Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies, and Abortions

I've been meaning to dig in and take a stab at this myself, but via the Curt Jester I see that Aggie Catholics has asked a statistics professor to take a quick look over the study that the Guttmacher institute recently released on world-wide abortion. (Abstract here, full text by subscription to The Lancet only.)

The Guttmacher institute (the research arm of Planned Parenthood) releases one of these studies every few of years: the last one was in 1999 I believe. Each year a couple of specific angles are taken with the press. This year one of these is the claim that countries with legal abortion do not necessarily have higher abortion rates than those where abortion is illegal, but that abortions are far less safe in countries where it is illegal.

The professor points out a number of good methodological questions. At a more broad level, one of the things that struck me even in looking at the popular articles I've seen on the study is that since this is a country-to-country comparison, and primarily looks just at legality and frequency, it ignores a number of other factors. (For instance, the US has less legal restriction on abortion than Western Europe, yet twice the abortion rate. Africa is estimated, and there are some very big questions about their estimation methods, to have twice the rate of the US, despite abortion mostly being illegal there. And yet countries like China and Vietnam in Asia have twice the abortion rate of Africa, despite the fact that abortion is legal there.)

So yes, abortion rates vary a great deal as a result of factors other than legality, but this does not in any sense mean that outlawing abortion has no effect.

But since Aggie Catholic's professor has spent time with the actual source study (while I just read what was in the NY Times and such) go read what he has to say.


Pro Ecclesia said...

I believe there was a certain liberal Catholic blogger citing to the Guttmacher study last week to bolster his argument that Democrat policies are actually more "pro-life" than Republican policies (in his headlong rush to call a truce with the pro-aborts).

Which raises the question: why would anyone proclaiming himself as having a "consistent ethic of life" cite to a study from this bunch?

Kiwi Nomad said...

I was once visited by a survey-er and asked to do some kind of a survey into my sexual habits. Apparently this was an international survey - I vaguely remember the UN figuring in the wording somehow. However, it seems that this survey would involve me doing the written paper at my dining room table while the survey-er sat there also. As a single, middle-aged woman, do you think I thought this acceptable? Well, no actually. Therefore, one less person of my 'demographic' participated. Of such simple things can surveys be skewed.

CMinor said...

Good find. I thought that report smelled fishy.

Anonymous said...

The findings make perfect sense to me. Countries that prohibit abortion are also more likely to limit access to contraceptives and comprehensive sex education; hence, the need for more abortions there.

Darwin said...


But you forget that the highest rates are actually in countries that push contraception very hard: China and Vietnam. Clearly there, abortion is a backup form of contraception.

In the US, contraception is also widely available (unless you consider a couple bucks a major obstacle) but we have significantly higher rates and Europe.

And in Canada and New Zealand, the rates have been rising, despite the fact that contraception is if anything more available than in the past.

I think what we're seeing is far more cultural than availability based.