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Econ Philos. 1993 Oct;9(2):229-52.

Persuasion and economic efficiency. The cost-benefit analysis of banning abortion.



A simple cost-benefit approach to the abortion debate is unlikely to be persuasive if efficiency arguments conflict with widely held concepts of justice or rely on improbable notions of consent. Illustrative of the limitations of economic analyses are the models proposed by Meeks and Posner to make a case against abortion on demand. Meeks posits a tradeoff between the consumer surplus women gain from access to abortion and the expected loss of earnings that would have accrued to the aborted conceptuses. From here, Meeks derives the critical price elasticity that equates welfare gains and losses and argues that a ban on abortion represents a Kaldor-Hicks improvement in welfare if the price elasticity of demand falls above the critical level. Basic to his model are several questionable assumptions: an independence of ability to pay for an abortion and income, all women who select abortion have the same linear demand for the procedure, an abortion ban would eliminate the practice of abortion, economic efficiency generally requires slavery, and the morally relevant population includes the unborn. Posner, on the other hand, argues that an abortion ban would be efficient if the average surplus lost by a woman who chooses not to break the law is less than half the average value of the fetus saved. He assumes that it takes 1.83 abortions avoided to increase the population by 1 individual and favors reducing the current abortion rate by 30% rather than banning the procedure. Although Posner's model does not require specification of any particular value for the fetus, it neglects the increased health risk for pregnant women of illegal abortion. Moreover, Posner assumes that all women obey the law if it is in their economic interest to do so. Detrimental to both models is an assumption that sound normative judgments can be made on the basis of average values for observable data and the goal of maximizing wealth is logically prior to the specification of individual rights. It is concluded that economic arguments can be persuasive on the abortion issue only if there is agreement that cost-benefit analysis is an appropriate basis for decision making.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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