Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Define "Rare"

When discussing how "rare" or "frequent" something is, what matters more: percentages, or absolute numbers?

In the abortion debate, this problem comes up in at least two contexts: rape, and late-term abortions. Abortion advocates maintain that pregnancy from rape is a common occurrence. They also maintain that late-term abortions are rare, as they are only a "small percentage" of the 1.06 million abortions that take place in the United States each year. Pro-life advocates are prone to the opposite biases; we emphasize that rape accounts for a very small percentage of abortions, while giving lots of attention to the barbarity of late-term abortion.

Let's look at the numbers. They're oddly similar.

A 1996 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology estimated that 32,101 American women are impregnated by rape each year. In absolute terms, that's horrifying. (But not all those women will abort; in fact it's 50-50, according to this pro-choice source. That makes sense, given that about half of American women are pro-life and rapists don't discriminate.) But in percentage terms, "only" five percent of rapes cause pregnancy.

According to the Guttmacher Institute (which officially supports abortion and thus has an incentive to de-emphasize late-term abortions), 1.2% of abortions in the United States are performed after 21 weeks, and 3.6% are performed between 16 and 20 weeks. That makes it seem like late-term abortion is rare, but multiply those percentages by 1.06 million—the total U.S. abortions in 2011—and you'll find that there are over 50,000 late-term abortions in the U.S. every year (12,270 after 21 weeks and 38,160 between 16 and 20 weeks).

In each of the above situations, you can make the case for using absolute numbers or for using percentages. But here's the key: you don't get to pick and choose! (Yep, I'm "anti-choice." You got me.) You don't get to twist the framing to suit your ideology. Find the method that makes the most sense, and stick with it.

For me, the absolute numbers matter more. When it comes to pregnancy from rape, one rape is too many. Likewise, one late-term abortion is too many. This focus on the individual person is a good fit with my pro-life values. But I'll entertain the case for (consistently!) emphasizing percentages, if you wish to make such a case in the comments.


Drew Hymer said...

Pro-aborts who hide behind "only a small percent of abortions are late term" are missing the point completely. The fact is that it's legal in many jurisdictions to kill those babies whether or not mothers actually decide to commission the killings.

What if only a small percentage of blacks were enslaved but whites could choose to enslave any blacks? We'd recognize immediately that the fact that only a small percent were enslaved is irrelevant. It would be wrong for it to be legal to enslave blacks even if only one black was enslaved. Just the fact that whites have the right to choose to enslave blacks would itself be a human rights atrocity.
So it is with abortion.

JDC said...

The only possible justification I can think of for using percentages is that absolute numbers are affected by population levels while percentages are not. But even that really only suggests that percentages should be used when comparing different jurisdictions or one jurisdiction over time. When talking about the frequency in general, I still prefer absolute numbers.

Jameson Graber said...

For public policy debates, percentages are usually more important than absolute numbers. That is because the government can generally only have an indirect effect on what happens in society. One homicide, like one rape, is also too many, but laws notwithstanding murder stubbornly continues to exist. We try to choose policies which will bring the number down, because eliminating it entirely is simply not going to happen (unless you're considering a very small, relatively closed society).

I think pro-lifers have every reason to point out that rape is a relatively rare reason cited for choosing abortion. That is because the rape exception is controversial and complex, even among those who generally find abortion unacceptable. So, pro-lifers faced with questions about whether women who are raped should be forced to carry to term should feel free to respond as follows: "That is a profound, delicate, and complex issue, and I would love for there to be more discussion about it. But the fact is, we're not at the point where we can discuss such an issue reasonably. The number of abortions that happen for completely different reasons shows that we as a society have not acknowledged the general principle that unborn children deserve to be treated as human beings."

Guest said...

I dislike the argument that late-term abortions, or abortions following rape, are rare for two more reasons:

1. The data is questionable. Rape is very common and often goes unreported. So we have at least some reason to believe that the number of pregnancies resulting from rape is deflated. Conversely, the Alan Guttmacher Institute (as noted above) does have an axe to grind and has even been found using false data in the past. Kermit Gosnell's clinic performed many late-term abortions without reporting them, and there are probably other clinics that do the same. So there is at least some reason to believe that the number of late-term abortions is deflated as well.

