States with the strongest antiabortion laws generally are among the states that spend less on needy children and are less likely to criminalize the battering or killing of fetuses in pregnant women by a third party, according to a provocative new study.

The survey, the first of its kind to examine the relationship between states' abortion laws and their spending on at-risk children, says that states with strong antiabortion laws provide less funding per child for foster care, stipends for parents who adopt children with special needs, and payments for poor women with dependent children than do states with strong abortion rights laws.

"As you move from the strongest pro-choice states to the strongest pro-life states, the amount of spending in these areas becomes increasingly lower," said Jean Schroedel, an associate professor of political science at the Claremont Graduate University in California.

"To put it simply, pro-life states make it difficult for women to have abortions, but they do not help these women provide for the children once born," Schroedel said.

Her findings are contained in a book, "Is the Fetus a Person: A Comparison of Fetal Policies Across the 50 States," to be published in June by Cornell University Press.

She said that for the nearly eight years that she researched the issue she was not an abortion rights activist or affiliated with any abortion rights movement. But she said that in the past six months, after she sent her manuscript to the publisher, she joined Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and "sent off some money--that's it."

"When I started this research, I really thought I'd find evidence of how pro-life states were respecting the lives of children and there would be some nice area of common ground where both sides could come together," Schroedel said in a telephone interview. "But I became convinced by my own research and joined these two groups."

A spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee in Washington said officials there had not seen Schroedel's report and would not comment on its conclusions.

To make her comparisons, Schroedel said she analyzed all of the states' abortion laws as of January 1998 and assigned points ranging from 0 to 24, with the most restrictive at the lower end. She then collected data measuring a wide range of variables, including state aid to needy children, support for women's rights, indicators of women's economic, social and political status, levels of prenatal care, and state protection of fetal life from prenatal drug exposure and third-party battering.

Schroedel said that in apparent contradiction to antiabortion legislators' assertions that a fetus is a "person" deserving of the legal protections accorded a born human being, many states have not criminalized third-party fetal battering.

She said nearly half the states with the strongest antiabortion laws do not make it a crime, in a nonabortion context, for a third party to kill a fetus of any gestational age, and three-fourths of the states with moderate antiabortion laws do not criminalize third-party fetal killing.

However, six of the states with the strongest antiabortion laws that do not criminalize fetal battering prosecute women for prenatal drug use, Schroedel said. She said that one reason for this "incongruous pattern" could be that antiabortion groups are not lobbying state governments to pass laws against third-party fetal battering. Schroedel said that only one of 32 antiabortion groups she contacted said they would consider this an issue worth pursuing.

Schroedel said she was surprised to find that the states that restrict abortions the most and spend the least on children are not just in the South, but are mostly in the Midwest. The states with the strongest antiabortion laws include Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

She said the evidence was overwhelmingly clear that antiabortion states were "far less likely" than abortion rights states to support the poorest and neediest children in foster care, welfare programs, adoption of children with physical and mental handicaps and education.

For example, Louisiana, which has the most stringent abortion laws, provided an average monthly stipend of $238 to assist in the raising of an adopted 2-year-old special-needs child and $348 for foster care. Hawaii, with the least stringent abortion laws, spent an average of $529 for adoptive care and $529 for foster care. The average total state spending for each poor child in Louisiana was $602, compared to $4,648 for Hawaii.

The range of total spending for each poor child among the states Schroedel identified as strongly antiabortion was $411 (Mississippi) to $3,471 (Delaware). The range for the states classified as strong on abortion rights was $780 (Texas) to $4,649 (New York).

Maryland, which Schroedel put in the abortion rights column, spent an average of $650 monthly per child for special-needs adoption, $535 for foster care and had an average total state outlay for each poor child of $3,189. Virginia, which was classified as having minimal abortion restrictions, spent $262 for adoptive aid, $262 for foster care and $1,743 in total care.

"Basically, the evidence support[s] the pro-choice claim that their opponents' concern for the weak and vulnerable stops at birth," Schroedel said. "Pro-choice states provided far more support for needy children than did the pro-life states."