Study: Abortions Would Quickly Drop 15 Percent if Roe Overturned

Opinion   |   Michael New, Ph.D.   |   Jun 5, 2013   |   2:55PM   |   Washington, DC

On the Boston Globe’s Brainiac blog, Kevin Hartnett highlights an academic study that offers insights as to what would happen to the abortion rate if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

This study makes use of a unique dataset of abortions performed in New York State in 1971 and 1972. New York became one of the first U.S. states to legalize abortion in 1970 and kept accurate data on the age, race, and residence of those who obtained abortions. According to the authors, over 80 percent of women who traveled out of state to obtain an abortion went to New York.

This National Bureau of Economic Research study was actually released last summer, but it nevertheless contains some important insights that should interest pro-lifers. First, the findings clearly show that, in 1971 and 1972, states closer to New York had significantly higher abortion rates than states farther from New York, suggesting that travel costs deterred some women from obtaining an abortion.

Second, women residing in states with more-liberal abortion policies were less likely to obtain an abortion in New York State. Overall, the authors estimate that the abortion rate would decrease by almost 15 percent if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

The methodology used in this paper is rigorous, but the authors appear politically naïve. To estimate the abortion rate decline, the authors use data from the Center for Reproductive Rights which assumes that 31 states plus D.C. would ban abortion if Roe were overturned.

However, last spring the academic journal Issues in Law and Medicine published an analysis of hypothetical post-Roe abortion policy by attorney Paul Linton. He finds that no more than eleven states — and possibly as few as eight — would put laws on the books prohibiting most abortions if Roe were reversed. It is certainly possible that if Roe were overturned, additional states would enact abortion bans, but the idea of 31 state bans seems farfetched.

Still, this study should interest pro-lifers. It nicely shows that some women are deterred from obtaining abortions even when other states offer them. As such, state bans on abortion in a post-Roe world would reduce the incidence of abortion. Furthermore, current efforts by pro-lifers to close abortion clinics are also doing some good. This study adds to a body of academic research which demonstrates that the incidence of abortion is sensitive to its legal status. Overall, there is good reason to believe that pro-life legislative efforts have contributed to the consistent decline in the abortion rate during the past 20 years. Note: Dr. Michael New is a political science professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is a fellow at Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.