Abortion and Economics

Science, technology, and life.
May 19 2009 9:58 AM

Abortion and Economics

Lots of talk yesterday about President Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame. The main topic was " common ground " on abortion. I'll post some thoughts on that later today or tomorrow. But one thing is worth pointing out now: It's a bit odd to see abortion being treated by activists and the press as an issue separate from the economy. In real life, women who get pregnant think hard about their financial circumstances. They try to figure out whether they can afford to raise a child. That's what is happening right now in Singapore, according to Agence France Presse :

/blogs/humannature/2009/05/19/abortion_and_economics/jcr:content/body/slate_image

Despite a national campaign to boost the birthrate, Singapore has one of Asia's most liberal abortion policies and the global financial crisis could be prompting more women to terminate pregnancies. A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said there were 12,222 abortions in the city-state last year, compared to 11,933 in 2007. No official figures are available for 2009. Gynaecologist Saifuddin Sidek said his private practice had recorded a 20 percent rise in abortion patients so far this year compared with the same period last year. "A lot of them are because of the current economic climate," he said.

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The same logic applies to the United States. If you look at the chart on Page 9 of last year's report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, " Trends in the Characteristics of Women Obtaining Abortions, 1974 to 2004 ," you'll see that the "abortion ratio per 100 pregnancies" rose from 1974 to the early 1980s and then steadily fell, except for the first couple of years of the 1990s and 2000s. That roughly correlates with economic indicators. The better the economy, the more likely women are to go through with their pregnancies.

At Notre Dame, Obama talked about adoption, pregnancy prevention, and other things the government can facilitate to lower the abortion rate. Good for him. But don't be surprised if abortion trends during his presidency end up having little to do with his abortion policies and a great deal to do with his management of the economy.

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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