Abortion Worldwide Report Released
By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL-ETF Director of Education & Research
How many abortions have there been in the world since abortion first became legalized in the modern era in Russia? In how many countries is abortion legal today? How reliable are the numbers that have been published and is there any reason to believe that they may be more driven by an agenda than data-driven?
An effort to answer these questions has been underway for a number of years, and today, some of the first results of that investigation were made public at a luncheon in Washington, D.C.
Headed by Thomas W. Jacobson of the Global Life Campaign, who presented his findings, and Wm. Robert Johnston, curator of the Johnston Archive, the Abortion Worldwide Report has identified 142 nations which have legalized abortion since the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) first did it 1920.
Using the available data from at least 100 of those nations, territories, and regions, Jacobson and Johnston estimate that there have been at least 1,018,435,000 abortions in the last century, equal to more than 13.6% of world’s current population.
Jacobson and Johnston say that the data they have puts the number of abortions worldwide at 12.5 million a year, considerably less than the 56.3 million estimated by Guttmacher and the World Health Organization (Lancet, July 16, 2016). Jacobson and Johnston made no effort in this stage of the presentation to estimate abortions in areas where it was not legal and where there were no official government counts, which may explain part of the discrepancy.
However Jacobson presented information that made Guttmacher’s estimates for these same countries seem extremely (in his words) “implausible.”
The dispute matters. It is often on the basis of these dubious estimates of the number of abortions that countries are pressured to legalize abortion under the ludicrous argument that legalizing abortion will make abortion rarer and safer. Legalization increases the number of abortions.
In fact, as data from the Abortion Worldwide Report showed (see www.GlobalLifeCampaign.com), the result of the broad legalization is a significant and often sudden increase in abortion.
An ambassador from the new nation of the Republic of South Sudan, Garang Diing Akuong, head of the South Sudanese mission in Washington, D.C., happened to be in attendance. He related that they had been pressured to legalize abortion in order to qualify for assistance. Under a new pro-life administration in Washington and far different representation at the United Nations, the U.S. might be expected to push back the other way.
Time will tell, but the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy not allowing U.S. aid to go to groups performing or promoting abortion overseas is a critical first step.
Good data is essential. False claims about the popularity of abortion and the maternal mortality associated with it are hard to rebut without solid data to counter the myths of the international abortion lobby.
Most (73%) of the abortions that Jacobson and Johnston counted came from Communist countries. But the next highest group of nations, at 13%, were those that were at least nominally or historically Christian. However it should also be noted that, according to Jacobson and Johnston, most of the 60 nations that still prohibit abortion are majority Christian.
According to material handed out at the luncheon, communist countries China (382 million) and Russia (including the former USSR, 216 million) represented nearly 60% of the recorded billion plus total, but the U.S. was third with nearly 58 million. (NRLC calculates the latest figures from Guttmacher now put us just over 59 million.)
Jacobson showed a chart, though, which showed Greenland, with the highest percentage of known pregnancies aborted, at 51.65%. Next came Guadeloupe, at nearly 42%, Cuba, at almost 41%. Russia came in seventh, with 32%, and China ninth, with just under 30%.
Over 90% of developed nations had legalized abortion by 2016. Just under seven in ten (69%) of developing nations had done so by that time.
There was some very encouraging numbers in the report as well.
For example countries which reinstitute limits on abortion after years of broad legality do see numbers fall. Poland, which banned most abortions in the 1990s after being freed from decades of Soviet control, saw abortions plummet from a couple of hundred thousand a year to just hundreds. This took place without any increase in maternal mortality and there is little statistical justification for the idea that Polish women were simply traveling out of the country to abort.
More generally, data presented by Jacobson showed that the annual number of abortions (which peaked around the 1980s at about 27 million) has declined to less than half that, right about 12.5 million. This is still an enormous annual loss, but it appears to show that it is not just in the United States that the pro-life movement has made progress.
A big part of that progress is work like Jacobson’s and Johnston’s challenging the agenda and assumptions of the international abortion lobby.
EDITOR’S NOTE: National Right to Life is an official co-sponsor of the Abortion Worldwide Report and has served as reviewers to Mr. Jacobson and Dr. Johnston.