Hey, sweaties. In my last, I went over single-issue voting versus the “seamless garment” approach. The normal sequel to this that I’ve seen from Catholic Democrats is that we should vote Democratic because even though they’re bad on abortion, they’re good on a lot of other stuff (like affordable health care and services for the poor), to the effect that their total platform aligns with Catholic Social Teaching much more closely than the Republicans do. Without denying the truth of this argument, (1) I feel it’s a little weak. CST is an outlook, not a checklist; and anyway, there isn’t a magical exchange center where you can trade higher taxes for less racism or something.
So I don’t propose to make the case that pro-lifers should vote blue on balance or anything of that kind. No, the case I propose to make is that we should vote blue precisely because we are against abortion.
I am aware there is a catch in this argument. But let’s go through it first.
Abortion was legalized (2) in 1973. That year, there were rather more than 740,000 abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute (3). That number increased by over 15,000 the following year, the last year of Nixon’s presidency. Numbers continued to climb through Ford’s partial term and Carter’s full term, breaking the 1.5 million mark in 1980, the year Reagan was elected. Reagan was vocally pro-life, but abortion numbers remained steady—or rather, continued to climb, though only by a few thousands per year—throughout his first term and into his second. They had fallen as “low” as 1,559,110 in 1987, before spiking again the next year, when George H. W. Bush, another Republican, was elected; they peaked in the middle of his term, in 1990, with Guttmacher reporting the number to be 1,608,600. They didn’t fall below 1.5 million again until 1993—the year that notoriously pro-choice Democrat Bill Clinton took office. Abortions then kept falling (with one blip in 1996) all the way through 2005. There was a small spike the following year, an even smaller one in ’08, and then a continued decline under the Obama administration, finally falling below a million in 2013. I’ve had some difficulty finding abortion numbers for Trump’s administration; they appear to have held steady or declined somewhat further, though they are in any case lower than they’ve been at any point since legalization. (4)
So if we’re going to draw any conclusion from mere statistics, it would be that Democratic administrations are at least as likely as Republican ones to reduce the raw number of abortions. The only real irregularity here is the fact that abortion numbers continued falling under the George W. Bush administration; and they fell markedly less under Bush than they had under Clinton or than they would under Obama—hanging between 1.2 and 1.3 million, after coming down from 1.5 million and plummeting again to less than a million.
I don’t propose to draw particularly strong conclusions from data relating to the presidency alone. But conservative pro-life rhetoric, both political and religious, has focused so heavily on the office of the president that I think it merits examining, at minimum, whether that focus is really warranted. Numbers like these suggest it maybe isn’t. No Democratic administration since 1973, except Carter’s, is correlated to an increase in abortion numbers; and the highest numbers, and every spike in rates except one, have all been correlated to GOP presidencies. Whatever weight that evidence possesses—and maybe it is not very much, but whatever it is—weighs against the idea that electing a Republican president is a necessary or even a very useful way of protecting the unborn.
But why should this be the case at all? It’s obviously counter-intuitive: you’d think that electing a pro-life president would exert both legal and cultural influence against abortion; and, well, maybe it does. But apparently something else is at work. Let’s dig into that next.
Images via Pixabay
(1) And without addressing the “Some Catholics just use it as cover to vote pro-choice!” mudsling, which, while true, is primarily irrelevant (since other people having bad reasons to vote for candidate does not mean X must be a bad candidate), and secondarily hypocritical (since there are plenty of Catholics who use abortion as a pretext to vote for policies, like unregulated capitalism and unjust war, that are just as contradictory to Catholic teaching).
(2) Yes, given the significance of the judiciary’s powers this is a slightly misleading way of describing Roe vs. Wade, but let’s not get lost in semantics.
(3) I’m using the Guttmacher Institute’s numbers because they collect data directly from abortion facilities across the country, whereas the CDC, though it also collects abortion data, relies on voluntary reports from state health departments, and reports much lower numbers. The GI believes its own records are still lower than the reality, but they’re probably a good deal closer. Lest I be accused of attempting to distort the facts or gleaning numbers from sources with a pro-choice slant, the numbers recorded by both Guttmacher and the CDC may be found here, on a fact sheet compiled by the National Right to Life Education Foundation.
(4) Note that I have here relied on absolute numbers, not on abortions as a percentage of total pregnancies; the two should not be confused, and I’ve carefully gone through and altered it any time I had at first used the words “abortion rate,” to help avoid that kind of confusing. While data on both absolute numbers and rates relative to the population are important for different reasons, I feel that the actual number of abortions is more pertinent here, since it is concrete lives and not statistical trends that I am interested in saving.