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New Jersey study finds welfare cap boosted state abortion rate

Monday, June 8, 1998

NEW YORK - A research study concluded that New Jersey's policy of holding welfare benefits level when recipients have additional children has contributed to an increase in abortions, The New York Times reported today. And critics of the policy say state officials, who commissioned the report, are now trying to play it down because they don't like the results.

The $1 million study by Rutgers University was commissioned by the state Department of Human Services and the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Researchers were asked to examine the effects of New Jersey's ``family cap,'' which was the first of its kind in the nation when it was enacted in 1992.

Twenty other states have since instituted family caps similar to New Jersey's, and the Rutgers report is likely to fan the fire of debate over welfare reform.

The December 1997 report, obtained by The New York Times, said the new welfare policy ``does appear to exert a small but non-trivial effect on abortion rates.'' The researchers estimated that the number of abortions in the state was about 240 higher per year than it would have been without the welfare change.

State officials have rejected the report's findings, declaring it a ``draft,'' and asking for a revision. But groups who are challenging the cap in court say the report was not labeled a draft when it was distributed to them in February as part of their preparations for trial.

State officials say their concerns are methodological, not political. Looking at the welfare population's behavior before and after the family cap took effect may not make sense because the policy itself may have altered the population, causing some recipients to get off welfare and others to avoid it.

``We want to make sure that what we get is good social science research that is clear about the effects of the policy,'' Jacqueline Tencza, a Department of Human Services spokeswoman, told the Times.

Welfare recipients generally have abortions at a higher rate than other women. In the quarter ending December 1991, the abortion rate for New Jersey's welfare population was 27 per 1,000 compared with four per 1,000 for all New Jersey women of childbearing age.

Lead Rutgers researcher Michael Camasso declined to discuss the report or the revisions now taking place.

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