Communications Department

Challenges Mount to Guttmacher’s Estimates of Illegal Abortions and Abortion-Related Deaths

Jan 15, 2013 | 01-Winter 2013 NRL News

NRLNewsLogowebNRL News | Page 9
Winter 2013
Volume 40 | Issue 1


Challenges Mount to Guttmacher’s Estimates of
Illegal Abortions and Abortion-Related Deaths

By Dr. Peter Saunders

One of the main techniques used by the pro-abortion lobby to advance their worldwide agenda of “safe, legal abortion” is to argue that there are already lots of illegal abortions happening, particularly in the developing world, and that many women are dying from them.

To do this, lobbyists need statistics and this is where the Guttmacher Institute (GI) comes in.

For many years GI’s astronomical figures of illegal abortions from developing countries have gone virtually unchallenged, but this is about to change. For example, it appears that total number of abortions worldwide is not 43 million–a common figure touted by pro-abortionists–but closer to half that figure. Here are some examples that have punctured this pro-abortion myth used to attack protective pro-life laws.

New research just published in the International Journal of Women’s Health shows that GI’s figures for illegal abortions in Mexico in 2006 and 2009 were grossly overestimated.

The study was conducted by a panel of six epidemiologists at four universities in the United States, Mexico, and Chile and examines the actual figures produced by the Federal District of Mexico. It was confirmed by an independent, non-governmental agency that supports legal abortion. The results have potentially enormous implications for the alleged number of illegal abortions performed elsewhere.

GI’s estimate for illegal abortions in Mexico in 2006 was 725,070–1,024,424. But consider that the actual number of abortions in 2007 after abortion was legalised (which typically increases rather than decreases the numbers) was only 10,137! So GI’s estimate was 70–100 times the actual figure!

The GI figures for 2009—three years after legalisation—were still hugely inflated. As Elard Koch, the Chilean epidemiologist leading the research, pointed out, “During 2009, the number of induced abortions in Mexico DF was 12,221, which directly contradicts the figure of 122,355 induced abortions estimated by opinion surveys for the same year, resulting in a 1000% overestimation.”

As researcher Jacqueline Harvey has argued, these gross disparities discredit not only GI figures for illegal abortions and abortion-related mortality in Mexico, but in all countries where it applies the same flawed methodologies to create these bogus estimates.

Indeed, there is a similar inflation in the abortion-related mortality rate. The researchers also discovered that in its calculations of illegal abortion-related mortality, GI included women who died from ectopic pregnancies, miscarriage, and assault. Whatever motivation may be ascribed to GI, the result was that it led the group to over-estimate the abortion-related mortality rate by almost 35%.

For Americans the strategy currently used by GI in developing countries is reminiscent of that used by abortion supporters in the U.S. in their efforts to legalise abortion in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dr Bernard Nathanson, a leading supporter of abortion and an abortionist himself who later became a stalwart pro-lifer, later admitted to deception:

“We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the U.S. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public. The number of women dying from illegal abortions was around 200–250 annually. The figure we constantly fed to the media was 10,000.”

True figures actually show that deaths from illegal abortions had fallen to very low levels in the U.K. and U.S. long before the passing of the British 1968 Abortion Act and the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, respectively, as a result of better health care, particularly in the introduction of antibiotics.

Conversely, making abortion illegal in Chile in 1989 did not result in an increase in maternal mortality. In fact, the maternal mortality rate continued to decrease from 41.3 to 12.7 per 100,000 live births (a 69.2% reduction). The result is that Chile is now doing better with maternal mortality than the United States!

Similarly Ireland, where medical care is excellent but abortion remains illegal, has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world. By contrast, a new study from Denmark published in 2012 examined records of almost half a million women in their first pregnancy. It showed that, compared to women who delivered, women who had an early or late abortion had significantly higher mortality rates.

The most impressive catalogue of known abortion statistics online is that of William Johnston, whose totals of abortions worldwide were last updated in August 2012.

Johnston’s figures cover only reported abortions (with limited use of estimates–e.g., interpolation–for missing years). Thus, while they are incomplete, they are also well documented. They are also limited to countries with legal abortion and where statistics are compiled.

By contrast GI/WHO figures for countries where abortion is illegal are generally based on hospitalization samples, household surveys, and a variety of assumptions. This process yields illegal abortion rates that are as high as legal abortion rates in the developed world, coincidentally supporting the GI thesis that abortion should be unrestricted everywhere because laws have no effect on occurrence rates.

“The key,” Johnston argues, “is the set of assumptions that turn small sample sizes into multi-national estimates of abortion rates. Some obvious issues I see include: surveys of urban populations on abortion, and treating results as applicable to the general population; bias by basing results on surveys of people willing to talk to these survey takers; the validity of the assumptions used for underreporting, for deciding what fraction of hospital miscarriage cases are illegal abortions, or for turning such ‘detected’ abortions into figures including ‘undetected’ abortions.”

GI/WHO estimated worldwide abortions at 45.6 million in 1995, 41.6 million in 2003, and 43.8 million in 2008. By contrast for those same three years Johnston documents just 18.1, 15.1, and 16.0 million.

It appears that GI has misled the international community for years about abortion numbers in developing countries. The exposure of this deception means that a major plank of its argument for legalization is kicked away.

Peter Saunders is CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship in the U.K.