The Public Policy

Subsidize Life

A workable plan for Rudy Giuliani to increase adoptions and reduce abortions.

By 11.13.07

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It's an interesting Republican primary when two of the leading candidates have long records supporting abortion rights.

The issue poses the biggest threat to Rudy Giuliani. He possesses a broad appeal, but soon he'll have to face a nationwide conservative base in the Republican primaries. His social liberalism could very well spell his death as a presidential candidate, and even if he gets the nomination, it's rumored that the religious right could defect to a third party.

To address this challenge, back in August he released a "12 Commitments" program of conservative talking points. On the list was, "I will increase adoptions, decrease abortions, and protect the quality of life for our children."

From a speech he gave introducing each commitment, it's clear Giuliani plans to accomplish this by providing better information to pregnant women -- just as they should know about abortion, the logic goes, they should realize adoption is available. More recently, ex-choicer Mitt Romney supported a similar idea. (Both candidates also back making the adoption tax credit, which covers some expenses for adopting families, permanent.)

Giuliani employed the adoption-information strategy in New York, and during his tenure adoptions rose and abortions fell. Unfortunately, though, the available evidence suggests Giuliani's program did not cause the trend. If the candidates are truly dedicated to increasing adoptions and decreasing abortions, they'll need a better idea. An adoption subsidy could be that idea -- we should support women who choose adoption over abortion.

As the New York Times demonstrated, New York's changes in abortion and adoption "mirrored national trends." The adoption uptick started before Giuliani even took office. He only counted "those [adoptions] using city agencies involving children in the city foster care system. He was not including private adoptions or those by New Yorkers in other countries."

Also, at least part of the decline came from improved bureaucracy: "Mr. Giuliani created the Administration for Children's Services in 1996 to try to improve caseworker responses to reports of neglect and to move children more quickly out of temporary foster homes and into permanent adoptive homes." And he provided government funds for abortions.

This finding makes a great deal of sense -- women do not choose abortion because they're not aware adoption exists. Rather, they choose abortion because they see it as a superior option.

As John R. Lott Jr. recently noted in his bookFreedomnomics, adoptions dropped sharply after Roe v. Wade, even as illegitimacy rose. For the years 1989 through 1995, never-wed mothers relinquished less than 1 percent of their children for adoption, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

It seems there are two types of pregnant women, those who want to raise their children and those who want to minimize their pregnancies' consequences -- and abortion best minimizes a pregnancy's consequences. There are few women who don't want to raise their children, yet don't want to terminate their pregnancies, either.

So while there's some evidence that "informed consent" laws which usually mandate telling women about fetal development, the health risks of abortion, and the aid available to unwed mothers -- can change a woman's mind from "abort" to "keep," there's little hope that information will flip the switch from "abort" to "give birth but relinquish."

Why on Earth would one suffer the stigma of unwanted pregnancy, a few health risks, permanent physical changes, some time off of work, and a lot of pain to save a clump of cells?

Money might just do the trick. Poverty correlates well to abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. If the candidates are sincere, they should propose a program that, using some combination of public funds, private donations, and fees from adoptive parents, pays women for relinquishing healthy children. Conservatives, of course, will protest the expansion of government. And some liberals might find it offensive for the government to pay citizens to stop them from exercising what is, after all, a constitutional right.

But it would provide a believable "third way" that Giuliani and Romney's "more information" plans don't, and it would accomplish the stated goals of decreasing abortions and increasing adoptions. With more than a million abortions per year, accounting for 24 percent of all non-miscarried pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher Institute, there's plenty of room for success.

This plan could help with a few other problems as well. For example, the U.S. birth rate has hovered around the record low in recent years, according to CDC data. There's also a dearth of infants available for adoption, so many prospective parents have to travel abroad.

The big question: How much is enough to convince a woman to go through with a pregnancy?

One way to tell is to look at women who already do basically that. Various websites put a surrogate mother's fees at around $12,500. Surrogate mothers go through some things that already-pregnant women won't, so if anything a little less than that should make a difference. On the other hand, the waiting lists for adoptions are long enough that there is virtually no risk, at least in the short term, of infants going unadopted.
Whatever the case, as it stands, the promise to reduce abortion carries no weight. If Giuliani and Romney hope to appeal to pro-life voters, they'll need to look at the facts and come up with something stronger.

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About the Author
Robert VerBruggen is an associate editor at National Review. You can follow his writing here.