Study Claiming Pro-Life Laws Lead to Clinic Violence is Junk Science

Opinion   |   Michael New, Ph.D.   |   Nov 14, 2012   |   1:49PM   |   Washington, DC

Supporters of legal abortion are aware that many incremental pro-life laws, such as parental-involvement laws and informed-consent laws, enjoy broad public support. As such, they have had to offer creative justification for opposing these laws. They have unpersuasively argued that such laws are ineffective; they also claim that lowering access to abortion causes health risks, but fail to acknowledge peer-reviewed research showing that abortion itself increases the risk of a variety of physical and mental-health problems.

However, recently a group of abortion rights supporters have attempted to make the case that incremental pro-life laws result in higher levels of abortion-clinic harassment. The academic journal Contraception recently published a study by Jennifer Russo, Kristin Schumacher, and Mitchell Creinin. Using the state-by-state grades issued by NARAL, the authors found that abortion clinics in states with more pro-life laws are purportedly more likely to encounter either harassment or vandalism.

Now this study contains a number of methodological shortcomings. First, it only analyzed data from one year, 2010. Second, it fails to address to elementary difference between correlation and causation: Conservative states tend to pass more pro-life laws. As such, perhaps it is the conservatism of the state, and not the presence of pro-life laws itself, which is causing a purportedly higher incidence of either harassment or vandalism at abortion clinics.

Most important, the study fails to prove its main premise — that states with more pro-life laws have higher overall levels of abortion-clinic harassment. The authors fail to consider that in conservative states, there tend to be considerably fewer abortion clinics per capita. As such, even though individual clinics in conservative states are more likely to report various forms of harassment — the fact there are fewer clinics in conservative states might mean that the actual amount of harassment might be relatively similar in conservative and liberal states.



Interestingly, despite all its shortcomings, the study finds that there was no statistically significant difference in clinic-violence rates between the most “pro-life” states and the most “pro-choice” states. There was some evidence that clinics in “pro-life” states had a higher rate of minor vandalism. However, even in the most conservative states, only a small percentage of clinics reported any kind of vandalism. Of course, these facts will go unreported in the mainstream media. Note: Dr. Michael New is a political science professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is a fellow at Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.