Unanimous verdicts by the Supreme Court are rare. Yet, last week, we witnessed one -- and in an abortion case, no less.
Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood concerned a law that New Hampshire passed in 2003 requiring minors to give parents 48-hours notice before an abortion. Although the law contains some restrictions (e.g., the requirement was waived if a judge decided that the minor in question was mature enough to give informed consent), it lacked an explicit health exception. That’s been the sticking point in past parental-notification cases, so the justices told a lower court to decide whether the New Hampshire legislature would have passed the law if a health exception had been included.
Neither side in the abortion debate was entirely happy with the verdict. But it raises an interesting question: Is such pro-life legislation effective? Do parental-notification laws, partial-birth abortion bans and informed-consent laws make a difference? According to a new Heritage Foundation paper, the answer is yes.
This isn’t merely the author’s opinion or a case of wishful thinking. Michael New, an assistant professor in political science at the University of Alabama, carefully and scientifically analyzed the numbers using a methodology that’s included with the paper. His research began with these two facts: During the 1990s, the number of abortions dropped by around 18 percent (after rising in the 1970s and ’80s) even as the amount of pro-life legislation mentioned above -- parental-notification laws, etc. -- increased substantially:
• In 1992, virtually no states were enforcing informed consent laws. By 2000, 27 states had informed consent laws in effect.
• In 1992, no states had banned or restricted partial-birth abortion. By 2000, 12 states had bans or restrictions in effect.
• In 1992, only 20 states were enforcing parental involvement statutes. By 2000, 32 states were enforcing these laws.
Is there a connection between more pro-life legislation and declining abortion levels? That’s what Professor New wanted to prove. There certainly appears to be one, but as he notes, “correlation is not the same thing as causation.” It could be just a coincidence. Or it might be this: The states that are enacting pro-life legislation have shifted toward more conservative values. The women who live there are seeking fewer abortions anyway, so the legislation isn’t having that big an effect.