Hello everyone, it’s the last day before a long 4 day Easter holiday here in New Zealand. I’m at home this morning looking after little Thomas (not so little since we’ve moved him onto some solids each day!) and writing this while he’s asleep. So a brief blogpost today on one of the more utilitarian reasons that I have heard for abortion/contraception – it saves money. As Keith Riler in First Things blogs:

“As states seek to balance budgets, population planning groups are touting abortion and contraception as money-saving measures. According to their crude calculus, Medicaid-paid births to poor mothers strain the social safety net and must be reduced.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, for example, claimed that money would be saved if fewer babies were born. The Guttmacher Institute insists that “the [contraceptive] services provided at publicly funded centers saved the federal and state government an estimated $4.3 billion” in pregnancy- and infancy-related health care costs.

In its most recent application for federal funds, the Texas Women’s Health Program (TWHP) states clearly its goal ‘to reduce expenditures for Medicaid-paid births by increasing access to family planning services.’

TWHP boasts that it ‘averted 16,837 Medicaid-paid births and saved nearly $183 million,’ or about $11,000 saved per would-be newborn. (The marginal savings of providing public education to ‘averted’ children is insignificant because, at TWHP’s estimate of averted births, Texas public school classes would only grow 1.5 to 2.0 percent, or by one-third to one-half child per twenty-five-student class.)”

This sounds to me like something I heard from a colleague last year that the reason that New York’s prison population was down so much wasn’t due to the “Broken Windows” policy, but because of Roe v Wade – since then, thousands of poor people have had abortions and a large number of those aborted babies would’ve committed crime and ended up in jail. I should have suggested to him that an even better way of reducing prison population would be to kill everyone inside, but that would’ve made things awkward and I had only half-finished my drink at the time (and so no quick escape from the awkwardness).

Surely these sorts of arguments are completely beside the point when it comes to abortion. Either abortion is killing of the most innocent, in which case utilitarian arguments like this are sickening and deeply perverse, or abortion is nothing more than a medical procedure, in which case how much money it may save the state is neither here nor there…unless the state is thinking of using it as an argument for compulsory abortion as a cost saving device, a la China? So, as with most abortion arguments, they are a smokescreen which obscure the real argument: are we killing a human being or not?

Either way the argument is flawed for the simple reason that we keep banging on about here on Demography is Destiny: people are not simply consumers and drains on the state. Where does the state get its money from? People. Who pays taxes? People. Therefore to say that each person “costs x amount” ignores half the picture: each person produces x amount. As Riley argues:

“Although population planners calculate that poor newborns are not worth the $11,000 Medicaid investment, their analysis is incomplete. No investment professional evaluates an investment based only on cost, which brings me back to the dynamics of poverty and economic well-being.

These dynamics are consistent and reliable. Since 1990 and depending on the years measured, poverty spells lasting no more than four months have been the experience for 46 to 51 percent of the poor. The Census reports that only one in four households that started poor in the beginning of 2004 remained poor through the end of 2006. Almost eighty percent of poor households exited poverty in less than three years. Given these facts, there is a demonstrable economic benefit to subsidizing the entry of another poor citizen into the U.S. population, a benefit that far exceeds the $11,000 cost.

Assume that upon exiting poverty, sooner or later these people experience the same average result—an average job with an average income ($46,600), average income taxes (13.8 percent), average property taxes (in Texas, $1,475/year), and average sales taxes (in Texas, $1,684/year). At these levels, an average adult who was born into poverty will pay federal, state, and local governments about $430,000 over a working lifetime of forty-five years (ages twenty-one to sixty-five). That’s thirty-nine times the $11,000 Medicaid-birth investment.

At $430,000 per average person, a few new people would put a real dent in the deficit. In fact, holding all else constant, a five percent addition to the U.S. population would reduce the national debt by almost seven trillion dollars. This brings to mind James Taranto’s caution that ‘a war on fertility is an act of cultural and economic suicide. Today’s low fertility is tomorrow’s shortage of productive citizens—of the taxpayers who would have to pay for the ever-expanding entitlement state.’”

And that’s leaving to one side the fact that a person’s worth cannot be reduced to such Gradgrind-like material cost-benefit analysis. On that note, may you all have a happy Easter! (Hopefully the holiday will remind us all that someone knew that we were all uniquely valuable and worth the ultimate sacrifice – despite us each costing $11,000 worth of Medicaid…)

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...