Welfare Policy Gets Credit for Reduction in Births: `Family Cap' Leads to Rise in Abortions

Article excerpt

The first state to try a welfare reform known as the "family cap" says the policy has reduced births to welfare mothers by 14,000, according to a long-awaited report issued yesterday by New Jersey officials.

A five-year study by Rutgers University also showed that the policy led to significant increases in contraceptive use and a small increase in abortions - as feared by pro-life advocates.

Some 21 states now have family caps as part of their welfare reforms. Seven of those states, including New Jersey, allow poor mothers to obtain abortions through Medicaid.

The family-cap policy is intended to encourage personal responsibility in childbearing by ending the practice of giving welfare mothers additional cash benefits for each child they have while on welfare. Welfare families affected by a cap can get additional food stamps, health care and other benefits for an infant, but not bigger checks.

"We think the family cap says to a family, `If you want to have another child while you are on welfare, that is certainly your choice, but it is also your responsibility - and not that of the public - to financially care for that child,' " Michele K. Guhl, commissioner of the state's Department of Human Services, said at a press conference in New Jersey yesterday, where the Rutgers study was released.

The study compared "experimental" groups of welfare mothers, who were affected by the cap, with "control" groups who were not affected.

The Rutgers study found that mothers affected by the cap:

* Had birth rates 9 percent to 12 percent lower than the control groups.

* Had abortion rates that ranged from "the same" as the control groups to 14 percent higher.

* Used family planning services 10 percent to 21 percent more often than control groups.

The study estimated that the cap led to 14,000 fewer births and 1,400 more abortions to women on welfare. It also led to 7,000 more family-planning visits a year than would have occurred without the cap.

The cap policy has been denounced ever since it was proposed in the early 1990s by state lawmaker Wayne R. Bryant, a black representative from Camden, N.J., one of the most welfare-dependent communities in America.

Civil-liberties groups called the policy "coercive" and "discriminatory." A lawsuit filed on behalf of some welfare mothers by Legal Services of New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union and Now Legal Defense Fund is before an appeals court.

Pro-life groups have also condemned the policy for promoting abortion.

In June, Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, learned that a draft of the Rutgers study found that the cap was increasing abortions by "about 240 a year." Mr. Smith, a devout abortion foe, called for a national ban on the policy.

The Rutgers study shows "that we were not crying wolf," Mr. Smith said yesterday.

At the press conference yesterday, lead researcher Michael Camasso said that the cap's "abortion effect" was most prominent in the beginning years of the policy. "Then it tailed off," leaving the abortion rate about the same as it was before the cap was adopted, he said. At the same time, the declines in births to welfare mothers started slowly but grew over time.

Marie Tasy, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Right to Life Committee, said her group's opposition to the cap is unchanged. …