Monday, January 31, 2005


Professor Glen Stassen Interview

When Hillary Clinton made comments about abortion going up under President Bush, Malkin was on the case. Her points were twofold: Hillary Clinton was trying desperately to move rightward, and the study Clinton was referring to was both partisan and flawed.

Media Matters took care of the former claim. To address the latter, I ticked off a few points where was less than accurate. I also asked Dr. Stassen a few questions via e-mail, which he graciously answered this weekend:
What first led you to do this research and write this article?

My wife's and my experience with the threat that her rubella (German measles) in the 8th week of pregnancy would probably mean severe handicaps with our baby, our deciding against abortion, because we had hope that we could cope--based on her being a pediatrics nurse and our having coped with challenges before--and then the outstanding help we got raising David from doctors, nurses, teachers, and church members. All this sensitized me to the importance of hope you can cope, and of social safety nets, in deciding against abortions. And I was seeing
those safety nets eroding with policies designed to shift the money to the very wealthy. So I feared abortions might be rising. desribes the article as "a last-minute effort to call into question President Bush's pro-life credentials." How would you respond?

You can see the same arguments in the book that David Gushee and I wrote over a five-year period and published in 2003. The book is Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (InterVarsity Press). It won Christianity Today's award as the best book of the year in either theology or ethics. Read chapter 6 on the books's approach, and chapter 10 on abortion. Read chapters 7-12 on our consistent prolife ethic.

Clearly we wrote this not in response to president Bush, but in response to the way of Jesus as we understand it, and our life experiences.

You can see a similar argument made by the US Catholic bishops when they warned that if Congress and President Clinton eliminated the welfare program, it would undermine social safety nets for mothers and lead to an increase in abortions. They proclaimed it before President W. Bush
was on the radar screens.

In my posting, I didn't address some of's other claims: That you used "faulty statistics" to claim that abortion was on the rise in George W. Bush's presidency. Among other things, [the scientist quoted in the article] says that "Not only do the data fail to indicate a nationwide upsurge in abortions, but Stassen provides no economic data whatsoever, much less the kind of statistical analysis one would need to show that
abortions and economic factors such as unemployment are linked." For those of us unfamiliar with statistics, do you have a layman's answer to that claim?

I cite the following five sets of confirming facts that unemployment and lack of health insurance cause an increase in abortions:
1) Two-thirds of women who have abortions say they do not see how they could afford to raise the child. When unemployment is up, affording to raise a child is harder.
2) Half of women who have abortions say they do not have a reliable mate. Data from Children's Defense Fund clearly indicate that men without jobs usually do not marry. Therefore, increased unemployment in the last three years predicts fewer marriages and fewer reliable mates,
and therefore more abortions. I checked this for the sixteen states. Marriages in fact were down, as predicted. During this time of increased unemployment, only three of the sixteen states had more marriages in 2002 than in 2001, and as predicted, abortion rates actually decreased
in those states as a group. In the sixteen states overall, however, there were 16,392 fewer marriages than the year before, and 5,855 more abortions, thus confirming the hypothesis that marriages decrease when the unemployment rate increases, and where marriages decrease, abortions
increase. Clearer confirmation is hard to find.
3) Black and Latina women tend to be poorer and more unemployed. Their abortion rates are two to three times higher than white women.
4) The thirty-year trend shows abortion rates moving in tandem with women's unemployment rates. From 1973 to 1980, women's unemployment increased from approximately 6% to 7.6%, and the abortion rate increased from 16 to 29 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 45. (Of course, these were the
first years after Roe v Wade, which surely also contributed mightily to the increase in abortions.) But then abortions did not keep increasing. From 1980 to 1992, unemployment decreased from 7.6% to 5.5% briefly, and then partway up briefly to 7%. During this period of slow decrease
in unemployment, the abortion rate slowly decreased from 29 to 26. During the Clinton administration, unemployment dropped nicely to 4.5%, and the abortion rate dropped significantly to 21. During the present administration, women's unemployment increased above 6%, and the
abortion rate has increased.
5) This now receives additional confirmation from the fact that the National Institute of Health has reported that infant mortality rate actually increased in 2002 for the first time ever since 1940, the first year for which their website reports the data. This also indicates
decreased support for mothers and babies and decreased healthcare.

It would seem that any information on how to cut down on abortion rates would be welcome to pro-lifers. Would you agree that there is an apparent tendency of your detractors to put their support of President Bush ahead of a desire to understand the driving force behind abortion in this country? If so, do you have any opinions as to why this might be?

Yes, unfortunately that clearly seems to be true. In my article, I wrote only that the abortions decreased in the 1990s by 300,000 per year, from 1,610,000 per year to 1,310,000 per year. I named no political party and no president; I did not try to give the credit to president Clinton,
whose presidency began in January of 1993. The attack on my article by O'Bannon and Hussey said that most of the reduction came in the first half of the decade, when George Bush senior was president. They shifted to speaking frrom a partisan perspective. Their claim was an astounding
distortion of the truth. According to the CDC website, the abortion rate stayed flat during Bush's years, and declined dramatically during Clinton's years. During the senior Bush's years (1989-1992), the abortion rate was 24, 24, 24, and 23. Clinton's first year (1993) it was
still 23. But by 1994 it had dropped to 21, and by 1997 it had dropped to 17, where it stayed through 1999, and then dropped to 16 his last year.

Most of the many email responses to my article were nicely appreciative. But many responded not by dealing with the data, but by defending President Bush. The most frequent defense was that the stagnant economy and consistently high unemployment rate and increase of 5.2 million
uninsured were not his fault. I respond to that defense in the forthcoming issue of The Christian Century.