Sunday, May 29, 2005

The anatomy of an abortion-lobby myth

Fact-Check has analyzed how an opinion piece turned into the widespread myth that abortions have increased since Bush took office.
A number of politicians and organizations have been circulating an interesting and surprising idea: that abortions have gone up under George W. Bush’s watch.  The claim is repeated by supporters of abortion rights as evidence that Bush's anti-abortion policies have backfired, or at least been ineffective. 

But the claim is untrue. In fact, according to the respected Alan Guttmacher Institute, a 20-year decline in abortion rates continued after Bush took office. ....

Fact-Check looks at the evolution of the myth:
The claim that abortions are rising again can be traced back to an opinion piece by Glen Harold Stassen [that] originally appeared in a web and e-mail publication of Sojourners, a Christian magazine, in October 2004. Several other outlets ... ran a similar piece co-authored by Stassen and journalist Gary Krane. The articles generated a good deal of discussion on a number of both liberal and conservative blogs.

.... Stassen reported that ... "Under President Bush, the decade-long trend of declining abortion rates appears to have reversed," he said. "Given the trends of the 1990s, 52,000 more abortions occurred in the United States in 2002 than would have been expected before this change of direction."

Stassen's broad conclusion wasn't justified by the sketchy information he cited, however. Furthermore, a primary organization he cited specifically as a source for historical data now contradicts him, saying abortions have continued to decline since Bush took office.

Stassen had theorized that Bush's economic policies were fueling a rise in abortions.

In a speech to family-planning providers in New York on January 24, 2005 , Sen. Hillary Clinton recounted decreases in the abortion rate that occurred in her husband's administration, then lamented that the situation had changed. She repeated exactly some of the figures that Stassen had given in his Houston Chronicle article.

Though Clinton stated that abortions were increasing only in "some states," some listeners evidently concluded that she was referring to a national trend. John Kerry got the ball rolling in an interview on Meet the Press on January 30, 2005. Then Howard Dean jumped into the fraay, saying on Meet the Press on May 24 that abortions had gone up 25% since Bush became President.

Russert didn't challenge him, Fact-Check continued:
We asked the Democratic National Committee repeatedly where Dean got his 25 percent figure, but we got no response. Even if Stassen's estimate of 52,000 additional abortions were correct, that would figure to an increase of less than 4 percent. ....

Stassen’s numbers, and the widespread acceptance they seemed to be getting, prompted the Guttmacher Institute to conduct a special analysis to update its comprehensive census of abortion providers for the year 2000. The increases that Stassen reported “would be a significant change in a long-standing trend in the US ,” Leila Darabi of the institute explained to Factcheck. ....

The Guttmacher Institute announced its findings May 19. .... What it found was that the number of abortions decreased nationwide – by 0.8% in 2001 and by another 0.8% in 2002. The abortion rate , which is the number of women having abortions relative to the total population, also decreased 1% in 2001 and 0.9% in 2002. That's not as rapid a decrease as had been seen in earlier years, but it is a decrease nonetheless.

So let's drive the final nail in the coffin of this little myth.

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