prevalent in the current version. For instance, Wright states that parental involvement laws, like the other state laws restricting abortion, have little impact on overall abortion rates.

But, of course! Since parental involvement laws directly affect only minors, Wright should have pointed out that analyzing their effects on the overall abortion rate is not a methodologically sound way to gauge their actual impact.

Unfortunately, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good continues to miss the boat and mislead the public. There exist plenty of peer-reviewed studies which find that public funding restrictions and parental involvement laws reduce the incidence of abortion.

However, instead of acknowledging the positive impact of pro-life legislation and constructively working with pro-lifers to promote social policies that will further reduce abortion rates, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good seems primarily interested in providing moral, political, and theological cover for supporters of Barack Obama and other Democrats who support "abortion rights."

However, their latest research indicates that their original findings have been unable to withstand serious scrutiny.

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