There’s an old saying that if you torture the numbers long enough, they will confess to anything. Recently, the Guttmacher Institute, which has strong ties to Planned Parenthood, published yet another dubious, politically driven report that fudges the numbers on worldwide abortion incidence. Predictably, it is funded by abortion-friendly groups like the Packard Foundation, United Nations Population Fund, World Health Organization, and others.
The main problem with the new Guttmacher report is that it does not include actual verifiable data for all countries. If the “government agencies” cited refer to ministries of health and other government offices that collect service reports and data from hospitals and abortion centers, then this data is most likely reliable.
However, data compiled from so-called “national representative studies,” whether published or unpublished, are highly suspicious, and this raises important questions. How did these studies obtain their abortion data from the 60 countries where abortion is illegal? Who is reporting those abortions? How is data collected in countries where abortion is underreported? What about countries that do not have strict reporting requirements and have trouble tracking things such as basic vital statistics, let alone abortion data?
It is possible to track 12.4 million actually reported abortions annually worldwide, including in the top three countries of China, the United States, and Russia. But Guttmacher’s assertion that 56.3 million abortions occur worldwide annually is highly improbable and unprovable, not to mention that their total is four and a half times more than the actual documented data available. (Actual abortion data are available here for over 100 nations and territories, including year-by-year for many of them).
Perhaps this is why the report even admits on all of its charts that is has a “90% uncertainty interval.” Who publishes a report with information that is 90 percent uncertain? A report worthy of being trusted should have a 90 percent or more certainty level.
The Real Game Is Government Spending
The better question is, why is Guttmacher advancing this report? The answer is clear. This report is a tool to push for more contraception and abortion, especially in developing countries such as many in Africa and Latin America. The report asserts, again with 90 percent uncertainty, that abortion rates are just as high where abortion is illegal as where it is legal.
Of course, we know this to be purely speculative bias. The facts counter it. In actual recordable abortion data we see that whenever abortion is legalized, its incidence typically increases exponentially. These country charts with actual abortion data tell this story quite clearly.
Take, for example, abortion numbers in America. Prior to 1969, the recorded number of annual abortions was nearly non-existent. By 1972 when 20 states had legalized abortion, the number of abortions jumped to a little over half a million annually. When abortion was nationally legalized in 1973, it initially doubled to about a million abortions annually, then peaked at 1.5 million between 1979 to 1992, and now has settled back to around 1 million annually.
We also know that pro-life laws reduce abortions. First, as Michael New, a visiting associate professor at Ave Maria University and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, has explained, a 2004 study analyzed how changes in abortion policies in post-Communist Eastern Europe affected abortion rates. The authors concluded that modest restrictions on abortion reduced abortion by about 25 percent.
Second, a 2009 Guttmacher literature review identified 18 studies that analyzed Medicaid funding for abortion here in the United States. In 15 of the 18 studies, abortion rates went down when Medicaid funding for abortions was cut off: “18-37 percent of pregnancies that would have ended in Medicaid-funded abortions were carried to term when [Medicaid] funding was no longer available.” We know that pro-life laws keep abortion numbers down, contrary to what this new study claims.
The Women of the World Don’t Want More Contraceptives
The purpose of the new report is to create an imaginary increased “need” for more contraceptives and to manipulate developing nations with strict abortion laws to authorize abortion on demand. Ironically, the same author found in a 2014 study that when married women in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean were asked why they do not use modern contraceptives, only 4 to 8 percent of them cited “lack of access.”
Many more women reported opposition to contraception, concern about the side effects and health risks, current breastfeeding, and infrequency of sex as reasons for non-use of contraceptives. Further, self-reported “lack of access” to contraceptives by all married women is less than 2 percent in Africa, less than 1 percent in Asia, and half of a percent in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Women and families in developing countries do not “need” any more contraceptives. They are saturated with them. Children in South Africa use condoms to make soccer balls. What they need are basic health care, food, and clean water. Let’s focus our attention on providing those, and not more contraceptives or abortion.
The study is ideology-driven, not data-driven. It’s a conclusion in search of numbers, not numbers in search of a conclusion. What it does affirm, though, is that abortion is the greatest genocide in history.
Arina Grossu is Director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council. This article was co-written with Thomas Jacobson, executive director of the Global Life Campaign. This article appeared in The Federalist on May 26, 2016.
Editor's Note: This piece was published with permission from the Family Research Council.