How many abortions, legal and illegal, are performed annually, nationally and worldwide? The answer depends upon whom you ask and whether the data come from the United States or from developing nations. More important, it depends on the assumptions, methodology and honesty of those compiling the numbers. Recent research calls into question data that heretofore had been considered authoritative.
The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), named for the former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, is the think tank of Planned Parenthood. AGI is known for its good data in the United States, but it has generated inflated numbers of illegal abortions in developing countries for years. One can only surmise that there is a political agenda at work to generate a demand for making abortion legal, thereby, so the argument goes, increasing the safety of abortions and raising the level of women’s reproductive health. AGI advocates making abortion legal to reduce maternal mortality. To make this point, it is deemed necessary to report extremely large numbers of illegal abortions that threaten women’s lives.
A recent study done in Mexico shows just how inflated AGI’s numbers can be: In 2006, a year before abortions were legalized in Mexico, AGI estimated there were 725,070 to 1,024,424 illegal abortions. Yet in 2007, the actual number of abortions performed (then legally) was 10,137. AGI’s estimate was 70 to 100 times the actual number.
In 2009, AGI estimated the number of legal abortions in the Federal District of Mexico at 122,455, but the actual number was 12,221. AGI overestimated the number of abortions by 10 times.
It appears that in AGI’s quest to have “safe, legal abortions” under the guise of reducing maternal mortality rates in every nation on earth, it inflated the number of illegal abortions to make it appear there is a definite need to make abortion legal to protect the women undergoing all those abortions. It should be noted that a study done in Chile found that even after abortion became illegal in 1989, maternal mortality rates continued to drop steadily. It does not necessarily follow that making abortion legal alone decreases maternal mortality.
In contrast to AGI and the World Health Organization (WHO) — which use estimates of unreported illegal abortions in order to estimate the number of abortions worldwide — William Robert Johnston, a researcher whose work is acknowledged as well-documented, collects reported abortion data from countries where it is legal and makes his estimates from those official reports. Mr. Johnston writes:
“Here are figures for comparison: AGI/WHO estimate worldwide abortions at 45.6 million in 1995, 41.6 million in 2003, and 43.8 million in 2008. … For those three years, what I can document are 18.1, 15.1, and 16.0 million. The drop to my current figure of 12 million/year is mostly due to fluctuations in reported figures from China.”
In Mr. Johnston’s figures of worldwide abortions, he notes that from 1922 through 2012, there were 907 million abortions. That is almost 1 billion human beings who were never born. He estimates from abortion records that 1,039,000 babies are aborted each month worldwide. Even without AGI inflating the numbers, they are staggering.
As mentioned earlier, AGI provides more accurate numbers for legal abortions performed in the United States, generally considered more accurate and reliable than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since 1969, the CDC has published an annual report on the incidence of abortion in the United States, but it does not contain data from all U.S. political jurisdictions. While a majority of the jurisdictions submit data to the CDC, the AGI captures more data from more jurisdictions because it receives submissions directly from abortion providers. According to the organization’s data, the CDC undercounts the number of legal abortions performed in the United States each year by about 32 percent. For instance, in 2007, the CDC put the number of abortions in the United States at 827,609, while AGI put the number at 1,209,600. In 2008, the CDC said there were 825,564 abortions in the United States, and AGI reported 1,212,400.
While the discrepancy between the CDC data and the AGI data may be chalked up to the fact that data submission by political jurisdictions to the CDC is voluntary, not mandatory, and abortion providers readily supply their data to AGI, one has to wonder whether the CDC underreports the number. After all, in the United States the pro-abortion lobby’s slogan has been to keep abortion, “safe, legal and rare.” With more than 55 million babies aborted since Roe v. Wade in 1973, “rare” does not seem to be an accurate description. AGI does push for “safe, legal” abortions but does not seem concerned with the rarity of abortion (especially since they inflate the number of illegal abortions worldwide).
With its reputation for good data in the United States, AGI is getting away with publishing distorted data (some have called the numbers “bogus”) about developing nations — so far. Yet with the Internet, it’s no longer as easy to fool people, even in developing countries. The obvious discrepancies between AGI’s data and those of Mr. Johnston’s rigorous research are an eye-opener. For the first time, AGI’s numbers and their methodologies are being challenged. In fact, some reports bluntly declare that new evidence authoritatively discredits AGI’s numbers.
With AGI’s numbers being called into question and the exposure of Planned Parenthood’s shady practices revealing the cracks in its public-relations facade, the abortion giant just might finally get its comeuppance.
Janice Shaw Crouse, who was a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, is spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee and author of “Marriage Matters” (Transaction Publishers, 2012).