Kathleen Kennedy Townsend Wrong on Partisanship, Abortion

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 18, 2011   |   4:28PM   |   Washington, DC

Former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is coming under fire for making a false claim during a lecture at Catholic University of America. There, she said “when a Democrat gets elected, the abortion rates go down.”

University of Michigan professor and pro-life statistical analyst Dr. Michael New says Townsend attributes this to their safety-net policies: With higher taxes, there are more opportunities available for the poor, which gives pregnant women with little money hope for a brighter future for their children.

“Townsend and other members of the Catholic Left frequently tout the abortion-rate decline that coincided with Bill Clinton’s presidency,” New says in a column at National Review. “Their logic is puzzling. If anything, welfare policy became more conservative during the 1990s. In the early and mid 1990s, many states received waivers from the Department of Health and Human Services to strengthen work requirements for welfare recipients and pursue other reforms. Additionally, with the passage of welfare reform in 1996, states had greater ability to sanction welfare recipients who were not searching for jobs or complying with work-related requirements.”

“Interestingly, the most recent data from the Guttmacher Institute indicates that the abortion rate fell during the George W. Bush administration. However, not one mainstream media outlet has reported on this fact, much less given President Bush any credit. Somehow I doubt this factoid will be included any of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s future talking points,” he says.

Abortion actually stopped declining by the time Clinton left office.

Dr. Randy O’Bannon, director of education at the National Right to Life Committee, says most of the abortion decline in the 1990s occurred during the first few years. That’s when the first President Bush was in office and shortly thereafter — before Clinton’s economic policies would have had an effect. O’Bannon said the rate of decline was higher in the Bush years and slowed during the Clinton years.

“In Clinton’s last year in office, the decline was not 1.7%, but just 0.1%,” O’Bannon explained, comparing the average decline in the 1990s with Clinton’s final year.

During the Bush years and the year after, abortions decreased by 113,000, or 7 percent. The number of abortions fell by only 46,500, or 3.5 percent, during Clinton’s second term in office, when his economic policies were in full effect. The abortion number even reversed itself one year during the Clinton presidency, from 1995-1996, and went up slightly.

New’s point is well taken — in fact abortions indeed dropped under President George W. Bush.

In January 2009, the Alan Guttmacher Institute reportedthat the number of abortions nationwide have fallen to their lowest point in 30 years and have declined 25 percent since 1990 — with half of that time period coming under pro-life presidents. The number of abortions are now at their lowest point since 1.179 million in 1976, AGI said.

Meanwhile, research from a nonpartisan political watchdog group finds the claim false when compared with national and state abortion statistics.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania says that claims that abortions have not decreased under President Bush are “not true.”

“Politicians from Hillary Clinton and John Kerry to Howard Dean have recently contended that abortions have increased since George W. Bush took office in 2001,” the researchers have written.

“This claim is false. It’s based on an opinion piece that used data from only 16 states. A study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute of 43 states found that abortions have actually decreased,” Annenberg indicates.

“The claim is repeated by supporters of abortion rights as evidence that Bush’s anti-abortion policies have backfired, or at least been ineffective,” it added. “But the claim is untrue. In fact, according to the respected Alan Guttmacher Institute, a 20-year decline in abortion rates continued after Bush took office.”