Recycling the Myth that Abortions Decrease Under Pro-Abortion Democratic Presidents

By Dave Andrusko

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

Time and space did not allow us to comment on a lecture sponsored by the College Democrats that pro-abortion former Maryland Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend recently delivered at Catholic University of America. But although late, it’s important not to allow her comment to go unchallenged.

“In response to the issue of abortion, Townsend stated that when a Democrat gets elected, the abortion rates go down,” according to Annie Backscheider, reporting for the college newspaper. “She says that this results from the safety net ensued by higher taxes.”

Obviously the issue of taxes is not our issue. However the assertion that abortion rates drop when [pro-abortion] Democrats are in power is one of those urban myths that is recycled ever four years or so as we approach the presidential election–and is very much our issue!

Rather than starting a response from scratch, I am attaching a brilliant rebuttal written by NRLC Director of Education Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon a few years ago. Save it, because comments such as Ms. Kennedy Townsend’s will pop up repeatedly over the next 11 months.

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Latest Guttmacher Report Slams Door on Democrats’ Abortion Increase Myth

By Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon

You may remember the myth that appeared right around the time of the 2004 presidential election, the bizarre claim that abortions had increased under George W. Bush. Turns out not to have been true. It fact, just the opposite occurred.

National Right to Life researched and refuted the report that spawned this urban legend, but that has not stopped Democratic leaders such as Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and DNC Chairman Howard Dean from continuing to promote this urban legend in their effort to confuse pro-lifers and the larger public.

But a new report in May from the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), showing that abortion totals, rates, and ratios all have gone down since 2000, will make it much harder for these politicians to get away with the re-telling of this tall tale.

According to AGI, Planned Parenthood’s one-time special research affiliate, there were a total of 30,000 fewer abortions in George W. Bush’s first two years of office than there would have been had the number of abortions stayed the same as they were in Clinton’s last year. And that’s an accomplishment a pro-life president can be proud of.

Democratic Leaders Promote Myth of Abortion Increase

The myth of the abortion increase under President Bush was largely perpetrated by a California seminary professor, Glen Stassen (see NRL News from November 2004 and February 2005). Stassen looked at limited state abortion figures and projected what he saw as a national increase of 52,000 abortions from 2000 to 2002.

National Right to Life looked at Stassen’s data,found serious errors in his analysis, and made those known to the press.  Nevertheless, those faulty statistics have continued to be repeated in several quarters, most notably among pro-abortion Democrat politicians.

AGI Estimates Of Abortion All Lower

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a national report on abortions in November 2004, showing a slight decrease in raw numbers for 2001. However, this was largely ignored by the press and the politicians.

By contrast the newest report from AGI examined data from at least 43 states from 2001 and 2002, and found a more substantial decline in abortion totals, rates, and ratios. With AGI’s reputation for accuracy, its conclusions drew much more attention.

According to AGI, the state data it examined indicated not just that the raw numbers of abortions had gone down, but the abortion rates and ratios as well in the period since AGI last conducted its  national survey in 2000. AGI estimates that there were 1,303,000 abortions in 2001–ten thousand fewer than the year before–and 1,293,000 in 2002.    

All told, that would be 30,000 fewer abortions than there would have been if things had remained the same as 2000.  AGI has not reported a lower number of abortions since 1976.

AGI’s abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 as of July 1 of each year) dropped from 21.3 to 20.9 in from 2000 to 2002.  The abortion ratio (which AGI defines as the number of abortions per 100 pregnancies ending in abortion or live birth1) dropped from 24.5 in 2000 to 24.2 in 2002.  Both the abortion rates and the abortion ratios are the lowest Guttmacher has reported since 1974.

While AGI does periodic surveys of abortion clinics, in this instance its researchers relied on reports of state data to develop its estimates of national abortions for 2001 and 2002.

Glen Stassen, the California seminary professor whose pre-election analysis appeared in newspapers and websites all over the country, used a similar method, with fewer states, but came to far different conclusions.  Looking at just 16 states, Stassen claimed he saw increases in 11 of them and projected that there had been 52,000 more abortions in 2002 than in 2000.

NRLC immediately challenged Stassen analysis. We noted that he had misread data in a couple of states, failed to consider newer data in other states, and included data from states such as Arizona and Colorado where state officials had cautioned earlier numbers might not be reliable due to changes in the way the incidence of abortion was reported.

Instead of 16 states, AGI used data from over 40 states, eliminating only those states which do not report abortion statistics to the federal government (Alaska, California, and New Hampshire) and states such as Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Maryland and the District of Columbia because of “incomplete” or “inconsistent reporting.”  Wyoming was not counted in 2002 because it had no available data when the AGI report was being prepared.

Numbers for those states not counted were estimated on the basis of trends in reporting states.  AGI says that it attempted to exclude all states with inconsistent reporting, but said that the possibility of improved reporting in the included states might mean that earlier state reports were too low, resulting in an underestimation of the decline.      “Thus,” says AGI, “our new estimates of the number of abortions would be too high.”

The Meaning of the Trends       

While AGI has called its results “provisional,” pending the outcome of its next national survey, recent state data is consistent with this downward trend.  Illinois saw a drop of nearly 5,000 from 2002 to 2003.  Wisconsin reported just 9,943 abortions for 2004, considerably less that half the 21,754 abortions the state reported in 1980.

National abortion totals first began to decline under the first pro-life president George Bush. That decline actually initially accelerated under pro-abortion Bill Clinton.

But the longer Clinton stayed in office, the more rapidly the decline began to dissipate.  According to AGI’s analysis, the decline from 1998 to 1999 was just 4,200. 

From 1999 to 2000, covering Clinton’s last full year in office, the decrease had declined to just 1,800.  Not much of a legacy for a man who said he wanted to make abortion “more rare.”

It will be years before the full impact of George W. Bush’s pro-life policies can be measured, but AGI’s latest analysis strongly suggests that the election of a pro-life president coincided with a return to more substantial declines.    The decline the first year (from 2000 to 2001) was 10,000–from 1,313,000 to 1,303,000. For the second year (2001-2002), the figure dropped to 1,293,000–20,000 fewer than the number of abortions in 2000.

Certain leaders in the Democrat party want people to accept the counter-intuitive notion that the way to reduce the number of abortions is to elect a pro-abortion president. While they got away with saying that for a while, now we know that the numbers tell a far different story.

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