Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) recently advanced a deficit-neutral proposal to replace the current Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and cash welfare for families with a reformed program that is more favorable to marriage, as well as a child allowance providing almost every family in America a monthly check for each kid they have (up to five). It’s a proposal that, as I’ve elaborated at length elsewhere, checks all the boxes conservatives usually look for in family and welfare policy: encouraging work, encouraging marriage, supporting families, moving away from cash welfare (i.e. abolishing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program), etc.
But one feature of Romney’s proposal has been critically under-billed: the extremely high likelihood that it would reduce the abortion rate. The impact of a child allowance on abortion is crucial as conservatives navigate complex questions about what effect child allowance will have on child well-being, marriage, single parenthood, and overall fertility.
How Child Allowances Reduce Abortion Rates
There are three components of Romney’s plan that might each be individually expected to reduce the number of conceptions that end in abortion. In combination, they are likely to save thousands of unborn children’s lives every year.
First, Romney’s plan will begin to provide child allowances to mothers midway through their pregnancy. By providing benefits during precarious early months of parenthood, the proposal will help expectant parents to navigate the challenges of pregnancy with less financial worry. This is significant, because over 70 percent of women seeking abortions report financial reasons as part of why, and about a quarter say they’re the primary reason for getting an abortion. Providing a child allowance in utero would serve as a public recognition of that child’s life, and support parents who choose not to end that life.
Second, the combined effects of the reforms to various tax provisions unambiguously improve the tax- and benefit-treatment of marriage. Marriage penalties in public programs are one reason marriage rates have declined so much in the last few decades; taking a stab at rolling back those penalties may help boost the marriage rate slightly. This is important, because abortions make up about 5 percent of combined births and abortions among married women, but 33 percent of comparably estimated conceptions among unmarried women. The bonds of marriage help assure mothers of stable help in raising a child, and so reduce the odds a conception ends in abortion. The same survey cited above found that about half of women reported the lack of suitable, supportive, or stable partners as a reason for getting an abortion, with about ten percent giving this as the primary reason. In many cases, women already have partners whom they might like to marry, and thus “lock in” greater stability for the future, but marriage is made too costly by tax penalties. By helping more couples overcome government-induced penalties to marriage, Romney’s plan will alleviate this motive for abortion.
Finally, cash transfers directly reduce abortions. Three key academic studies have tested this in interesting natural experiments: one using a child allowance program in Spain, one using a baby bonus in the Friuli-Veneto region of Italy, the other using changes in the enforcement of child support in US states. Both studies found the same thing: when mothers get more financial support for childbearing (whether via a direct cash benefits, as in Spain or Italy, or through more reliable and steady child support checks, as in the US example), they are far less likely to pursue abortion. Indeed, reduced abortions accounted for nearly 20 percent of the resulting increase in births after Spain implemented its baby bonus. In Italy, abortions fell by more than births rose: the entire effect on fertility was through reduced abortions.
The even larger effect was on daycare use: it fell by half for families with newborns after the baby bonus, suggesting that it successfully helped to encourage more parents to spend time at home with their infants and dedicate attention to rearing them….
The above comes from a Feb. 25 piece by Lyman Stone on the Public Discourse website.