No, Trump Isn’t Making Abortion Rates Go Up

Authors Tim and David Gordon wrote a book called Rules for Retrogrades, and they host a podcast with the same name. Earlier this month, the pair invited Youtuber Lizzie Reezay on to discuss whether Catholics should vote Democrat.

One issue that came up was abortion, with Reezay arguing that Democrats actually do a better job of reducing it than Republicans.

“When there are Democrats in charge, the abortion rate decreases,” she began. “When Republicans get back into power, abortion increases. When Democrats get back into power, abortion decreases. Ever since Roe v. Wade, you can look at the stats, it always goes down when they are in control.”

Reezay theorizes that this is “because of social programs, like having enough aid through Medicare and Medicaid and food stamps, helping families who are in need, putting more money into public education.”

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She concluded by saying, “I believe if you give women all these resources, you help people who are in poverty, women will choose life.”

Reezay isn’t the first to claim that abortion consistently goes up under Republicans, or to contend that more social programs bring the number down. In fact, both ideas are fairly common.

They’re also wrong.

First off, historical abortion rates don’t fit into a neat partisan pattern, something the graph below demonstrates.

Following Roe, abortion went up sharply under Republicans Richard Nixon and Gerry Ford, as well as Democrat Jimmy Carter. It finally reached its peak in the early years of Reagan’s presidency before beginning to gradually go down. There were small upticks during both Bush administrations, but the overall trend has been one of decline.

That decline accelerated during the Obama years, and the Trump’s election hasn’t reversed it: according to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate went down by seven percent between 2014 and the end of 2017. What’s more, the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion is still dropping.

Claims that a more expansive welfare state reduces abortion aren't strong either. The Canadian province of Quebec has a publicly funded healthcare system and subsidized daycare yet its abortion rate is among the highest in the developed world.

Sweden is known for it's social safety net, and yet the abortion rate there is far higher than in the United States. What's more, the ten states with the lowest abortion rates are all red.

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So while there's little evidence that Democrats do much to reduce abortion, they have been good at driving out people who oppose it. At a February town hall event, Sen. Bernie Sanders was asked, "Is there such a thing as a pro-life Democrat in your vision of the party?" His answer was clear.

“I think being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat,” he stated. “By this time in history . . . when we talk about what a Democrat is, I think being pro-choice is an essential part of that,” he added.

What's more, every major Democratic presidential candidate supported taxpayer funded abortion up until birth.

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In contrast, the Trump administration hasn't just gone out of its way to welcome pro-lifers; it's gotten results.

One of President Trump’s first acts was to reinstate and expand the Mexico City Policy, an executive order that prohibits using American aid dollars to pay for abortion.

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Next came the repeal of an Obama-era rule barring states from denying federal family planning funds to groups that offer abortion. Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to reverse the measure.

That was followed in 2019 by Trump going after Planned Parenthood's Title X funding. Money received under Title X accounted for 15 percent of the abortion chain's budget.

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The decision was challenged in federal court, with the administration prevailing. That demonstrates the importance of judicial appointments, something Trump has been making plenty of: by last December, one in four federal circuit court judges was a Trump appointee.

And just this year, the administration challenged a California law requiring insurers to cover abortion. “If states receive federal funds from HHS and other agencies, they cannot discriminate against health plans that decline to cover or pay for abortions,” Office of Civil Rights director Roger Severino said in February.

Interestingly, these moves might not just result in fewer abortions. The findings of a 1996 study published in the Journal of Health Economics suggest they may lead to fewer unplanned pregnancies as well:

An analysis of 12 years of state-level data indicate that restrictions are associated with a reduction in abortions and either no change or a reduction in births, implying fewer pregnancies. Subsequent analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) is consistent with these findings and show the response is concentrated among the low-income population.

Other studies have also found a correlation between less abortion availability and fewer unplanned births, leading some to speculate that reduced abortion access induces behavioral changes.

One reported that parental notification laws were associated with a reduction in risky sexual practices. Their proliferation may have something to do with the fact that teen pregnancy rates keep dropping.

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However, Trump hasn't just changed policy; he's also changed the conversation, becoming the first president to speak honestly about what abortion really involves.

During her debate, it was clear that Lizzie Reezay believed what she was saying about Democrats and abortion. What's also clear? That the facts say something else.

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