Evangelical Left Ethicist Defends Obama on Abortion
In October 2004, conveniently during the presidential election, Evangelical Left ethicist Glenn Stassen of Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, gained widespread attention for arguing that abortion rates had increased under President Bush after declines under President Clinton. A John Kerry supporter, Stassen sought to justify evangelical support for a pro-abortion rights candidate, arguing that wider welfare state programs more effectively reduce abortion than legal restrictions.
As many critics then pointed out, Stassen's sweeping claims were selectively based on abortion data for only 16 states through 2003. Now armed with more comprehensive data, and energized by President Obama's Notre Dame controversy, Stassen, a strong Obama supporter, is claiming vindication.
"Abortions reduced by 300,000 a year during the Clinton years, stayed flat or increased during the Bush years, and if they resume their reductions during the Obama years, then many consistently pro-life people like me will conclude that we should judge administrations not by their words but by their fruits," Stassen triumphantly concluded in a recent piece for Sojourners, Jim Wallis's website for liberal religionists.
As to overall abortion rates, the CDC admits that data for California (with 15 percent of the nation's population) and several other dates is unavailable after 1998. Counting just those 46 states for which data is available from 1995, abortions declined from 894,000 in 1995 to 836,000 in 2000. From 2001 they declined from 833,000 to 810,000 in 2005. The rate per 1,000 births went from 280 in 1995 to 249 in 2000 to 236 in 2005. The rate per 1,000 women went from 18 in 1995 to 16 in 2000 to also 16 in 2005. In other words, abortions did decline numerically and per 1,000 births during Bush's first term.
The highest abortion rates seem to have been in 1984, with over 1.3 million abortions, 364 per 1,000 births and 24 per 1,000 women (these numbers include California and the other later missing states). Abortion rates had climbed continuously from 1970, with 193,000 abortions and 52 per 1,000 live births and 5 per 1,000 women, climbing steeply all the way through the 1970s and early 1980s. In other words, the reverse in abortion rates began midway during the Reagan years, a time of supposed hostility to social programs that Stassen claims deter abortion.
Stassen celebrated that the Obama administration is "expanding health care insurance for children and planning health insurance for all of us, is working to get the economy revived, and is supporting programs to curb unintended pregnancy," while restoring "support for the working poor." All of this additional government will create a wider pro-life ethic, Stassen claimed. But he ultimately provided no evidence for his hope. Instead, like others on the Evangelical Left, he seems to be straining for an excuse to minimize unrestricted abortion's legality as an issue while bolstering arguments for what he already obviously strongly desires: a larger welfare state.