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Responding to Economic Arguments for Abortion

What Do 40 Million Lost Lives Mean?

By Laura Antkowiak, NRL Research Assistant

In its controversial 1998 feature on the cost of a child, U.S. News & World Report declared unequivocally: "A child, financially speaking, looks more like a high-priced consumer item with no warranty. It's the decision to remain childless that offers the real investment opportunity."

This short-sighted commentary is symbolic of and relies on a particularly pernicious myth: that children are essentially unproductive cost centers, which implies that abortion economically "benefits" society because by choosing abortion parents have decided on a better "investment opportunity."

Even if pro-abortionists today do not put the argument quite so harshly as they did back in the 1970s, they still count on people tacitly accepting the assumption that children are an economic drain. Rarely do we hear that abortion has a cost to America beyond the "procedure's" price tag, or that a child may actually produce social and economic benefits.

In fact, as this article will show, the ethical argument (that all human beings are created equal) and the economic impact (harshly negative) speak with one voice. Abortion is bad both morally and economically.

This article does not intend to forward an argument against abortion that relies solely on economics. Such an argument would miss the true message of the pro-life movement, that abortion is wrong no matter what the economic consequences are. Certainly we would never place a monetary value on an individual human life.

But the hope is that this discussion will help pro-life advocates rebut popular economic arguments for abortion that do have a surface appeal for people who are not necessarily pro- or anti-life.

The pro-abortion economic argument tells us that children are expensive enough to justify abortion. Pro-abortionists claim that the cost of raising children burdens their parents, and it also burdens the public with additional welfare spending when poor mothers bear children. Further, they say abortion is necessary to check population growth and costs associated with this growth.

The simple response to the abortion advocates' case is that most children inevitably grow into adults. They work and pay taxes, or otherwise spend, save, invest, and innovate. Economists attest that even before these children reach adulthood, their very be-longing to a large and growing population spurs economic growth. The following four points give an overview of why abortion does not help, and in fact may be hurting, the U.S. economy.

Fewer babies mean fewer consumers, less demand for goods and services, and fewer jobs. In the eighth edition of his famous introductory economics book, Paul Samuelson notes that a growing population leads to higher levels of spending and may therefore lower unemployment.

Author Lawrence F. Roberge points out that having fewer children means having fewer consumers of child-specific items, from diapers to toys to school books. Fewer children create fewer job openings for teachers, doctors, manufacturers, retailers, and others from whom greater productivity is needed to support more children. Entire industries are geared toward children and families, so one can only begin to imagine the goods and the employees that would be affected by a lower number of births. Notice the recent concern about a holiday retail season that did not live up to expectations: two-thirds of all economic activity in the United States is consumer spending.

Abortion slows labor force growth. In its long-term forecast, the Social Security Administration (SSA) predicts that the growth rate of the U.S. economy, as measured by the total of goods and services produced in the United States, will slow.

States the SSA, "This . . . slowdown is mostly due to slower projected growth in labor force and employment." Abortion's impact on the labor force is already discernible (see graph). In 1998, more than seven million additional workers would be in the U.S. labor force.

The late economist Julian Simon wrote that in developed countries, children bring a positive return on the money invested in them about 35 years after their birth. Even before then, a relatively young labor force has many advantages, such as increased mobility, adaptability, and productivity. Younger workers also can be readily trained to meet the latest technological and occupational needs. We are missing 40 million young people who could fill summer and part-time labor needs, and who could be starting careers in the latest technology.

This past summer, a Federal Reserve report described the labor market as "very tight," to the point where worker shortages constrained economic activity in some fields. Recently Congress responded to the shortage of skilled information technology workers by authorizing tens of thousands of new visas for foreign workers.

Abortion undermines technological innovation. Most significantly, abortion denies us the talents and the creativity of 40 million and counting unique human beings. Simon states that "in the long run, the most important economic effect of population size and growth is the contribution of additional people to our stock of useful knowledge."

A larger work force provides more forums for the exchange of ideas between more minds, and allows for greater specialization. A larger and denser population furnishes bigger markets for product testing, marketing, and sales; facilitates easier communication and distribution; and offers more opportunities for research and development, a situation known as economies of scale. This results in more new products, greater diversity of products, and more opportunities for the individual who may discover something particularly important, such as the cure for cancer.

Economist Samuelson reports that "scientific and engineering progress has been quantitatively the single most important factor for growth in the advanced countries." The "population explosion" that population control advocates claimed would overwhelm the Earth with famine and disease has instead coincided with a technological explosion in computers, medicine, flight, space exploration, the Internet, energy efficiency, and human genetics.

Innovation does not only encompass such high profile inventions but includes advances by the average employee: an auto worker finding faster ways to produce brakes on an assembly line, a customer service representative streamlining claims handling, or an educator discovering a more effective method of teaching children to read. Economist John D. Mueller summarizes, "legal abortion undermines a primary source of America's high standard of living relative to the rest of the world: innovation."

Abortion drives the Social Se-curity crisis. Abortion has left fewer young people to care for the post-World War II Baby Boom generation as it prepares for retirement (see figure). The Social Security Administration admits, "The main reason for Social Security's long-range financing problem is demographics." Given the reduction in the work force supporting Social Security, brought on largely because of abortion, our predicament is this: unless we raise taxes, cut benefits, or overhaul the entire system, Medicare will be bankrupt in the 2020s and Social Security in the 2030s.

In 1998 alone, the victims of Roe v. Wade would have contributed approximately $1.7 billion to Medicare and $7.4 billion to Social Security. These contributions could provide the average monthly benefit to over 785,000 retired workers for the entire year.

Note that these numbers are calculated for workers aged 16-24, who are less likely to be employed and who work fewer hours and earn less money than they would in a matter of time. The economic effects of abortion will be magnified in the coming years as those children and millions more killed by abortion would have completed their education, found full-time employment, become established in their careers, and started their own families.

Abortion does not save tax dollars. Planned Parenthood frequently claims that every dollar spent on abortions for poor women saves four dollars in public money that would provide food, medical care, and cash assistance to a mother and her child. Abortion advocates who share this position do not give the child time to pay back that money through taxes on her future income.

Economist Jacqueline Kasun finds that even an indigent child, over her lifetime, returns in taxes 3.7 times what was spent on her and her mother in cash welfare and food, housing, and medical assistance. Consider the following figures.

In 1994, the public paid an average of $11,460 in assistance to a mother and child. The average amount of time that a person receives welfare is two years. A baby born in the United States in 1996 will participate in the labor force for 47 years, earning about $1 million and paying about $400,000 in taxes.

Even if the child were to receive welfare for a longer period of time, spend three times as much time in prison as the average American, and be unemployed for three times longer, that child's tax payments would still bring a substantial return on the dollars spent supporting her through welfare.

The bottom line. The economic argument designed by pro- abortionists collapses when we examine children's place in the economy as consumers, workers, innovators, and taxpayers. Most parents, however, and the millions of infertile couples who would love to become parents, will attest that they do not need to wait until a child reaches working age to consider her a worthwhile investment.

They will see her smile and feel her love long before then. Parents too may learn something from loving her, nurturing her, and taking responsibility for her well-being.

The fundamental reason why abortion is wrong is moral, not economic. We do not kill innocent human beings, no matter what the cost. But, as is often the cases what is bad moral policy is also bad economic policy.

There is no real economic benefit to abortion. And there certainly is a significant cost.

For more facts and figures, please see the new NRL Educational Trust Fund fact sheet, "What Do 40 Million Lost Lives Mean?" This can be purchased by calling the NRLCEducational Trust Fund at 202-626-8809, or e-mail


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