The Roe effect is a hypothesis about the long-term effect of abortion on the political balance of the United States, which suggests that since supporters of abortion rights cause the erosion of their own political base, the practice of abortion will eventually lead to the restriction or illegalization of abortion. It is named after Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court case that effectively legalized abortion nationwide in the U.S. Its best-known proponent is James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal who coined the phrase "Roe effect" in Best of the Web Today, his OpinionJournal.com column.
Put simply, this hypothesis holds that:
- Those who favor legal abortion are much more likely to get one than those who oppose it.
- Children usually follow their parents' political leanings.
- Therefore, pro-choice parents will have more abortions and, hence, fewer children.
- Therefore, the pro-choice population gradually shrinks in proportion to the pro-life population.
- Therefore, support for legal abortions will decline over time.
A similar argument suggests that political groups that oppose abortion will tend to have more supporters in the long run than those who support it. See "The Roe Effect: The right to abortion has diminished the number of Democratic voters" by Taranto (Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2005) for a detailed explanation and statistical evidence that Taranto claims supports his hypothesis.
Taranto first discussed the concept in January 2003, and named it in December 2003. He later suggested that the Roe effect serves as an explanation for the fact that the fall in teen birthrates is "greatest in liberal states, where pregnant teenagers would be more likely to [have abortions] and thus less likely to carry their babies to term."
Wellesley College Professor of Economics Phillip Levine, while acknowledging that Taranto's hypothesis cannot be dismissed out of hand, has pointed out several flaws in Taranto's reasoning. He writes that the conditions laid out by Taranto make several incorrect assumptions, most notably that pregnancies are events that are completely out of the control of the women. He writes, "If people engage in sexual activity (or not), or choose to use birth control (or not), independent of outside influences, then [Taranto's and Eastland's] statistical statements would be valid."