Do Pro-Life Laws Make a Difference?

Rebecca Hagelin
Posted: Feb 09, 2007 12:00 AM

For 34 years, it’s been legal in America for mothers to kill theirpre-born babies. It’s difficult to imagine that the culture my teenagers and somany young adults have grown up in has been this culture of death -- theysimply have no other frame of reference. Yet, even at the tender age of 14,knowing no other Americabut one in which abortion is legal, my daughter doesn’t understand why ournation allows such a heinous act to be inflicted on the innocent and voiceless.Common sense tells her it’s wrong. How can it be, she wonders? I have noanswers.

It seems we don’t hear much about this national disgraceanymore -- no visual protests (other than the March for Life) or rescues grabheadlines as they did in the late ’80s. But many brave warriors for theinnocent are gaining ground -- small victories you don’t really hear about. Forinstance, pro-life legislators in SouthDakota have again introduced a bill that would protect the pre-born fromalmost all “excuses” for abortion. Last year a similar bill passed thelegislature but was narrowly defeated in a voter referendum.

There also is good news on the national front: We’re closeto having a Supreme Court composed of a majority of justices who may see fit tooverturn Roe v. Wade, should theright case appear before them. Also heartening is the great work being done onthe state level to protect young women from the horror of abortion whereverpossible. We can take hope in knowing that parental notification, informedconsent and other such laws are effective in saving lives and in savingunsuspecting women from committing the unthinkable on their own babies.

According to a just-publishedHeritage Foundation paper by Michael New, an assistant professor ofpolitical science at the University of Alabama, four types ofpro-life laws have reduced the number of abortions. Laws dealing with parentalinvolvement, informed consent, Medicaid funding restrictions and partial-birthabortion bans work.

The number of legal abortions declined by 18.4 percentduring the 1990s. What effect did these laws have? The number of such laws rosedramatically in the ’90s. In 1992, for example, 20 states enforcedparental-involvement statutes; by 2000, 32 did. In 1992, virtually no stateshad informed-consent laws (which stipulate that women are to be given medicalfacts about their unborn children and told about alternatives to abortion); by2000, 27 states had such laws. And no state in 1992 prohibited partial-birthabortions; a dozen had done so by 2000.

Dr. New’s research reveals that Medicaid fundingrestrictions and parental-involvement laws made the biggest difference incurtailing abortions among minors. Laws mandating that parents be notifiedreduced the minor abortion rate by an average of 1.67 abortions per 1,000females between the ages of 13 and 17. States with Medicaid fundingrestrictions in place saw 2.34 fewer abortions per 1,000. Doesn’t sound like alot? To me, those numbers mean little girls my daughter’s age were spared thelife-long trauma of having killed their own babies. Those numbers representtoddlers and grade-school children who otherwise would be dead.

Professor New’s conclusion may seem obvious. Pro-life lawswere passed, the number of abortions dropped, so there must be a connection.But like any analyst worth his salt, New knows that correlation isn’tthe same as causation. We need proof. After all, one could just aseasily say that the abortion drop occurred because public opinion beganshifting against abortion. Such a shift would prompt voters to elect pro-lifepoliticians who would, in turn, pass pro-life laws. Ultimately, the theorygoes, we can credit the shift in opinion, not the laws.

New compared the abortion rate among minors to the overallabortion rate in each category and found that the laws deserve much of thecredit. Take informed-consent laws. If the drop in abortions came from ageneral change in values, we could expect to see roughly equal reductions inthe abortion rate for adults and for minors. Instead, we find states withinformed-consent laws experiencing a drop in the overall abortion rates twiceas large as the reduction among minors. As New explains:

“If minors seek abortions becausethey do not want to reveal their pregnancy or sexual activity to their parents,in­formed-consent laws that give them information about the development oftheir unborn children and private and public sources of support may have littleimpact on their decisions. Yet if adults seek abortions for reasons that aredifferent from those of minors, such as financial hardship, informed-consentlaws could have a larger impact on them. This provides fur­ther evidence thatlegislation is influencing decisions.”

Professor New doesn’t completely dismiss the effect ofpublic opinion, which has generally moved in a pro-life direction over the last20 years. In the social sciences, you can’t conduct perfect, lab-qualityexperiments. But New demonstrates that pro-life laws have helped reducethe number of abortions. And that offers some small ray of hope to those of uswho work and pray for the day when abortion is again declared illegal -- notonly because it destroys life, but because it victimizes the women who turn toit in desperation and fear.

“We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life-- the unborn -- without diminishing the value of all human life,” RonaldReagan once said. Let’s remember that as we continue our efforts to protect thelives of the most helpless Americans among us.