Political, Ideological and Economic Determinants of Abortion Position: An Empirical Analysis of State Legislatures and Governors

Article excerpt

I

Introduction

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT'S 1973 Roe v Wade decision, that interpreted the constitutional right to privacy to include a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy, gave rise to perhaps the most intense, divisive debate in the U.S. today. The debate has been further complicated by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the 1989 case Webster v Reproductive Health Services, (492, U.S. 490) and the related 1992 decision Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, (112, S. Ct. 2791). In essence, these decisions bolster pro-life groups' efforts by allowing states to enact legislation restricting or regulating abortion (e.g. mandatory 24 hour waiting periods) when such legislation does not pose an "undue burden" on women. The dispute over abortion rights, which has dimensions involving social, moral, political and economic factors, recently has been studied empirically by economists. For example, Medoff (1989) and Chressanthis, et al. (1991) investigate empirically the constituent, economic and ideological factors that influenced the vote cast by U.S. Senators on the 1983 Human Life Amendment, sponsored by Senators Hatch and Eagleton, which was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade. Both studies find that ideology, in addition to constituent and economic variables, had an impact on voting patterns for U.S. Senators. Conway and Butler (1992) develop a theoretical model of the public demand for abortion-restricting legislation. According to their model, demand for abortion legislation has two components: "external" demand and "private" demand. The former refers to the demand for abortion legislation from all voters, the latter refers to the demand that is specific to those who can actually make use of abortion services (women in child bearing years). Conway and Butler test their model by using state-level data for the period prior to the Roe v. Wade decision. Results of their ordered logit estimation show that both components of demand are important in explaining the pattern of abortion restrictions by states. Conway and Butler then use the estimated model to predict which states would be likely to restrict abortion access should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

Support for abortion rights and access to abortion services differs significantly across the 50 states. The purpose of this paper is to determine empirically the factors that affect what may be considered a state's position on abortion. The work in this study differs from the work noted above in several ways. Unlike Medoff (1989) and Chressanthis, et al. (1991) this paper focuses on the positions taken on abortion by state-level officials as opposed to U.S. Senators. Conway and Butler argue that the legal status of abortion rights is most likely to be determined by state governments and moreover one can argue that state policy makers are more likely to be held accountable for their positions on abortion.

This study differs from Conway and Butler (1992) in several ways. First, it centers on the role of ideology of both policy makers and voters in the decision making by state policy makers. Second, this paper relies on actual state-level abortion data to directly capture "private" abortion demand. The remainder of this paper is organized into three sections. Section II describes the methodology, the variables used to represent a state's position, and the basic econometric model to be tested. Section III presents the results of the estimated models. Section IV contains some concluding remarks.

II

Methodology

A STATE'S POSITION ON ABORTION is not an unambiguous term: there is no single, universally accepted measure of a state's abortion position. In an effort to overcome this measurement problem, three proxies are employed that may represent a state's abortion stance: whether or not the governor supports a woman's right to abortion and the position that the two houses of state legislatures holds on abortion. Each proxy is discussed briefly below. …