Social Policy and Social Services in Women's Pregnancy Decision-Making: Political and Programmatic Implications
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This dissertation empirically evaluates the argument that welfare state expansion will reduce abortion. Its central question concerns the extent to which women's economic needs and the degree to which social services meet them influence their abortion decisions. It also investigates the characteristics and political behavior of pro-life, pro-social welfare Americans, the most likely targets of any effort to reframe welfare as a pro-life issue. To these ends, this project employs individual-level data from the National Election Study, the Fragile Families Study, and a survey of clients at Baltimore abortion providers and pregnancy centers. Other main data sources include state welfare policies and abortion rates, and neighborhood-level Census data linked to directories of child care and abortion providers. This project represents perhaps the first rigorous, social-scientific investigation of the link between economic assistance and abortion decisions. Its findings contribute to the literature on policy compliance and policy tools, and carry implications for social welfare politics and the composition of party coalitions. In many ways, data analyzed in this study align with the status quo of abortion and welfare policy and politics. Political debates over welfare are largely independent of political debates over abortion. Likewise, the cases in which the root issues associated with low-income women's abortion decisions could be exclusively solved by welfare policy are rare. Welfare policy appears to be an effective capacity-building tool with respect to abortion decisions for some women, in some ways, and in combination with other supports. The pro-life movement's current dominant approach to abortion policy appears to meet the movement's goal of reducing abortions more efficiently than a capacity-building approach. Investment in capacity-building policy or in political messages of that tone holds promise for progress toward their respective policy and political goals. On the other hand, expected gain is modest considering both of these efforts would stretch the limits of the possible in American politics.