Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Guttmacher and UN figures on abortion are excessive

The Guttmacher Institute is considered by some to be a source of accurate and scientific information on abortion. The medical journal Lancet published a Guttmacher study into abortion, including claimed numbers of abortions per year worldwide. The UN's study UNPD_World Abortion Policies_2007 likewise publishes figures which are claimed to represent accurate abortion statistics.

Both Guttmacher's and the UN's high estimates are incongruous with reality, and their publication represents an egregious misuse of statistics on their part. Pro-life supporters who have dealt with these numbers would both do well to take note of their errors specified below.

The number of abortions in 2004, as counted by Guttmacher, was 42,000,000. That is, in one year, one in 83.3 women (pop. 3.5 billion) is claimed by Guttmacher to have had an abortion. This means that there would have been 420 million abortions in a decade! That means, according to Guttmacher's numbers, one in fifteen women in the world has an abortion in a ten-year span.

Of course this math doesn't account for two things; the increase and decrease in the fertile woman population as a result of aging; a number that we can assume is flat and irrelevant; and the possibility that some women might have two or even three abortions; this aspect I give a very low value to, even if it may be as high as 5 percent.

Hence the 42 million figure is astoundingly large, and this means we have to ascertain what that figure actually means, and if its in fact accurate. This exceedingly large number appears by all reason to be false on its face, so its not really clear why that organization would publish a study which claimed such extreme numbers.

Let's start with some basic facts. In the United States, we know that on average there are 850,000 abortions a year. These are recent figures that have been largely steady since 1994. That is 8.5 million a decade and one abortion per 176 U.S. women per year. The National Right to Life publishes an updated count on its website which puts the number at 48,589,993 total abortions in the United States since 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided.

China is often thought to be the worst offender, but according UN numbers, the Russian Federation has a higher rate, with 53.7 women per thousand having abortions per year, with an age range of 15 to 44 years. This translates to one abortion per 18 women per year. If true, then after ten years, this would mean that half of all Russian women of that age range had received abortions in a ten year term. Given the 29 year age range of fertility, this means that 155 percent of Russian women have abortions over the course of their fertile lives! An obviously false number, even if one considers the possibility of multiple abortions.

The bulk of the 42 million figure comes from Asia. Guttmacher claims there were 29.7 million abortions in Asia, with obviously China and India representing most of this number. Let us assume for convenience sake that
China and India have an equal number of abortions, at 14.85 million abortions a year each. In reality this would mean, that with a population of roughly a half a billion women for each of them, the abortion rate in China and India was one per 33 women per year each. This translates to one in 3.3 women over a decade! The Guttmacher study claims that in a ten year period, one in three Chinese and or Indian women has had an abortion!

It's not certain that China's number is larger than that of India. There is a figure that says China destroys perhaps a million female children a year through sex-selective abortion and infanticide. The UN lists China's abortion rate at 24.2 abortions per 1000 women of the 15-44 fertile age range. This number likewise is ridiculous, in that it purports 242 abortions per thousand women in a decade, or 25% percent of Chinese women in a decade. The 29 year fertility range would mean that almost 75% percent of all Chinese women have abortions in their lifetime.

For more realistic figures, we can use the United States as a baseline, simply because the numbers from the United States appear to be more accurate. The figure of 850,000 average for the past 14 years, comes from the Center for Disease Control, and is not disputed by either pro-choice or pro-life groups. We can infer that China, with three times the U.S. population, might have three times the number of U.S. abortions. But even if China had 2.6 million abortions a year, the U.S. and China together would still only have 3.5 million abortions a year between them. Adding the second largest contributor, India, with 1.1 million abortions a year, makes the total for the big three only 4.6 million abortions a year.

The UN numbers for the rest of the world are suspect and unreliable. On average, for each country their numbers claim a roughly 23 per thousand abortion rate per annum. Up to a point, Guttmacher appears to rely on UN data, and this means of course that its total abortions per year figure is absurd. Even if the rest of the world equaled the big three in terms of abortions, we would have a number of roughly 9 million abortions a year. A far cry from Guttmacher's claimed 42+ million in 2004. Its more likely that the rest of the world only equals one of the big three in terms of abortions, and therefore the total is closer to 6 million.

The Guttmacher Institute and the UN are poor sources of information, and in no way can they be considered reliable sources of abortion information. We can infer that Lancet's publication of the Guttmacher study indicates it to be in agreement with it's plainly-stated agenda of providing information "aimed at reducing unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion and to increase access to safe abortion." Lancet's error is no doubt a result of this political agreement and its failure to screen papers in accord with strict scientific standards. I don't understand why the UN figures would be so completely unrealistic, but they nevertheless are as I've demonstrated.

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