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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Life Equation, Part II

[Today's post by Nick Reynosa is part 2 of a 4-part series. Click here for part 1.]

The National Abortion Federation argues that in the U.S. prior to Roe v. Wade, there were as many as 1.2 million abortions per year—the same number as today. Is that correct? Most pro-lifers say no; in 1973, the first year abortion was legal nationwide, the CDC reports that only 615,831 legal abortions occurred, some 585,000 fewer than the 1.2 million that supposedly took place the year before. Within just nine years of Roe v. Wade, the number of abortions increased by 111% to 1,303,980.

A study by the pro-life Storer Foundation estimated that the annual number of illegal abortions prior to Roe v. Wade was 98,000, or 8.3% (about 1/12) of the current number of legal abortions. Complete accuracy is inherently impossible here, but the Storer Foundation's estimate makes sense in the context of the solid
numbers we do have from 1973 onward. The pro-choice numbers require a sudden drop after legalization followed by an 110% increase; if they've offered an explanation for that, I haven't seen it.

For the best evidence, though, we need to look outside of U.S. borders. In 1989, Chile banned abortion; since then, Chile has enjoyed low maternal mortality rates. In a 2012 study, researchers examined the "natural experiment" in Chile and concluded that the abortion ban had indeed reduced the number of clandestine abortions occurring there:
We observed that reduction of maternal mortality in Chile was paralleled by the number of hospitalizations attributable to complications of clandestine abortions. While over 50% of all abortion-related hospitalizations were attributable to complications of clandestine abortions during the 1960s, this proportion decreased rapidly in the following decades. 
Indeed, only 12-19% of all hospitalization from abortion can be attributable to clandestine abortions between 2001 and 2008. These data suggest that over time, restrictive laws may have a restraining effect on the practice of abortion and promote its decrease… Since most European countries allow elective abortion, it may be easier for women from Malta, Ireland, and Poland to travel for an abortion and this may be acting as a confounder which is difficult to control. In contrast, due to abortion prohibitions in most Latin American countries, it is unlikely that a significant number of abortions can be performed by Chilean women abroad.
Chile apparently experienced between a 60 and 75% reduction in abortion as a result of restoring the right to life in its law. Of course, every country is different. Legality is not the sole factor at play, and cultural forces play a significant role. It is difficult to predict with certainty how many abortions will be prevented by a legal ban. But using the best data available, it clearly appears that banning abortion has a deterrent effect that will save a significant number of lives.

Tomorrow, I will examine the contraception aspect of the life equation.

9 comments:

Chalkdust said...

Have you looked at this study?

If you look at the reported abortion rates by year (or at your CDC statistics), you see that they start going up in 1970, three years before Roe, and keep going up until about 1980. Roe doesn't seem to cause a huge spike. So either abortion rates increased steadily through the 70s, ignoring whether they were legal...or what we're seeing in those numbers is an increase in the fraction of abortions that were reported, not an actual increase in the number of abortions.

(This might mean that the reason why Roe doesn't cause a notable blip is that it took time for legal clinics to be built and open, and the existing illegal clinics didn't start reporting after they became legal.)

kitler said...

Women in Chile, and across most of S.A. where abortion is illegal, primarily use Ru 486 or versions of to induce miscarriage. Back alley coat hanger abortions are largely a thing of the past.

Guest said...

That first link is remarkable. Third-world countries have higher abortion rates than first-world countries. If I didn't have any critical thinking skills, I would become pro-choice right now and write a blog post about how I lost faith in the pro-life movement.

Guest said...

As discussed in the linked article, black market RU-486 didn't become widespread until the late 1990s, a decade after Chile's abortion ban had gone into effect. The maternal mortality rate had already declined significantly by then.

Guest said...

Still, it's nice to see some refreshing honesty on the coat hanger meme.

Chalkdust said...

My point was not that that particular article is an unshakable pro-choice argument, but rather that if Nick really wants to write a multi-post series on why Libby Anne's math is wrong, it would behoove him to at least mention the numbers that she considered rather than ignoring them in favor of his favorite studies.

Acyutananda said...

One possible source of confusion arising from the terms you use is that even after Roe v. Wade, if a non-physician abortionist had continued doing abortions, those abortions would have been illegal in a certain sense. But let's assume, as I think you do, that all abortions after 1973 were legal, though possibly unreported. (And let's ignore illegal post-viability abortions in some states.)

Both sets of stats reflect legal abortions only. So if we assume that the TENDENCY to abort one way or the other steadily grew --

"So either abortion rates increased steadily through the 70s, ignoring whether they were legal..."

-- then, since the "steady-increase" trend indicated on the two web pages is not swelled (not further steepened) after 1973 by numbers of women who had been getting illegal abortions now getting legal ones, we have to conclude that there were very few illegal abortions before 1973 and therefore conclude that the practice of abortion was being successfully deterred by the laws.

"...or what we're seeing in those numbers is an increase in the fraction of abortions that were reported, not an actual increase in the number of abortions."

I think that if the CDC had not had access to good figures on legal abortions, it would not have claimed to be able to report them so exactly, so I think it had good figures. But in saying the above, you may have been understanding the stats to reflect both legal & illegal abortions.

If the stats had reflected both legal & illegal abortions and if the number of total abortions had remained constant 1970-2010, as you're assuming here, the difference between 1974 and 1980 COULD possibly be explained by inaccuracy/accuracy of reporting, but that would mean that in 1974 there was 50% under-reporting. But anyway, the stats don't reflect both legal & illegal abortions.

I think that pro-choicers usually interpret the stats in this way: "in the U.S. prior to Roe v. Wade, there were as many as 1.2 million abortions per year—the same number as today" (as Nick Reynosa says above that pro-choicers claim); and the rise in the legal-abortion stats shows that after 1973, the number of abortions that had been done illegally started being done legally. (NR points out a big weakness of that interpretation.)

Instead of saying, as you did, "This might mean that the reason why Roe doesn't cause a notable blip . . .," could you have said, "This, i.e., Roe not causing a notable blip, might mean . . ." -- ?

Chalkdust said...

Nick is claiming that the "1.2 million in 1972" figure can't be right because there were only 600,000 legal abortions in 1973, and if pro-choicers were right, this would be a "sudden drop". He seems to be making the unstated assumption that the only abortions in 1973 were the 600,000 legal abortions. I am questioning this assumption and claiming that it actually makes sense for there to still be a lot of illegal abortions in 1973, as it would take time for legal clinics to open.

Acyutananda said...

Here --

"...or what we're seeing in those numbers is an increase in the fraction of abortions that were reported, not an actual increase in the number of abortions"

-- I thought you had meant an increase as between pre-Roe and post-Roe, but apparently you had meant an increase between 1973 on the one hand and the 12 months of 1980 on the other hand. Is that what you meant? (The Roe decision came very near the beginning of 1973, so stats for the calendar year could have come out almost the same as for the first 12 months after Roe.)

A theory of under-reporting legal abortions in 1973, or of illegal abortions continuing side-by-side with legal ones -- if either theory were correct -- plus those all-abortions-were-illegal 22 days of Jan. 1973, could support a contention that there had always been 1.2 million abortions a year. But I'm confused about which your theory is. Is it a theory of under-reporting --

"...or what we're seeing in those numbers is an increase in the fraction of abortions that were reported, not an actual increase in the number of abortions" (= "the existing illegal clinics didn't start reporting after they became legal")

-- or of illegal side-by-side with legal --

"it actually makes sense for there to still be a lot of illegal abortions in 1973"

Actually it would help if you could edit your previous statement of your whole theory in such a way as to make that question clear, then paste that as the definitive version of your whole theory.