The Impact of a Restrictive Abortion Policy on Infants’ Health and on Socioeconomic Outcomes of Children and Parents

Funding:  OTKA
Duration: September 1 2017 – August 31 2020 (36 months)

A restrictive abortion law came into effect in Hungary in 1974. Women were banned from this option by the twelfth week of pregnancy. The government promoted the policy as a vital way of protecting women’s health, but the goal was to foster fertility and reduce abortion. Within a year, the number of induced abortions decreased by almost 70,000. Inspired by a paper that analyzed the impact of the 1966 abortion ban in Romania on the educational and labor outcomes of children—one of the few studies with that goal conducted outside the United States—Gábor Hajdu and Tamás Hajdu seek to quantify the impacts of the Hungarian abortion law not only on children born around 1974 but also on their mothers. It’s the first time a team of researchers will do this analysis in Hungary.

The researchers’ project is special because it relies on comprehensive administrative datasets from the Hungarian Central Statistical Office instead of surveys or samples of administrative data. The first aim is to determine how the law change affected the health of children born in 1974. Later, the researchers will measure the children’s educational and social outcomes in the mid-term. The next step involves measuring how the law impacted children’s educational, labor, and social outcomes. They will also test how mothers’ educational and social outcomes developed in the long run. Throughout the project, the researchers will apply a methodological strategy that considers children born within a short time-span around the law change. By pursuing this method, Hajdu said he will minimize the effects of unobserved time trends and behavioral responses to the policy, which will allow him to draw causal inference from the datasets.

The research has social importance for two reasons. One is that abortion laws rarely change substantially. The last one was introduced in Hungary in 1992. Because of that, drawing better conclusions on the effects of such policies can empower evidence-based policies on abortion, better inform society, and help guide parents in family planning. The second reason is that restrictive abortion policies might affect families and children in different ways. Women might look for alternative birth control methods that are not only harmful for their health but also ineffective, leaving them with unwanted babies. Mothers without access to abortion options may not pursue recommended prenatal care either, leaving babies’ lives at risk. Households with more babies may result in poorer life quality for children, who grow up under psychological stress. The researchers’ preliminary findings suggest that the 1974-law in Hungary affected newborns’ health. Now, they are analyzing the larger impacts of the law; for instance, how it affected infant mortality rates. 

The researchers will write four working papers. They aim to publish them in leading international sociological, demographic or economics journals (e.g. Demography, European Journal of Population, European Sociological Review, and the European Journal of Health Economics). They plan to disseminate their findings in Hungarian and international workshops and conferences, such as the European Sociological Association, the International Sociological Association, and the European Association for Population Studies among others. “The impact of a restrictive abortion policy on infants’ health” project will be completed in 2020.

Principal investigator (PI):

Gábor Hajdu 
Research Fellow 
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