Democrats & Liberals Archives

Religion, practicality, and government control

Jack Mattel’s recent blogging introduces two dimensions for environmental viewpoints that I find quite thought-provoking - in fact, I wonder if they can be applied to other political problems as well. For instance, abortion. Are you religious, or practical? do you believe in government control, or “free-market solutions”? And have you ever heard of the “95-10 Initiative”?

This is not an attempt at satire. So far I've avoided the topic of abortion, as realistically few views are going to be changed by argument. However, Jack's "dimensions" reminded me of the 95-10 Initiative, a proposal with the goal of reducing abortions 95% in 10 years. The initiative includes a combination of ideas, like NIH-funded research on why women chose abortions, and additional funding for things like contraception, adoption tax credits, and childcare. In Jack's terms, it's based on being practical, not "religious", about how to reduce the number of abortions. And by relying on economic incentives rather than government-enforced rules, it is essentially a "market-based" approach not a regulatory one.

Jack's term "religious" is a little confusing here. Some people are opposed to abortion for sincerely held religious reasons. Of these people, many are also "religious" - perhaps I'd better say "ideological" - not only about why, but also how to stop abortion: they want to criminalize it. From a practical point of view, however, this is only a partial solution: even before Roe v Wade, there were still back alleys for the poor, and discrete trips abroad for the wealthy. And in today's world of blue states and super-saver airfares, replacing Roe v Wade with state-by-state legislation would most likely eliminate legal abortion for only the poorest women.

How well would a "market-based" approach work? Although the mostly wealthy Red Team might be skeptical, it might be quite successful. Although abortion is viewed as a moral issue, it is also an economic one. After reaching a 24-year low in 2000, abortions increased during Bush's presidency. This reversal, after a long period of declines, was probably due to the anemic economy: two-thirds of women who have abortions cite "inability to afford a child" as their primary reason, and half say they do not have a reliable mate.

No one can say if 95-10 would reduce abortion more or less than criminalizing abortion. (The 95% was chosen, btw, because about 5% of abortions are due to rape, incest, or maternal health concerns.) However, if you're going to be practical, it makes sense to pursue these initiatives anyway---even if abortions were make illegal today, then economic policies would be needed to reduce back-alley abortions. However, to my knowledge, this (Democratic) initiative has not gotten much support from across the aisle.

So, to return to Jack's dimensions: are you religious, or practical? Do you favor market incentives to encourage people to act responsibly, or new laws that force them to? Are you in a "different quadrant" for abortion than for forestry (I certainly am!) and if so, can you explain why? Posted by William Cohen at June 5, 2005 11:09 AM