- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Howard Dean’s comments about Republicans have received a lot of attention recently, as well they should. But something the Democratic National Committee chairman said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last month, though barely reported, demands an immediate retraction.

On May 22, Mr. Dean said, “You know that abortions have gone up 25 percent since George Bush was president?” Host Tim Russert let the unsubstantiated assertion go unchallenged, so we’ll save everyone the suspense. Abortions actually have decreased during Mr. Bush’s presidency.

The Alan Guttmacher Institute reported this rather unstartling bit of news three days before Mr. Dean’s “Meet the Press” interview. Using the most recent data from 44 states, Guttmacher found that abortions decreased in 2001 by 0.8 percent and again in 2002 by 0.8 percent. This follows the near 20-year decline in abortion rates, which were at a 24-year low in January 2001 — the month Mr. Bush took office. The non-partisan Annenberg Political FactCheck.org highlighted these findings soon after Mr. Dean’s appearance. It noted that Guttmacher, while widely regarded as the best source on abortion data, describes its mission as being “to protect the reproductive choice of all women and men in the United States and throughout the world.”

As FactCheck.org reports, the myth of rising abortion rates originated with an opinion piece in the online magazine last fall by Glen Harold Stassen, an ethics professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. “Under President Bush, the decade-long trend of declining abortion rates appears to have reversed,” Mr. Stassen wrote. “Given the trends of the 1990s, 52,000 more abortions occurred in the United States in 2002 than we would have expected before this change of direction.”

Conservative writers like Michelle Malkin were quick to shred Mr. Stassen’s sloppy analysis, which used abortion data from just 16 states. But that didn’t stop the myth from spreading. In a widely reported speech in January, Sen. Hillary Clinton said that “the rate of abortion in on the rise in some states.” In a January appearance on “Meet the Press,” Sen. John Kerry said, “And do you know that in fact abortion has gone up in these last few years?” Seven days after the Guttmacher study, Mrs. Clinton repeated the myth on CNN’s “Inside Politics with Judy Woodruff.” “And I would just add that during the Clinton administration, abortions went down,” she said. “And they’ve gone back up under the Bush administration.” Using Mr. Stassen’s numbers, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof argued in March that abortions have increased “significantly” under Mr. Bush.

Which brings us back to Mr. Dean. There’s a major difference between what he said and what the other Democrats have said. Mr. Dean didn’t just repeat the myth; he went one better by adding the “25 percent” increase. However, even if Mr. Stassen’s study were accurate, and there had been 52,000 more abortions in 2002, that would still only increase the nationwide rate by less than 4 percent.

So, where did Mr. Dean get that number? FactCheck.org isn’t sure, and neither are we.

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