2. Rare cases (and even hypothetical ones, such as the violinist one and the "cabin in the blizzard" story) determine whether or not a certain position on abortion is sound. If a pro-choice person supports abortion on demand because he thinks a woman should be able to do whatever she wants with her body but would be against a sex-selective abortion done in the third trimester, his position is incoherent and should be rejected. Similarly, pro-lifers are obligated to address rape and life of the mother in a way that's consistent with pro-life reasoning on other abortions (or be able to explain why these cases should be treated differently). We cannot just call it a day after brushing them aside because they're too rare to merit discussion.

someone45 said...

Anti-choicers miss the point that MOST late term abortions are for the health of the woman or a fetal defect. You people don't care about that though... you just want your precious fetus brought to term.

Drew Hymer said...

Most pro-baby-killers miss the point that MOST late term abortions are done simply because its easier to kill the kid than to care for her.

Abortionist Ron Fitzsimmons admitted the even Partial Birth Abortions were committed mostly for convenience.

vulgarism said...

Nope. The stats for late term abortions correspond with the stats for medical emergencies/fetal health

And a partial birth abortion was basically invented as the least invasive way to remove a late term fetus in cases of medical emergency. Now doctors have to cut the fetus up in the uterus and take it out in pieces, denying the family an intact corpse to mourn.

You are also an idiot if you believe that women will gestate a pregnancy for months and then at 30 weeks suddenly realize that she's too fat to fit into a bikini and get an abortion.

Then again, you are an idiot because you said that chimeras are the equivalent of one person cannibalizing another. Dumbest thing you have ever said.

someone45 said...

So you REALLY think a woman is going to spend 30 weeks pregnant suffering through morning sickness and all the other symptoms of pregnancy and pay for a bunch of different doctor appointments and suddenly somehow decide she changed her mind?

You are an idiot if you think that. MOST late term abortions are a very much wanted pregnancy that went wrong. These women that have to have late term abortions are probably grieving and need support not judgement.

Guest said...

There's good stuff in the article there. You might want to consider reading it when you get the chance.

someone45 said...

1. Don't clink on links from forums.
2. Any article an anti-choicer post will be filled with lies

Guest said...

Suit yourself.

someone45 said...

I will... don't have time to waste reading an anti-choice lie filled article. No woman is going to suffer through almost nine months of pregnancy and have a late term abortion because she "changed her mind". THAT is nonsense.

Guest said...

Rick Santorum and his wife were mocked by pro-choicers when they mourned the intact corpse of their stillborn child. Just so that you know.

vulgarism said...

Yeah. That was a late term abortion. They are hypocrites.

JoAnna Wahlund said...

157 women in the U.K. had late-term abortions because their babies had treatable conditions such as cleft lip and clubfoot.

JoAnna Wahlund said...

The baby was born alive (he lived for two hours) so why do you say his death was a late-term abortion? Also, please read this:

Drew Hymer said...

You ignore the evidence. Most late term abortions are not for life-threatening conditions. See

When one embryo combines with another, it is a form of cannabalism. It isn't the same as one eating the other, but the result is the same in that there were two organisms and now there is only one. That's not stupid at all. You're an idiot for thinking so.

Guest said...

1. Induced delivery in the second half of pregnancy isn't abortion. Doctors consider it successful when both mother and baby survive. Doctors performing a late-term abortion, on the other hand, consider the baby's survival the worst possible thing that could happen. Although 20 weeks is two weeks earlier than the youngest ever premie, Gabriel's prosepects of survival would have been worse if he were left inside his mother. Comparing the Santorums' decision to a late-term abortion is akin to comparing jumping out of a burning building from a ten storey window to suicide.

2. Labour was induced in order to save the mother's life. So he can't possibly be a hypocrite unless he's on the record opposing abortion to save the mother's life. To my knowledge, all versions of the PBA ban (which Santorum sponsored) have exceptions for the life of the mother.

3. Even if the Santorums are the worst, most hypocritical people in the world, that does not justify having a bunch of pro-abortion cyberbullies make fun of their grieving process.