Dr. Randall O’Bannon of National Right to Life, is responsible for the development of many factual publications and resources that have contributed to the growing body of pro-life literature. He addressed the National Right to Life Convention on Friday with a talk about abortion statistics.
Dr. O’Bannon began by noting the latest abortion numbers. He explained that there are two main sources for abortion statistics: The Guttmacher Institute, which was formerly affiliated with Planned Parenthood, is a privately-funded research organization. As such, Guttmacher is not held to any standards except its own: it can report or not report on whatever it wants. Guttmacher obtains its information through direct surveys of abortionists, who tend to oblige in providing this information to the pro-abortion organization. The US Centers for Disease Control is the second main source for abortion statistics.
Guttmacher’s numbers are generally considered more reliable, because they are collected from a more comprehensive number of sources than those of the CDC. Numbers from the CDC, a government agency, are collected from state Health Departments, each of which has its own abortion reporting standards. In some states’ Health Departments, such as California, these numbers are nonexistent. Therefore, the CDC’s numbers will always lack comprehensiveness and will tend to be lower than those from the Guttmacher Institute.
Guttmacher reported 1,212,400 abortions in 2008. They reported an abortion rate of 22.4 per 100 pregnancies, and 9.6 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age. The Centers for Disease Control’s numbers, from 2009, report 784,507 abortions in that year. Keep in mind that the CDC is missing information from several states, including California, New Hampshire, Delaware, and Maryland, among others.
Dr. O’Bannon then explained that the methods that the Guttmacher Institute and CDC, respectively, use to delineate data are very different. For example, the CDC will use terminology such as, “For every one thousand live births, there were 216 abortions,” which, if a reader is not careful, may lead to the impression that these numbers indicate that there is a 21.6% abortion rate, when in fact the numbers are 216 were aborted out of 1,216 babies, not 1,000. Alternately, here Guttmacher may (more accurately) give the statistics for how many abortions occur out of each one hundred pregnancies.
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O’Bannon pointed out that abortion numbers peaked in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. However, he reminded the audience that the legalization of the RU-486 abortion drug brought with it discrepancies in reporting, so while there appears to be a marked decline in the abortion rate in the last 13 years, it could be influenced by the shift from some surgical abortions to the utilization of the RU-486.
The apparent decline could also be influenced by many other factors, but the bottom line, O’Bannon conveyed, is to take the rise and fall of abortion statistics with a grain of salt, keeping in mind that they are affected by a vast array of circumstances that are sometimes hard to pinpoint.