TRAP Abortion Laws and Partisan Political Party Control of State Government

By Medoff, Marshall H.; Dennis, Christopher | The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, October 2011 | Go to article overview
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TRAP Abortion Laws and Partisan Political Party Control of State Government

Medoff, Marshall H., Dennis, Christopher, The American Journal of Economics and Sociology


Policy adoption is an area of considerable research interest in the political science/public choice literature. The focus and concern of much of this empirical research are the questions, "How responsive is government policy to public policy preferences? Do public policy preferences influence public policy? However, in a representative democracy, the degree to which legislators follow voter preferences is likely to vary according to the policy issue in question (Gormley 1986).

State policies can be grouped into two types: morality policies and redistributive policies. Morality policies are "those which seek to regulate social norms or which clearly evoke strong moral responses from citizens for some other reason" (Mooney and Lee 1995: 600). Morality policies differ from redisributive policies in several unique ways. Morality policies involve contentious conflicts over fundamental values, are highly salient to the general public, non-technical, easy to understand, and require little information for citizens to participate.

Abortion is thought to be one of the most prominent examples of a morality policy since (1) nearly everyone is familiar with the issue and has an opinion, position, or belief on abortion; (2) it requires little information for citizens to participate because proponents and opponents of abortion have framed the issue between reproductive rights versus the rights of the fetus to life; and (3) there are inflexible and uncompromising positions on the abortion issue that are dichotomous--either life begins at conception or it does not. It has been argued that legislative adoption of morality policies like abortion is affected by the resources available to the opponents and proponents of abortion and the demand for abortion services and not the public's abortion policy preferences (Meier and McFarlane 1993).

Redistributive policies transfer benefits, expenditures, or resources from one group or class to another (Greenberg and Page 2009). Medoff (2002) argues that abortion is a redistributive issue not a morality issue because it has a consumption spillover (redistributive) effect. A consumption spillover effect occurs when the consumption of a good or service by one party has repercussions or redistributive effects on other parties. A spillover effect may be positive (the education of a child provides benefits to other members of society by promoting a stable and democratic society) or negative (second-hand cigarette smoke in a restaurant affects the health of non-smoking diners). In the case of abortion, there are negative and positive consumption spillover effects associated with abortion. Those who consume abortion services cause an unintended, negative effect on those who are morally opposed to abortion and believe abortion represents the taking of an innocent life. Those who oppose abortion suffer a psychological or emotional loss. Those who consume abortion may also cause a positive effect on those who support abortion rights and believe in the liberty right of a pregnant woman to control her own fertility. Abortion has also been found to have a positive effect on members of society by reducing crime (Donohoe and Levitt 2001), reducing child abuse (Bitler and Zavodny 2004), and saving public monies spent on federal and state medical and social welfare expenditures (i.e., Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, childcare, food stamps, Medicaid; Gruber et al. 1999). Goggin (1993) notes that if abortion is a redistributive policy, then the adoption of restrictive abortion laws is determined primarily by the political ideology of political parties and single-issue advocacy groups.

The purpose of this study is to systematically examine the determinants of the restrictiveness of a state's abortion policy. We use the event history analysis estimation technique to examine a more methodologically valid measure of a state's restrictive abortion policy in order to address several important public policy questions.

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TRAP Abortion Laws and Partisan Political Party Control of State Government


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