When Will They Ever Learn? Learning, Emulation, and Abortion Regulation in the US States

Dr. Christopher Mooney

Do lawmakers learn from the policy experiences of other polities as they develop their own policy regime? A long tradition of empirical and normative argument in the US state policy diffusion literature has asserted that, and then questioned whether, such learning drives policy adoption (Mooney 2020). The question of policy learning is even more complicated when considering so-called morality policy adoption, which is seen as largely symbolic and value-affirming rather than pursuing instrumental goals (Kreitzer 2015; Mooney 2001; Kreitzer, Kane and Mooney 2019). In the proposed paper, we will compare the states’ adoption of instrumental Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws with that of more obviously symbolic abortion laws in 1991-2014 to test a variety of questions of interest to political scientists (Medoff and Dennis 2011). Do states learn from their peers in their policy deliberations? If so, what do they learn and from which peers? Is morality policy always purely symbolic, or can its adoption be affected by empirical evidence, whether policy or political information? We use dyadic EHA (Volden 2006; Boehmke 2009) to address these theoretically and practically important questions.