Reducing Abortion on the Margins Redux

In my last post in response to the NRO’s critique of my American Conservative piece on using a child allowance to reduce abortions, I argued that a child allowance would be a humane response to the available data on poverty and abortion. I used polling data to argue that marriage is not less valued among the poor, but rather that it is less tenable. I also argued that Nordic countries like Sweden have seen their abortion rates rise as they have liberalized their economy and increased their poverty and child poverty rates. Lastly I argued that since the child allowance wouldn’t be means-tested but rather universal, it would not come with the harms associated with a means-tested program, and would instead host only harms identical (with respect to social outcomes re: single parenting and marriage) that a child tax credit would.

The NRO has responded again, now to my response. It is again a very kind and thoughtful response! I appreciate the calm, considered tenor of this debate, because as the author points out, arguments on this topic usually spiral into unhappiness quickly. The piece goes on:

I wonder if women would receive an increase in their allowance for each additional child they had. This would likely result in an increased number of children raised by single mothers and in a generally more promiscuous society.

Yes: the allowance would come per child. Countries with a child allowance (United Kingdom, various Scandinavian) have shown no increase in birthrates. Stable countries usually have lower birthrates, and universal social insurance programs are stabilizers. The child allowance would never be enough for a person to profit off of it. Therefore I doubt most women would go through the harm to work and relationships to intentionally increase the number of kids they had. On the other hand, I would rather a woman have a number of children than abort them. This is a bullet I’m willing to bite; all pro-lifers should be willing to bite it as well. We can’t be a culture that welcomes life only for well-off families.

The piece goes on:

I have additional concerns that there will be a crowding-out effect. Often when the government takes a more active role in solving a particular problem, private endeavors recede. I would hate to see pregnancy resource centers lose out on donations because the government is taking on a more active role in caring for mothers. Such centers attempt to alleviate the economic pressures of women facing crisis pregnancies.

I worry that this is not consistent with the piece’s internal logic. If extra resources cause single parenting and therefore encourage irresponsible sexuality, they do so whether they come from the state or the private sector. Dollars from a pregnancy center are no less spendable than dollars from the state. Therefore if you worry that a child allowance would encourage women to have promiscuous reproductive sex, then the same worry should extend to crisis pregnancy centers. That is, unless you intend crisis pregnancy centers would necessarily function less effectively than a child allowance, meaning that they have an element of ‘planned obsolescence.’ In that case, they are not quite as pro-life as a child allowance program would be, which is very curious given their mission! I am not sure I would mourn the loss of organizations that intend not to help very much.

On the other hand, if they do intend to help women give birth and raise kids, then they also bring the harms associated with any other program that would help women give birth and raise kids, like a child tax credit or child allowance. I suspect these harms, which relate to sexual mores, would not actually follow. (In fact, I imagine they precede as causal factors, not post-hoc outcomes.) But even if they did, they would be common to any program granting women greater resources for caring for children. Again, as pro-lifers, this is a potential we have to cope with. Carrying on:

Additionally, even though the U.S. economy was in poor shape during the late 2000s, the abortion numbers did not increase the way some had anticipated. Others have argued that the abortion-rate decline stalled, but it certainly did not increase during this time. Maybe economic pressures are responsible for fewer abortions than Bruenig thinks.

I can only go by the available data, which shows poor women have the greatest number of abortions, and that a majority of them give their financial unpreparedness as a reason for seeking abortion. I cannot estimate alternative reasons other than those they give. But I titled my last post ‘reducing abortion at the margins’ for a reason: I acknowledge a child allowance would not eliminate abortion. It would likely reduce it at the margins, which I still consider a win. It also has huge and obvious benefits for women who are poor and never considered abortion to begin with, which is the massive underwater iceberg bulwark of support for such a program. The abortion reduction would be, by the lights of most, a fringe benefit.

Which is to say, most people who support programs that give parents more money to raise kids aren’t as interested in the abortion reducing potential of such programs as I am. So the widespread support for, say, the reformocon child tax credit is unlinked with abortion generally, but as I pointed out above, would still host all the same harms the NRO is concerned with in terms of enabling moms to raise kids without dads, potentially proliferating the number of single mothers and thus impacting sex culture, and so forth. My question there remains very much open: what is the difference between a CPC, CTC, and child allowance? Why would the former help but the latter harm when they’re all doing the exact same thing, that is, ensuring moms money for taking care of kids?

I think that might remain a mystery. It appears rather to me that we’re looking at a disagreement over the perceived nature of the program as a ‘welfare’ program, which can elicit some conservative discomfort compared to identical private sector efforts or tax-based solutions with identical outcomes. In that case, please let me repeat: the child allowance would not be a welfare program proper, in the sense that it would not be means-tested like SNAP or TANF. It would be a universal program for all parents. Maybe that will help some warm up to it and maybe it won’t, but I still felt it was worth emphasizing.

It is worth it to me to reduce abortion on the margins. To me, this is a sure, stable way to do that which brings a host of benefits unrelated to abortion as well. I have yet to see a proposal that would function in the same way without bearing the same harms. Abortion is not an easy, monolithic thing to approach; it’s a varied and mosaic issue that will likely have to be chipped away at through many different means. But based on what data is available on women who have abortions and their reasons, I do think a child allowance would be a stable, reliable, robust response to the problems poor parents face, and I do not see a reason to imagine its unintended consequences would differ in any significant way from identical private or tax-based responses.