Despite some claiming that efforts to change the legal status of abortion have not produced pro-life successes, it has become clear that patient, incremental change in US abortion laws really does save lives.
Some writers claim that efforts to change the legal status of abortion have not produced pro-life successes and thus should be abandoned. The arguments of the nay-sayers boil down to one of two claims. First, political and legislative efforts have failed because abortion is still legal. Second, these have failed because the law has not appreciably reduced the number of abortions.
Neither of these claims carries any water.
The first ignores the most important legal fact about abortion in the United States: it was declared to be a legal right by the US Supreme Court as a matter of interpreting the Constitution. Because the Constitution trumps ordinary federal statutes and any State laws, it will take the Supreme Court or an amendment to the Constitution to declare that abortion is no longer a legal right. To assert that political action has failed because elected officials have not outlawed abortion reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the American legal system.
The second theme, that pro-life political and legislative efforts do not work because they have no effect on abortions, is simply false as a matter of fact. Such efforts have saved many hundreds of thousands of lives over the years, including not just unborn infants’ lives but women’s lives as well.
Probably the single most effective way to reduce the number of deaths by abortion has been to prohibit subsidizing abortions with tax money. The Hyde Amendment every year forbids Medicaid to pay for almost all types of abortions. After the Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that the government does not have to fund abortions, the Medicaid ban has had a dramatic effect. In a 2010 Congressional hearing, Douglas Johnson, of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), cited a 2010 National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) publication, as follows (readers should make allowances for the pro-abortion spin):
“A study by the Guttmacher Institute shows that Medicaid-eligible women in states that exclude abortion coverage have abortion rates of about half of those of women in states that fund abortion care. This suggests that the Hyde amendment forces about half the women who would otherwise choose abortion to carry unintended pregnancies to term and bear children against their wishes.”
The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute’s numbers are sometimes unreliable. NRLC uses a more conservative estimate that an average of about one-fourth of the babies are brought to birth who otherwise would be killed by abortion if Medicaid subsidies were available. The result is that over one million human beings in America are now alive who would have been killed were it not for Congressman Henry Hyde’s successful fight to restrict Medicaid funding of abortions.
This is a very significant victory in the cause of human life. But it is only one of the victories that enacting pro-life laws has achieved.
Parental involvement laws, under which one or both of the parents of a teen-age mother must at least be notified of their daughter’s intent to undergo an abortion, have made a substantial dent in numbers of abortions performed on minors. One prominent researcher, Michael J. New, has found that 16 peer-reviewed scientific studies reflect significant drops in abortions within states that have enacted such laws. The average in-state drop is 15 to 20 percent. While it is clear that some young women cross state, they do not equal the in-state reduction in abortions. The net result is a decline in abortions. "[S]tate-level parental involvement laws are worth enacting because the in-state abortion decline consistently exceeds any out-of-state increase."
Dr New adds that "the knowledge that their parents will be involved with an abortion decision provides teen girls with a strong disincentive to engage in unprotected sexual activity. Indeed, there is a body of research on the positive public health effects associated with the presence of parental involvement laws." In regard to teenage women, such laws reduce the rates of pregnancy, not just the numbers of abortions; they reduce the gonorrhea rate; and they reduce the suicide rate. Thus, the lives of teenaged mothers-to-be are protected as well as the lives of unborn children.