by Wm. Robert Johnston
last modified 29 December 2005
(Note: an opinion piece summarizing these conclusions is available here.)
Shortly before the November 2004 U.S. presidential election, Glen Stassen published opinion pieces claiming that Bush administration policies had produced an increase in U.S. abortions since 2000. These claims garnered some media attention, despite the fact that other analysts soon identified flaws in the claims. I evaluate Stassen's claims here, for two reasons: they have been cited by leading politicians in public discussion, and Stassen cited data from my website in reference to his claims.
General conclusions are as follows:
Dr. Glen H. Stassen is a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. In October 2004 he published an article in Sojourners magazine describing his analysis of limited post-2000 state-level abortion data. He concluded, based on analysis of data from 16 states, that annual numbers of U.S. abortions began rising in 2001-2002 after two decades of a downward trend. Further, he claimed that this was the result of Bush administration social and economic policies, contrasting the stated administration objectives of reducing abortions.
Various observers (particularly those on the political right) quickly criticized Stassen's conclusions, many pointing out the unreliability of the approach used in his quantitative analysis. This included, notably, researchers at the National Right to Life Committee. Stassen released material defending his conclusions, in particular releasing the state-level data he used in his analysis. In later articles, Stassen has expanded discussion of his thesis connecting social/economic policies and abortion rates.
A number of individuals on the political left cited Stassen's articles in criticizing the Bush administration, both before and after the presidential election. For example, on 24 January 2005, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated Stassen's data in a critique of the Bush administration. The notion that abortions have increased has taken on a life of its own: on 22 May 2005, Howard Dean claimed that abortions had increased 25% under Bush--a completely erroneous claim, and not one made by Stassen.
In response to the debate produced by the claimed abortion increase, the Alan Guttmacher Institute released a preliminary analysis of data for 2001 and 2002, concluding that abortions had decreased each year from the year before. The CDC had previously released data for 2001, showing a decrease in abortions from 2000.
Stassen has discussed his analysis and/or thesis in multiple forums since Oct. 2004. They are listed below with codes I will use in referencing them.
[S1] 13 Oct. 2004, "Pro-Life? Look at the Fruits", SojoMail, and Oct. 2004, Sojourners, on line at Fuller Theological Seminary [http://www.fullerseminary.net/sot/faculty/stassen/Resource_files/Prolife4.htm].
[SK2] with Gary Krane, 17 Oct. 2004, "Why abortion rate is up in Bush years," Houston Chronicle, on line at FactCheck.org [http://www.factcheck.org/UploadedFiles/HoustonChronicle.com-Why-abortion-rate-is-up-in-Bush-years.pdf].
[S3] 22 Oct. 2004, untitled, on line at Between Two Worlds [http://theologica.blogspot.com/2004/10/prof-stassen-responds.html].
[S4] 27 Oct. 2004, "Sources and calculations for the increase in abortion rates in my prolife op/ed," on line at Fuller Theological Seminary [http://www.fullerseminary.net/sot/faculty/stassen/Resource_files/Vital%20Statistics%20At%20a%20Gla.htm].
[S5] 31 Jan. 2005, "Professor Glen Stassen Interview," Malkin(s)Watch, on line [http://malkin-watch.blogspot.com/2005/01/professor-glen-stassen-interview.html].
[S6] 22 Feb. 2005, "Supporting parents," Christian Century, on line at Find Articles [http://wwww.findarticles.com/].
[S7] 25 May 2005, untitled, on line at FactCheck.org [http://www.factcheck.org/UploadedFiles/Stassen-Response.pdf].
[S8] 15 June 2005, "Reaffirming My Op Ed Article that Prolife Needs to Pay Attention to Economic Justice," and 29 June 2005, "The pro-life movement and economic justice," Sojomail, on line at Fuller Theological Seminary [http://www.fullerseminary.net/sot/faculty/stassen/Resource_files/Agree%20on%20Abortions.pdf].
(Of the articles listed above, two cite my website: S4 on 27 Oct. 2004 and S8 on 15 June 2005.)
Review of Stassen's quantitative analysis regarding post-2000 abortion trends
In the United States, abortion statistics are not directly compiled at the national level. Individual states implement their own practices regarding data collection. These vary in terms of completeness, detail, and timeliness. Currently, four states do not collect such statistics, and several others do not publish them routinely. The Centers for Disease Control compiles data reported to it by those states that gather statistics; these reports are generally issued annually. This data is incomplete, since abortion providers are generally not compelled to complete reporting to their respective states. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research group advocating access to abortion, compiles its own statistics using surveys of abortion providers. These figures are generally acknowledged (by both supporters and opponents of abortion) as the most authoritative nationwide data. The AGI reports are published periodically, every 2-3 years in recent years. From 1988 to 1997, CDC figures averaged 11.3% lower than AGI figures. Since 1997, CDC figures are lower because data from 3-4 states are not available.
