Fatally flawed abortion data
A recent CDC report shows a slight uptick in abortions but leaves out crucial data
New numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) give pro-life organizations exactly what they don't want: job security. After a more than decadelong downward trend, the number of U.S. abortions increased from 2017 to 2018 by about 1 percent, according to a new CDC report. The numbers are a reminder that women still need local pregnancy centers. “This is something that just says we will have more work to do in the years to come,” said Jor-El Godsey, president of the national pregnancy center organization Heartbeat International.
Although the numbers reflect national trends, they fail to give a complete and up-to-date picture of the state of abortion in the country. This leaves pro-lifers largely guessing how many women actually resort to the procedure. But even with those flaws, the data highlight key ways the abortion industry is shifting in the United States.
All 50 states submit healthcare statistics such as cancer reports, birth records, and chlamydia cases to the CDC to help the government track trends and identify problems among certain demographics and regions. But some states do not apply the same standards to abortion, despite pro-abortion groups’ insistence that abortion is healthcare.
In 2018, 49 reporting areas (47 states, the District of Columbia, and New York City) notified the CDC of 619,591 abortions. Data from the 48 areas that reported continuously from 2009-2018 showed that abortions increased by 1 percent, or 5,725 abortions, between 2017 and 2018. Available information about methods reveals the percentage of those abortions that were drug-induced grew from 34.7 percent in 2017 to 37.7 percent in 2018. But flaws in the report mean a lot of information is missing, hampering pro-life groups’ efforts to decrease abortions in communities with particularly high rates.
Three states with few protections for unborn babies don’t collect abortion data. The CDC reports haven’t included California and New Hampshire since the 1990s, and Maryland dropped out after 2006. The Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) estimates those states account for one-fifth of all abortions in the country, meaning that more than 100,000 unrecorded abortions happen every year.
Data from the Guttmacher Institute, the former research arm of Planned Parenthood, suggest the gap between CDC records and reality could be even greater. Guttmacher reported an estimated 862,320 abortions in 2017 based on direct surveys of abortion providers.
“If, indeed, abortion is healthcare, then why would we not want good reporting?” Godsey said.
Accurate reporting would also enable health departments to track abortion-related deaths, possibly combating the narrative that an abortion is safer than giving birth. Big abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood have sued against state abortion reporting laws in the past.
The year Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide in January 1973, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and New York City reported 615,831 legal abortions to the federal government. CDC-reported abortions peaked in 1990 at 1,429,247. Both Guttmacher and CDC data since 1991 have shown a significant decline in abortions since then, except for minor upticks in 2006 and 2008. The 2018 increase could be another fluctuation rather than a shift in trends.
Godsey said more drug-induced abortions likely account for the increase. Analyzing available 2018 data from 33 states in September, CLI’s Tessa Longbons wrote, “In these 33 states, chemical abortions increased by 9 percent from the previous year, while surgical abortions and those performed using other methods dropped by 3 percent.”
Pro-lifers have worked to protect babies from abortion drugs since their introduction in the United States in 2000. Not only do the drugs pose a threat to the lives of unborn babies, but they also endanger the mental and physical health of women. An at-home abortion can traumatize women, and the drugs can cause complications such as severe bleeding or infections from incomplete abortions.
Despite flaws in the reporting, pro-lifers should take the upward trend reflected in the CDC report seriously. “[Abortion] is a women’s health issue,” said Godsey. “This is not an infrequent … occurrence. It’s happening—even by the CDC’s number—more than 600,000 times a year.”
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