Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

The Supply of Infants Relinquished for Adoption: Did Access to Abortion Make a Difference?

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

The Supply of Infants Relinquished for Adoption: Did Access to Abortion Make a Difference?

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

One largely undocumented fertility outcome is the option to relinquish an infant for adoption. The dramatic drop in the supply of infants relinquished during the 1980s is puzzling in that it parallels a trend toward greater state regulation of abortion, increases in nonmarital birth rates, and high demand for healthy, unrelated infants,(1) Motivated by a theory of desired fertility, this study uses aggregated state level data from three years to examine the impact of abortion access on the supply of infants relinquished. The highly controversial status of adoption and abortion in the United States today makes this a particularly compelling issue, especially given the move toward further restrictions on abortion at both the state and federal levels.(2)

The premise of the model is that a woman with an unintended pregnancy faces three options: to abort the pregnancy, to relinquish the infant for adoption, or to keep the infant. Although the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade guaranteed a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy, the Court also specified that the ruling must be considered against state interests. The resulting interstate variation in abortion availability provides a natural means of estimating the effect of abortion regulation on the supply of infants relinquished for adoption. Economic theory of desired fertility hypothesizes that if the relative cost of keeping an infant is very high, then, all else equal, increasing the relative cost of abortion should increase the supply of infants relinquished.

The empirical equation is motivated by this individual choice model. I estimate a model with the ratio of infants relinquished to total pregnancies and the ratio of infants relinquished to nonmarital pregnancies as a function of controls for observed heterogeneity across states over time and abortion access variables including parental involvement laws and restrictions on public funding. Subsequent models attempt to account for unobserved heterogeneity in two ways. First, I add an indicator in the empirical model for states in which restrictive abortion laws are enjoined or overturned. Laws that are enacted but not enforced should only have an indirect effect on the supply of infants relinquished through anti-abortion sentiment. Second, I add variables hypothesized to be highly correlated with unobserved state characteristics. I also extend the empirical analysis to (1) examine the potential endogeneity of abortion access by using a two-stage least squares (2SLS) procedure and (2) model the multinomial choice of pregnancy resolution: aborting the pregnancy, relinquishing the infant, or keeping the infant.

This study attempts to fill the gap in previous empirical work on pregnancy resolution by taking advantage of available state-level data on the number of infants relinquished for adoption to examine the effect of abortion access over time. The current noneconomic literature examining a woman's choice to relinquish an infant for adoption largely focuses on a selective sample, for example, adolescents residing in or affiliated with a maternity home, and most of the economics literature on unintended pregnancy has ignored the option to relinquish an infant, because of data availability. The one previous attempt at estimating the supply of infants relinquished, by Medoff [1993], only includes a cross-section of data in 1980. This analysis is not able to capture the effect of variations in abortion availability and abortion law throughout the 1980s and does not consider the potential endogeneity of some of the variables.

In contrast to Medoff [1993], I show evidence that abortion access affected the supply of infants relinquished during the 1980s in two different ways. First, consistent with a theory of desired fertility, the availability of abortion providers has the expected effect of reducing the supply of infants relinquished, particularly relative to the demand for abortion. …

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