The latest AGI analysis covered the year 2000 and was published in early 2003. In November 2003 the CDC released its analysis for the year 2000. (CDC data for 2001 was released in November 2004, after Stassen's first articles.)
There are a number of problems with Stassen's approach; I will treat these in turn below.
|type of data|
|Alabama||11,852||10,648||-1,204||residents, in and out of state?|
|Arizona||8,226||10,397||+2,171||residents, in state|
|Colorado||4,463||7,757||9,852||+3,294||(residents, in state?)|
|Kentucky||3,502||3,621||+60||(residents, in state?)|
|South Dakota||759||685||-74||residents, in state|
|Washington||25,998||25,446||-552||residents, in and out of state|
The total increase in abortions from 2001 to 2002 from this data is 6,007. In S1 and S2, Stassen reported this increase as 7,869. In S3, his first response to the NRLC article, he acknowledged an error in reporting data for South Dakota and Wisconsin (apparently the amount of decrease for these states had been counted as an increase), and gave a corrected total increase of 6,849. In S4 he gave the data above and gave a total increase of 6,207--still incorrect, even based on this data. In S5 and S6, he again revised his total increase downward to 5,855. In S8, he reports the increase as "about 6,000." Stassen has revised his original total downward three times now.
Originally, Stassen claimed that abortions had increased in 12 states and decreased in 4 states from 2001 to 2002. After correcting his errors with South Dakota and Wisconsin, this became 10 states with increases and 6 states with decreases.
Importantly, Stassen does not consistently use the same type of data. For 10 states he uses data by state of occurrence (abortions performed in state, both to residents and nonresidents). For 4 states he uses data by state of residence--for 2 states abortions performed in state to residents only, and for 2 states abortions performed both in and out of state to residents only. For two states (Colorado and Kentucky), the data used by Stassen has not been published; this data may be by state of residence, but this is not known for certain.
In the United States, many women cross state lines to obtain abortions. According to CDC data for 2001, about 8.7% of U.S. abortions are obtained outside the state of residence. Residency of women obtaining abortions is not consistently reported, introducing issues with the use of residency-based data. Data by state of occurrence, however, can fluctuate more due to availability or restrictions on abortions in neighboring states.
Depending on whether data by state of occurrence or by state of residence is used, one can obtain a total net change for the Stassen sample anywhere from 5,155 to 7,595. If occurrence data is preferred, the net change is 6,357; if residence data is preferred, the net change is 7,168 (this assumes Stassen's figures for Colorado and Kentucky are by state of residence); if residence data including out of state abortions are preferred, the net change is 6,314. The table below gives the various available data for these 16 states.
|state||all occurrences||residents, in state||residents, in/out of state|
Most of Stassen's total net change is from Arizona and Colorado; these two states give a net change (from Stassen's choice of figures) of 5,465. In his data, these two states show increases from 2001 to 2002 of 26.4% and 73.8%. Arizona's figure for 2001 is also 29.5% below that of 1999 and Colorado's is 86.6% below that of 1997. Both states, then, exhibit very dramatic drops in official figures for a few years, then a return to previous values. The increase Stassen obtains results from comparing this temporary minimum in 2001 to subsequent more typical values.
Given the previously noted problems with completeness, someone familiar with this data should suspect underreporting in the 2001 figures. This is confirmed by the respective states, as noted in the first NRLC review. The Arizona Department of Health Services notes, of the 2002 increase, "It is unclear whether this increase in the number of reported abortions represents a true increase in the actual number of abortions performed, or, perhaps, a better response rate of providers of non-surgical (so called medical) terminations of pregnancy." The Colorado report is even more specific, noting that underreporting by abortion providers--in violation of regulatory requirements--was a problem in 2001, such that regarding the increase in 2002 "No one could or should conclude that this anticipated increase in the rate of reported terminations reflects an increase in the true rate."
Thus, most of the increase found by Stassen is the result of data from two states, data known to be flawed. Eliminating these two states changes Stassen's increase to only 390, about 5% of what he originally claimed.
