By Michael New
Editor’s note. This appears in the February issue of National Right to Life News. Please share this 45-page edition with your pro-life family and friends.
This week, the academic journal JAMA Internal Medicine published a study claiming that the tens of thousands of pregnancies resulted from rape in states that enacted strong post-Dobbs pro-life laws. Specifically, the article claims that, since Dobbs, 519,981 rapes took place in states with strong pro-life laws in effect. This purportedly resulted in 64,565 children conceived in rape.
This study was quickly and uncritically covered by a number of mainstream media outlets including CNN, NBC News, the Houston Chronicle, Axios, Time, and the Hufffington Post.
To call those figures an exaggeration would be an understatement. The article is frankly one of the worst and most misleading pieces of advocacy research that I have ever encountered in my years as social scientist.
Furthermore, the fact that this article appeared in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal grants it legitimacy and credibility that it absolutely does not deserve. There are significant problems with the methodology that that authors used.
First, the authors of the study claim that approximately 12.5 percent of rapes result in a conception. That is an exceptionally high figure. The results of a survey of over 4,000 women that was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1996 puts that figure at closer to 5 percent. Furthermore, the 5 percent figure cited in this 1996 journal article is probably high because several survey respondents reported being raped more than once.
Second, there are extremely wide disparities in reported rape statistics. The authors use data from the CDC’s 2016–17 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, which estimated that over 1.4 million women were the victims of a completed forcible rape during a twelve-month period. That is over four times higher than the estimates provided by the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey and over ten times higher than FBI data on the number of rapes reported to law enforcement. Furthermore, the CDC data have been criticized for significantly overestimating the incidence of rape. Fair-minded researchers would have at least acknowledged these disparities. However, the authors of the JAMA Internal Medicine article simply assume that the much higher CDC estimates are the most accurate.
Finally, if one extrapolates the authors’ calculations to the entire country, there would have been about 178,000 children conceived in rape in 2017. If half of the rape victims decided to obtain abortions, that means that approximately 10 percent of all abortions were performed on rape victims. However, multiple Guttmacher surveys find that only 1 percent of women seeking abortions cite being a rape victim as a reason for obtaining an abortion. This clearly shows how exaggerated these estimates really are.
It should come as no surprise that some of the authors of this article are employed by organizations that support legal abortion. The lead author, Samuel Dickman, is the medical director of Planned Parenthood of Montana. Kari White is the executive and scientific director of Resound Research for Reproductive Health, previously known as the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP). This group also supports legal abortion. The mainstream media outlets that ran stories about this study unsurprisingly failed to cover this blatant conflict of interest.
The fact that JAMA Internal Medicine published this article is troubling. In recent years many academic journals, particularly in the field of public health, have published opinion pieces or thinly researched articles by supporters of legal abortion. In 2017, the New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial criticizing some of President Trump’s Health and Human Services appointees. Prior to the vote on the Affordable Care Act, the New England Journal Medicine published a very superficial analysis of Massachusetts abortion data to claim that insurance coverage of abortion would not increase abortion rates.
Overall, academic journals should stick to publishing rigorous peer-reviewed research instead of serving e
Editor’s note. This appeared at National Review Online and reposted with the author’s permission.