Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lies, Darn Lies, and Statistics

It was reported on Thursday that the abortion rate in the United States is continuing to decline. I'm not going to hit on the abortion debate or talk about candidate's views or any of that. Instead I want to talk just a sec about an article from Newsweek that attempts to discern why the rates are going down. First of all, the rate is reported as a number per 1000 women. The article doesn't say per 1000 pregnancies (for there's really no way to count that) so the drop could be attributed to a rise in population alone. But that point is never brought up. Instead it brings up the reduced number of abortion clinics, more restrictive legislation, the increased use of RU486, and increased use of birth control; all of which have measurable statistics. But the article tries to reason if attitudes towards abortion in this country have changed from both the pro-choice and pro-life sides. But there's only one quote and one three sentence long paragraph dedicated to the pro-life view. All in a two page article. Biased much? And as a number cruncher by trade, I don't think it's very hard to answer the question of whether more mothers are carrying their babies to full term. One you can compare the drop in the rate of abortions to the change in the rate of births. Next you consider the rate of miscarriages (assuming all are reported). Finally you look at the number of children being put up for adoption.

If the general public is agreeing more and more with the statement that, to paraphrase my least favorite presidential candidate, "abortion should be available, but rare," it wouldn't take much homework to figure out. If you assume that a pregnancy that is considered to be terminated but is carried to full term is still an unwanted pregnancy, the statistics would show up with numbers of children put up for adoption. If that number is increasing at a greater rate than the birthrate as a whole (and understanding that with modern pre-natal care there are fewer miscarriages) that would be all the evidence you need. Instead, the author gives the pro-life side a token quote and then expands on how much harder it is to get abortions these days. It's shoddy reporting at best, blatant bias at worst. But then again, when it comes to this issue, do we expect any better? We should.

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