When the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) releases teen birth rates, it always stirs up the debate about whether contraception or abstinence education improves this social issue. The “reproductive rights” advocates are quick to say that better education about contraception is to credit. The life-lovers are quick to point out that lower teen births do not mean that there were fewer teen pregnancies because we need to take into account the number of teen abortions too. And so it went last week when the CDC reported the “lowest teen birth rate ever.”
Amanda Marcotte at Slate predictably cheered ”Teen Birth Rate Down; Thanks, Contraception!”
Kristan Hawkins at Life News wrote that we should “Credit Abstinence With Helping Reduce Teen Birth Rates.”
Matthew Warner at National Catholic Register cited Kristan Hawkins to explain “Birth Rates vs. Pregnancy Rates” saying that abortion advocates like to pretend pregnancy and birth are the same when it’s convenient, to confuse people.
Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon cited Kristan too and said that “Abstinence isn’t working” because teen births are down, thanks to contraception use. “Why does the right ignore the facts and insist it’s abstinence?” she wondered.
Well, let’s talk about facts. I am in agreement with the nature of the points that Kristan and Matthew make. Kristan was generally right about the reported statistics and Matthew was right that they do seem to intentionally confuse people. We all knew the heralding of contraception that would be proclaimed. Still, I want to urge people to stop even citing abortion statistics as if they are meaningful in any way.
Kristan says that the abortion rates were higher and that, in part, accounts for the lower teen birth rate, an unacceptable solution for life-lovers. Tracy from Salon takes issue with Kristan from Life News for claiming that the teen abortion rate has increased, without citing any evidence. Tracy then sweeps in with the February article from Reuters: “Teen Pregnancy, Abortion Rates at Record Low“ that cites research from Guttmacher. Tracy says that the year 2008 is the most recent year for which data is available, and that the teen abortion rate was down 59 percent from its peak in 1988. And, on that technicality, Tracy is right. This will make your head hurt, but stick with me.
I’m trying to show why we should not even use abortion statistics.
Kristan says the abortion rate has increased from 17.8 per 1,000 in 2008 to 19 per 1,000 in 2010, but Tracy points out that there are no 2010 statistics reported, and again, she’s right. The report released in 2010 cites data from 2006 and that is where the number “19 per 1,000″ comes from. (Report is here, see Key Findings.) So really, according to Guttmacher (hang with me here), Kristan is wrong about 2008 and 2010. The reported abortion rate did not go up; it went down. The 17.8 is for 2008 but you have to go to the 2012 report to find that. (Report is here, see Key Findings). It’s an easy error to make. Reports are released two years after the data was collected because the Alan Guttmacher Institute takes time to work up the data.
But Tracy is wrong too, 2008 is the most recent year that data is available, but she cites it wrong, probably also an honest mistake. This figure was 56%, not 59%, lower than its peak in 1988. However, what she doesn’t also mention is the following sentence. “The 2008 rate is 1% higher than the 2005 rate.” Slight of hand? Seems so. So — Kristan really was right, the short term abortion rates were reported higher for teens. Anyway…
Why did I drag you through that?
To explain why we need, in my opinion, to stop using abortion statistics.
First, they are confusingly reported in weird ways that are hard to follow, and when a mistake like this is made, people get distracted from the real point. The real point is that one abortion is wrong. That’s a point Kristan makes a lot, and with poignant eloquence.
Second, the over-arching biggest real FACT is that abortion data is fundamentally suspect. This data originates from reports submitted by the abortion clinic workers, and the data is protected by law from investigation. A statistician worth his name would not trust that data. Why should we? That would have been the better point for Matt to nail with his characteristic cogency, and he did mention it.
Some states do have statutory penalties for clinics that report false information, but come on! How do you take a year’s worth of abortion data that exists only on paper and investigate it? The bodies of the children killed are gone. It’s not like they get social security numbers or anything. There is no way to know whether the statistics are accurate, or even what the error in reporting might actually be. You may as well pull numbers out of a bag.
What lesson can we learn? When the CDC reported the “lowest teen birth rates in U.S. history” all anyone needed to point out was that this number is meaningless unless we know how many abortions the clinics in the U.S. committed during the same year. The end. The onus is on the abortion providers to prove they are honest.
Now ask yourself, is there a reasonable expectation that people who profit from killing children in the womb are also trustworthy to tell us exactly how many they killed? Not to me. Instead of saying abstinence works because teen births are lower – a proposition that necessarily requires us to unreasonably trust abortion statistics – what we should say is that teen birth rates tell us nothing about the teen pregnancy social issue. Period. There never will be any such reliable data unless the clinics are willing to submit themselves to greater scrutiny and investigation so that outside sources can verify that they are telling the truth about how many abortions they do in one year, either medically or surgically. Remember, reporting is not even required by the CDC.
Maybe we should use these teen birth rate reports to urge for tighter regulations on abortion so we can actually understand the real problem better.
Look at it like this. If you car’s speedometer were broken and you could not know whether it really told you your actual speed, would you drive through a school zone staring at that untrustworthy speedometer to determine if you were driving a safe speed? Of course not! You would dismiss the instrument as unreliable, and instead watch what’s going on in the real world with your own eyes. Why? Because children’s lives are at stake, and it is absurd to rely on instruments that are meaningless.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Why We Should Not Use Abortion Statistics | Foundation Life | April 18, 2012
- A few good links | eChurch Blog | April 18, 2012
- Three Ways to Win Every Debate with an Atheist | eChurch Blog | May 28, 2012