You won’t find a word about it in the main stream media. You won’t find a word about it from the Alan Guttmacher Institute or Planned Parenthood, but the concept is so simple I could explain it to a five year old in about ten seconds.
“I have a whole bunch of jelly beans! I have some hidden in the pantry and I have some here in this jar. Now I want you to play a game: Look at this jar – just this jar – and tell me how many jelly beans I have in all.”
Even a small child would know that the jar does not reveal enough information to know an unknown total. Yet it seems some public policy-makers and journalists are hoping people do not know the difference.
It is being claimed that the “birthrate for U.S. teens is the lowest in history“ because a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) says that ”the U.S. teen birth rate declined 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, reaching a historic low at 34.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15–19; the rate dropped 44 percent from 1991 through 2010.” (Report is here.) Okay, maybe it is, but is this cause for claiming success? This low record being attributed, in part, to the increased use of contraception and tied to the HHS contraception mandate.
“The report by the National Center for Health Statistics says the actual number of teen births in 2010 was the lowest since 1946. It credits “strong pregnancy prevention messages” and says contraceptive use “may have contributed.” [Source CDC]
“The analysis comes at a time when contraception is a hot political debate, from a congressional investigation of whether federal money pays for abortions to concern among some church leaders over an Obama administration mandate that all health insurance cover birth control.” [Source USA Today]
If contraception is the object of hot political debate and concern for religious freedom not to be forced to provide birth control or abortion against Church teaching and moral standards, then those affected ought to question unfounded statements. Here’s why knowing the birth rate alone is not enough.
Back to the jellybeans. The total number of jellybeans are like the number of pregnancies among teens (or any group of women) in the U.S., and that is the only number that really matters as it relates to teen behavior. The goal is not to reduce teen births, but teen pregnancies too since those also affect the lives and health of teens. We do not know whether teen pregnancy has declined or not because we do not know the number of pregnancies aborted during that same time. There is an amount that is not known.
But the CDC reports abortion statistics, won’t those work? The CDC does not require abortions to be reported and unless we know how many teen pregnancies were aborted, we don’t know the total number of teen pregnancies that were discovered. The CDC has never required abortion reporting, and they still do not. From the CDC website:
Sure some people say, “Oh, the estimates are pretty close so we can extrapolate.” I don’t think so. While those estimates give us a number, it is not a meaningful number unless it is a reliable number. Even in states that choose to require abortion reporting, there is absolutely no regulation of the reporting. Abortion clinics literally make the choice to put information on a form, or not, and submit it to the state, or not. No regulation. They could toss the paperwork out, never fill the paperwork out at all, or fill the forms out incorrectly. It’s a black hole. Likewise, once the state agencies have the clinic information submitted, there’s no accountability to the public for accuracy in methodology used or reporting conclusions. The states can report whatever number they want to report, period. As far as I am concerned, it is a fabricated number.
Abortions + Births = Pregnancies. If we don’t know the first number, we can’t know the last. If the people crediting contraception realize that both numbers matter, and credit contraception anyway, then they are intentionally misleading people. If they don’t understand why abortion numbers also matter and why those numbers need to be reliable, then they have no business analyzing any set of data under the title of statistician. This new CDC report of the ”lowest teen births in all of U.S. history” doesn’t represent the full picture that we need to comment on improvements in teen behavior that leads to pregnancy.
See what I mean?
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