In response, Stassen has claimed that he is taking a scientific approach by not rejecting any values, keeping to a uniform approach. While such an approach might be uniform, it is unscientific: incorporating flawed measurements in an analysis, particularly ones known to be flawed, can only produce unreliable results. Even without the reports from the states warning that the 2001-2002 increase is not real, the extraordinarily high sensitivity of Stassen's results to only two states undermines the ability to extrapolate such a small sample to the entire nation. This is also demonstrated below.
However, if one compares cumulative abortion trends in the 1990s for these 16 states to the U.S. as a whole, one finds that the sample is biased against a downward trend. Using AGI data for 1991, 1995, and 2000, below are the trends for the Stassen sample and for the entire U.S.:
|Stassen sample||-10.16 %||-0.95 %||-11.02 %|
|United States||-12.66 %||-3.41 %||-15.64 %|
If the data is annualized, to give average annual percentage decrease in each time period, these results are:
|Stassen sample||-2.64 %||-0.19 %||-1.29 %|
|United States||-3.33 %||-0.69 %||-1.87 %|
For the preceding decade, the rate of decline in abortions has been significantly greater in the entire U.S. than in the Stassen sample. This data, one simple indicator of the validity of Stassen's sample, was readily available by 2003.
|state||all occurrences||residents, in state||residents, in/out of state|
The total net change for these 10 states is a decrease of 2,292 if data by state of occurrence is preferred, or a decrease of 1,686 if data by state of residence is preferred. By failing to include these states for which data was available in 2004, Stassen introduced a bias in favor of increasing abortions.
If these 10 states are included with Stassen's sample, the total net change is an increase of 4,065 (preferring occurrence data) or 5,482 (preferring residence data). These figures are of course mostly influenced by the flawed Arizona and Colorado figures. Eliminating these two states, the total net change is a decrease of 1,400 abortions (preferring occurrence data) or an increase of 17 (preferring residence data). The sample available in 2004, excluding Arizona and Colorado, comprised 24 states of which 12 showed increases and 12 showed decreases.
In S4, Stassen indicates he scaled his derived total net change by a factor of 3.265 to obtain the estimated nationwide net change. This ratio appears to be the ratio of the last reported AGI total for the U.S. to the total of his state-reported data. Such scaling assumes no change in the level of abortion reporting from year to year.
In S4, Stassen states, "A Z-test of statistical significance of the sixteen states for the one year that I reported, representing about thirty million women of child-bearing age, suggests greater than 99.9999% confidence that they represent the fifty states." This is a serious misapplication of this statistical test. Stassen's results are not actual measurements involving 30 million women, they are limited sampling involving about 400,000 reported abortions. Further, what he is actually working with is a set of measurements known to be incomplete. The z-test method involves certain assumptions regarding the data, assumptions which may not be valid. As discussed above, data was available in 2003 which demonstrated that the Stassen sample does not represent the 50 states.
To illustrate, consider the reported percentage change for the original 16 states from 2001 to 2002 to be our measurements. In this case, there is a 42% probability of a decrease instead of an increase, and a 53% chance that Stassen has overestimated the change. (This is not claimed to be the appropriate statistical treatment, but merely an illustration of the radical difference between one possible approach and Stassen's incorrect approach.)
Finally, here are results of applying Stassen's method to currently available data. This is done to illustrate the high dependence of results on what states are included in the sample. Given first are derived changes in abortion numbers from 2000 to 2001:
|sample||total net change, 2001-2002|
|description||# of states||sample states||extrapolated for U.S.|
|all available now||48||-7,827||-9,584|
|only Stassen 16||16||-1,442||-3,834|
The data is mostly complete, including 47 states and the District of Columbia. State-level data for Alaska, California, and New Hampshire is not available. The prediction from the full sample compares well to the estimate from AGI, discussed in the next section, despite the lack of data from California (which accounted for 18% of U.S. abortions in 2000, according to AGI). Note that a prediction based only on Stassen's sample of 16 states significantly underestimates the decrease. This shows again that Stassen's sample is not representative of the U.S. as a whole.
Here are derived changes in abortion numbers from 2001 to 2002:
|sample||total net change, 2001-2002|
|description||# of states||sample states||extrapolated for U.S.|
|all available now||38||1,785||2,458|
|all available less AZ/CO/WY||35||-3,239||-4,622|
|Stassen 16 less AZ/CO||14||1,113||3,174|
|all available in 2004 (Stassen 16 +10)||26||4,368||8,949|
|all available in 2004 less AZ/CO||24||-1,131||-2,445|
Note that the results are dramatically affected by the inclusion of states with reporting problems: Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming (for Wyoming, only some out-of-state data is available for 2002). Also, the larger samples predict a smaller change than Stassen's sample.
