Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Single Digit Dissents

Party line votes are common. Unanimity is common. Crossing party lines is common enough. What interests me is the few, the odd, the dissenter to the non-binding resolution that does no good other than voice the lonely opinion that they're against whatever it is everyone else is for.

On January 21, 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Res. 492, honoring the contributions of Catholic schools.

The vote was 398-1. The lone dissenter was Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY 22nd), a 6 term Democrat from Saugerties (pronounced closer to "Socrates" than "Sugar-ties.") He is Catholic.

I have no idea why he, alone, opposed honoring the contributions of Catholic schools, whatever they may be (I'm sure the specific contributions were left vague, in order to garner near-unanimity). Perhaps he felt voting for the bill opened a slippery slope toward school vouchers, which he opposes. Perhaps
he felt that it violated the separation of church and state to honor a religious institution.

As a matter of fact, after the vote Hinchey told his colleagues that he had voted in error, and had meant to vote for the resolution. Likely story, Representative Hinchey.

So, our first look into single digit dissenters shows a cop-out. Oh well.

Next time, Democrats who wouldn't acknowledge Ronald Reagan was 93 years old, and Republicans who wouldn't recognize that Franklin Roosevelt ever did anything good.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Abortion as an Alternative to Murder?

I read a bizarre little paper that was uploaded to SSRN yesterday entitled "Abortion and Infant Homicide" by David Kalist and Noellle Molinari. On the one hand, the premise is logically correct -- that permitting abortion, and further Medicaid funding of abortion for the poor -- decreases the rate of infant homicide, since woman who are willing to kill an unwanted baby will likely have an abortion first. The paper also had interesting information on infant homicide -- for example male babies are killed more often than female babies (2505 versus 2201 between 1976 and 1999), although it is unclear whether this is due to mothers not wanting male children, or the fact that male children are weaker and therefore less likely to survive an attempted infant homicide.

What was odd about the paper is that it was intended as a follow up on John Donohue and Seven Levitt's 2001 paper "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime," which attempted to demonstrate a positive externality -- fetuses who are aborted are less likely to grow up and commit crimes.

This paper is written as if it were talking about the same type of externality, except that the entity that is either aborted or the victim of infant homicide is unusally the same person, a fact that sometimes seems lost of the authors.

Take this paragraph:

"In 1994, there were 203,200 Medicaid funded abortions at a total cost of $90 million, or about $443 per abortion. Assuming that the number of infant homicides is 20% lower in states that fund abortion, approximately 30 infant homicides were prevented in 1994. This implies that the cost per life saved is $3 million." (p. 15, emphasis added).

The 30 infant homicides were prevented by aborting the fetuses before they became babies. Now, those of us who are pro-choice see a clear moral and legal distinction between aborting a fetus and killing a baby. However, no one would think that aborting a baby to prevent an infant homicide would constitute "saving a life"!

The results are somewhat interesting, if not unexpected. However, the writers appear to believe they have found a positive externality, akin to Donohue and Levitt's. They have not.

Monday, March 22, 2004


The Unborn Victims of Violence Act is back in the news (listen to Fetal Laws on this morning's Morning Edition on NPR.)

Now, I consider myself strongly pro-Choice, and I think the law is a great idea and that NARAL is completely off base. I understand the general concern -- that allowing two crimes to be charged when a pregnant woman is harmed creates a data point of a fetus being treated as a "person". (The law itself defines "person" to include an unborn baby.) Women's groups propose an alternative of harsher penalties when the woman is pregnant, but that is not comparable, since a fetus could be killed without (other) serious harm befalling the mother.

The pro-Choice position, however, can be better put forward by supporting the woman's Choice no matter what it is. That means supporting abortion rights when they so chose, and supporting childbearing when they so chose. The unwanted killing of a fetus is as much a diminution of a woman's choice as is prohibition of abortion. There is room to reasonably legislate to promote Choice on both sides, to the betterment of women's welfare.

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