Abortion rates fall when the Pope visits an area, with the decrease persisting for over a year according to a new study.
Scientists led by a team from the University of Sussex found that people were taking more care not to get pregnant after a papal visit. While the number of abortions dropped, the birth rate remained the same.
When asked if he was surprised by the findings, one of the scientists from Queen’s University in Belfast, Dr Egidio Farina said: “Yes, for two reasons we were. First, the drop in abortions is coming from a surprising behavioural chance – women are being careful about getting pregnant. Second, the decrease in the number of abortions is not short-lived but persists for over a year after the visit of the Pope.”
Even after the pope leaves the area, his influence remains as researchers found abortions plummeted by up to a fifth for as long as 14 months after a papal visit. The decrease is said to begin in the third month after a papal visit and if the Pope mentions abortion the reduction almost doubles.
“The decrease in abortions seems to be driven predominantly by a reduction in unintended pregnancies as women choose abstinence, increase their use of contraception or a combination of both, after a visit,” Dr Farina said.
“Indeed, in broader terms, our research highlights the importance of people’s cultural background – and in our case a specific aspect of culture, i.e. religion – in shaping central choices like fertility or abortion.”
Researchers investigated the links between regional abortion rates at the time of 129 official visits made to 85 Italian provinces by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI between 1979 and 2012. It was published in the Journal of Population Economics.
It’s unclear whether Pope Francis may have produced the same affect in Ireland after his visit, which occurred in August 2018, just over three months before abortion became legal. Dr Farina said: “We cannot exclude this hypothesis a priori, since other studies have also documented how the visits of the Pope to other countries had an impact on the long-run behaviour of individuals.
“Nonetheless, unfortunately we do not have enough data to establish whether the visit of the Pope to Ireland in 2018 has produced an effect on the number of abortions in the following months.”