The next table gives derived changes in abortion numbers from 2002 to 2003:
|sample||total net change, 2002-2003|
|description||# of states||sample states||extrapolated for U.S.|
|all available now||34||2,209||3,779|
|all available less CO||33||114||199|
|Stassen 5 less CO||4||272||4,644|
Here, there is a dramatic effect from the inclusion of Colorado, where data still implies reporting deficiencies. Also, the full sample available today gives a very different prediction than that made from Stassen's sample of five states.
The next table gives derived changes in abortion numbers from 2003 to 2004:
|sample||total net change, 2003-2004|
|description||# of states||sample states||extrapolated for U.S.|
|all available now||7||-5,366||-100,022|
|all available now less OR||6||-2,431||-59,740|
Oregon data for 2004 is incomplete; note that the results are significantly affected by inclusion of Oregon. If Stassen's method were valid, available data predicts a very large decrease in abortions in 2003-2004. The method, of course, is not reliable for such a small sample of states. Neither an increase or a decrease can be predicted based on the limited data currently available.
Subsequent AGI and CDC analyses
The month following Stassen's first articles, the CDC released its review of abortion incidence for 2001. CDC data for 2000 and 2001 does not include Alaska, California, and New Hampshire, which did not report data. For the remaining 47 states plus the District of Columbia, the CDC reported 857,475 abortions in 2000 and 853,485 in 2001, a decrease of 3,990 abortions or 0.5%. If the same rate of decline is applied to AGI's more complete estimate of abortions in 2000 of 1,313,000, the decrease would be 6,100 abortions.
In S4, Stassen reports applying his analysis to 10 states for which he had data "handy" for 2000 and 2001, and obtained an increase of 4,067 abortions in 2001. Based on CDC results, Stassen's method does not give the correct trend for 2000-2001.
On 18 May 2005, the Alan Guttmacher Institute released an analysis by Lawrence Finer and Stanley Henshaw estimating U.S. abortion incidence in 2001 and 2002. The results were preliminary projections based on available state-reported data, since the periodic AGI provider survey had not been completed. The AGI press release indicated that these preliminary results were being provided to address the debate over whether abortions had increased since 2000.
AGI concluded that abortions dropped from 1,313,000 in 2000 to 1,303,000 in 2001, and again to 1,293,000 in 2002, a decrease of 10,000 each year. In their report, they noted that reporting in Arizona, Maryland, Nevada, and the District of Columbia is very incomplete or inconsistent. As a check, they applied the method to data from 1996 to 1997 and obtained a 1.0% error, but noted that abortions were declining at a greater rate then so "Therefore, it is likely that our current projections will have a smaller margin of error." They report average annual declines of 3.4% per year from 1992 to 1996, of 1.2% per year from 1996 to 2000, and of 0.9% per year from 2000 to 2002, "suggesting that the last two years reflect a continuation of the trend of the late 1990s, albeit at a slightly slower rate of decline."
The associated AGI press release implies that the analysis was conducted in response to the debate caused by Stassen's claims: "Yet demands for more recent data, resulting in part from media reports, opinion pieces and public speeches speculating that abortion has increased as a result of Bush administration policies, have prompted the Institute to analyze available government data as an interim measure until another provider census can be conducted." But the AGI disputes not only Stassen's quantitative conclusions, but his suggested relation between abortion rates and administration policy. Sharon Camp, AGI president and CEO, said "It takes time for political decisions to be reflected in the statistical data, so it is too soon to tell what the impact of Bush administration policies will be on U.S. abortion rates."
Stassen responded to the AGI results in S7. Stassen cites their 1% margin of error for 1996-1997 estimates and says "So the decline of 0.9% [from 2001 to 2002] is within the margin of error." He does not acknowledge that his claimed 1.5% increase is well outside this margin of error, nor that the authors believed the margin of error for 2000-2002 would be less than 1.0%.
Regarding AGI's reported decrease in the abortion rate, Stassen says the 1% margin of error is "larger than their estimated change in abortion ratios for 2002 of 0.3." But this change in abortion ratio is a decrease of 1.2% from 2001. He interprets the AGI-reported decreases as a "stall" particular to the Bush administration, even though AGI notes that this low rate of decrease is little changed since the late 1990s.
Stassen's thesis regarding socio/economic policy and abortion
Stassen's broader thesis is that government social and economic policies are driving forces in the rate of abortions. He makes over a dozen specific claims of casual relations between various socio/economic measures and abortion rates. In most cases the data argue against his stated or implied relationship. Only in a few cases does he provide data; in many of these cases, the data is not accurately described. This section will review the various claims.
