According to Dictionary.com, a policy wonk is defined as a person who studies a subject or issue in an excessively assiduous and thorough manner. When it was started years ago, the Washington Post Wonk Blog definitely fit that definition, despite its liberal slant.
Unfortunately, over the last year or so, the Blog’s analysis has more often turned to flawed perspectives instead of true fact-based analysis. I hit Suzy Khimm on this a while ago related to government spending, and Ezra Klein more recently on sequestration. Well, Sarah Kliff is next, this time on abortion.
Last Friday, Kliff cited the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in pointing out that the abortion rate dropped by 5% from 2008 to 2009. Unfortunately, the piece has several issues in its analysis, especially related to why Kliff supposes abortion rates dropped:
The first problem, though not necessarily Kliff’s fault, is that the CDC’s numbers are not the best out there. The Guttmacher Institute is the world’s foremost information-gathering organization on abortion data. CDC generally reports about 60% of the total number of abortions Guttmacher does. So any abortion analysis based upon CDC numbers is necessarily incomplete.
Second, Kliff writes “What seems like a more plausible explanation might be the type of contraceptives women are using.” This is not exactly a ringing endorsement – the sentence has three or four qualifiers in it.
Finally, the post closes by saying the following:
No research has found a causal relationship yet. What we know is a correlation: At the same time the abortion rate took a big drop, use of more effective contraceptives had recently increased. That seems like it could be one factor explaining why the abortion rate recently dropped, after years of holding steady.
This is a silly statement by Kliff. According to her post, a single study found use of “long-acting, reversal contraceptives” increased dramatically from 2007 to 2009. Which means the closing of her post is based upon a single study that cites a fact, and another organization that cites a different (and likely incomplete) fact. Could they be related? Kliff says “it could be one factor explaining why the abortion rate recently dropped.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, yet she uses it as her final tie-in to how contraception use caused a drop on abortion rates.
In short, we do not know that any correlation exists, despite what Kliff says.
Unfortunately, this is not Kliff’s first disastrous foray into abortion. In March she wrote a piece with the same sophomoric logic, claiming that maybe the reason the number of abortion clinics has gone down nationwide is because of threats of violence against abortion doctors. That post was also torn apart for its many errors in logic.
Abortion is a touchy issue for people on all sides of the debate. It would be good to stay focused on the facts, and not spread half-truths and suppositions. Otherwise, I could simply note that abstinence-only funding from the federal government peaked in 2006 and leveled out to 2009, and suppose (theoretically, of course, as Kliff does) that the drop in abortions is related.
CLICK LIKE IF YOU’RE PRO-LIFE!
From a journalistic standpoint, Kliff put enough qualifiers in to not be accused of dishonesty or spreading falsehoods. She did the same thing in her piece about abortion clinics. Unfortunately, the decision to write the piece in the first place shows a significant lack of wonkiness, and a rather large tendency towards pushing a narrative – one she admits could be wrong.
LifeNews Note: Dustin Siggins is a policy and politics blogger who has been published by Crisis Magazine, JillStanek.com, and First Things, in addition to many political publications. He is the co-author of a forthcoming book on the national debt with William Beach of The Heritage Foundation, and a co-founder of LibertyUnyielding.com. The opinions expressed are his own.