The Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration are becoming more frustrated with each day that passes. They can't seem to even get the broad strokes of healthcare reform to look appealing enough to pass a bill. That's extremely bad news, given how messy some details will get. The LA Times today notes one such especially ugly detail: abortion.
The LA Times writes:
Some conservative Democrats are threatening to pull their support from the massive healthcare bill unless their concerns over potential federal funding of abortion procedures are met. They fear that the Obama administration will take advantage of an expanded government role in healthcare to increase the availability of abortions nationwide.
Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to use the divisive issue to build opposition to the bill.
In short, the healthcare debate just took on a disastrous new dimension. Lawmakers are beginning to pay attention to detail.
A quick disclaimer to the analysis that follows: it does not, in any way, reflect my views on abortion. I'm just thinking aloud about the questions that lawmakers face regarding this divisive issue and some potential economic responses.
So what would economics dictate about abortion? After all, cost-benefit analysis will need to be implemented throughout an effective government healthcare bill in order to make it financially viable.
Economics Against Abortion
Universal healthcare would value the young more than the old. Younger people will contribute more taxes to keep the program going and likely be healthier. Does this logic apply to the youngest -- those who have not even been born yet? Abortion would prevent some tax revenue which would have come from more taxpayers.
More abortion also means a smaller population, fewer consumers and a lower GDP. Businesses would likely produce less tax revenue to use towards government-run healthcare.
Could abortion stifle innovation? If, statistically, one out of every million people is a creative genius, then a smaller population through abortion means fewer super talented individuals. For example, you certainly wouldn't want the scientist that would have cured cancer aborted.
Another interesting wrinkle is that abortion makes the Social Security problem worse. One way to save social security would be to have enormous population growth going forward. If the current population's Social Security taxes could always pay for current recipients, then the program could go on in perpetuity.
Economics For Abortion
Fewer people to cover would produce less overall cost. The fact that most abortions would be unwanted pregnancies -- implying that life, if not aborted, might have a lower net present value from the onset -- could exaggerate this point further.
An abortion procedure is also cheaper than carrying a child to term and giving birth. It presents a cost savings immediately.
When families have fewer children, they can better afford to pay higher taxes that support government-sponsored healthcare. Fewer mouths to feed could mean more money for Uncle Sam. It would also allow pregnant women to remain in the workforce without taking time for maternity leave.
Finally, aborting babies who would have had mental or physical birth defects, sometimes determined during pregnancy, would almost certainly be a slam-dunk for government-run healthcare. If born, those individuals will have higher healthcare costs than healthier babies.
These are just a few of the many economic arguments out there for and against abortion. These arguments all have rebuttals, no doubt. Real statistical evidence about abortion's cost/savings to society is hard to come by, so most of the discussion is forced to remain theoretical.
If utilitarian calculus like this makes you uncomfortable, you are not alone: I don't like it either. But involving the government in something as personal as healthcare decisions would make this kind of analysis necessary. As always, feel free to share your thoughts, or some additional economic arguments for or against below.