Restrictions on Medicaid Funding of Abortion

Effects on Birth Weight and Pregnancy Resolutions

by Janet Currie, Lloyd Nixon, Lucia Nixon, Nancy Cole

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Previous research suggests that restricting the availability of abortion reduces average birth weight by increasing the number of unhealthy fetuses that are carried to term. In this paper the authors use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to extend this literature in two ways. First, most previous studies have estimated the probability that a pregnancy is carried to term, and then used these estimates to calculate “selection corrections” that are included in models of birth weight. The authors focus instead on reduced form models of birth weight that are not affected by underreporting of abortion, and that do not involve strong identifying restrictions. Second, the authors explore the potential endogeneity of abortion laws by comparing jurisdictions with abortion restrictions to jurisdictions where restrictive laws have been passed but are enjoined by the courts. The results provide little support for the hypothesis that restrictions reduce average birth weight, and the authors were unable to detect any effect on the probability of low birth weight. The authors also find some evidence consistent with the view that abortion restrictions are endogenous, and that estimated effects on birth weight may reflect unobserved characteristics of states.

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