Posted by: Christine Johnson | March 7, 2008

Abortion and Poverty

Darwin Catholic has enough mathematical information on abortion and poverty that I am thoroughly confused.

If such things don’t muddle your head too much, or if you’re brave enough to wade through it to try to understand it (and it’s really not that bad, I’m probably just not concentrating enough), head over and see what he has to say.

I’d like to go ahead and put the start of the post here, so you know the what’s and why’s of the post, but please click through!

There has, for some time now, been an argument floating around out there (mostly among progressive-minded pro-lifers) that perhaps electing pro-choice Democrats is actually more useful in reducing abortion than electing pro-life Republicans, because Democrats reduce poverty and poverty is is tied to abortion. Among Catholic blogs, Vox Nova writer Mornings Minion wrote a statistical analysis of sorts six months back which he continues to point to as proving strong connection between poverty and abortion. In the wider world, Fuller Theological Seminary ethicist Glen Harold Stassen authored a pair of articles back in 2004 arguing (based on what later proved to be drastically incomplete data) that the number of abortions had risen under George W. Bush, and attributing this to Bush’s economic policies. Stassen’s analysis was then quoted (with rapidly decreasing degrees of accuracy) by Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and finally Howard Dean, who asserted that abortions have gone up 25% under Bush. (see above link to

Once it became clear that the data did not even remotely support the claim that abortion had increased under Bush, Stassen and others fell back on asserting that while it was true that the overall drop in abortion rates had continued under Bush, that the rate of its decrease had slowed, and that this was the result of an increase in poverty under Bush.

Now from a moral point of view, I think one must conclude that the point is irrelevant. Individual human beings are moral agents and as such, although they may find themselves under huge temptation to sin based on external pressures, they are free to choose right or wrong action. Thus, while it may be that in a period of relative prosperity people feel less pressure to commit certain crimes and/or sins, we must not see the duty of society to be simply to make sure everyone is too wealthy to want to sin; rather society must retain a strong enough moral sense to encourage right behavior in good times and in bad.

However, after hearing this argument one too many times, I decided to go dig into the data and see if even the strictly factual side of it is true. So far as I can tell, the argument has the following components:

1) Economic well-being (as measured by a low poverty rate and a high median income) has been greater under Democratic administrations than Republican ones in the last 30 years.
2) Abortion rates have either been lower or have decreased faster under Clinton than under Reagan, HW Bush or W Bush.
3) There is a strong correlation between economic well-being and the abortion rate.

I’m going to argue that all of these are partly or wholly false.

The rest can be read here, charts and all. (I love charts!)

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