In S1, Stassen says abortion rates declined 17.4% in the 1990s "mostly during the latter part of the decade." The actual decline, from AGI figures, was 22.3% from 1990 to 2000 and was mostly in the first half of the decade--17.9% from 1990 to 1995 and only 5.3% from 1995 to 2000. In SK2, he calls the decline "steady" through the decade, also incorrect.
In S3, he states "Had the average annual decrease in the years prior to Bush continued, we would have instead expected a decrease of 28,000 fewer abortions." The most recent year in which there was a decrease in abortions as high as this was 1995, when AGI estimates a decrease of 64,000 abortions over the previous year. From AGI figures, the average annual decrease in abortion incidence was 49,900 from 1991 to 1995 and 9,300 from 1996 to 2000. The AGI estimated decreases in 2001 and 2002 are 10,000 each year, about the same as in the second half of the 1990s.
In S5, Stassen cites CDC data to claim that the abortion rate was flat during the Bush administration from 1989 to 1992, then dropped during the Clinton administration. Stassen notably does not use the same AGI figures he cited previously in the same article; the AGI figures are more complete and give a slightly different story. The AGI-reported abortion rate dropped an average 1.4% per year during the Bush administration (from 26.8 in 1989 to 25.7 in 1992), dropped an average 3.6% per year during Clinton's first term (from 25.0 in 1993 to 22.4 in 1996), then dropped an average 1.3% per year during Clinton's second term (from 22.4 in 1996 to 21.3 in 2000).
Even after confronted with the AGI/CDC conclusions that abortions continued to decline after 2000, Stassen continues to contrast this "stall" with the "dramatic" decrease in abortions in the 1990s. However, the fact is that the decrease was mostly in the first half of the 1990s, and the post-2000 rate of decrease is quite similar to the rate of decrease in the second half of the 1990s. This is shown in the graph below, of annual percentage changes in abortion rates and abortion incidence (from AGI figures).
In fact, female unemployment rose from 6.0% in 1973 to 9.3% in 1975, fell to 6.8% in 1979, then rose again to 7.4% in 1980. It then rose again to 9.4% in 1982, fell to 5.4% by 1989, then rose to 7.0% by 1992. While it did drop to 4.1% during the Clinton administration, it did not reach 6% under Bush (at least in regard to annual averages): female unemployment was 4.7% in 2001, 5.6% in 2002, 5.7% in 2003, and 5.4% in 2004.
The graph below shows abortion rates and marriage rates:
Marriages have been declining consistently over time; during most (but not all) of this period, abortions have declined as well. Unemployment, in contrast, has risen and fallen repeatedly in this period. In addition, state-to-state data show no correlation between marriage rates and abortion rates.
According to the CDC, infant mortality did indeed rise from 6.8 infant deaths per 1000 live births in 2001 to 7.0 per 1000 in 2002. However, the downward trend since 1940 is not unbroken: in 1958, infant mortality briefly rose. The CDC report indicates that analysis of factors for this increase is pending, but does indicate that the rise is "concentrated in the neonatal period (less than 28 days), particularly the first week of life." (p. 12). Percentage of preterm births and low birthweight births also rose. They report no change in late fetal death rates, no change in the sum of late fetal death rates and early neonatal deaths, and no change in postneonatal death rates.
He states in S1 and SK2 that unemployment rates "increased half again" in the last three years. In reality the unemployment rate rose from 4.1% in 2000 to 5.7% in 2003 (a 39% increase), then fell to 5.4% in 2004. Data thus far for 2005 indicate a continuing decline.
Another statement made in S1 and SK2 is "Not since Hoover had there been a net loss of jobs during a presidency until the current administration." This was a specific claim by the Kerry campaign, but is at best misleading. The number of employed people rose in President G. W. Bush's first term, and had shown a net increase at the time of Stassen's claim.
A simple statistical test for correlation between two variables is the correlation coefficient. If one variable is proportional to the other (and likewise increase), the CC value is 1. If the relation is linear but one decreases as the other increases, the CC value is -1 (this is anti-correlation). CC values near 0 indicate no correlation.
This test can be applied to state-level data to test for correlation between abortion rates and the assorted variables Stassen claims are correlated to abortion rates. These results are given below:
|CC between abortion rate and:||AGI, 2000, occurrence data||CDC, 2001, occurrence data||CDC, 2001, residence data||remarks|
|murder rate (per 1000 pop.)||0.64||0.44||0.3||some correlation|
|unemployment rate (civilian, %)||0.23||0.25||0.3||slight correlation|
|male unemployment rate (civilian, %)||0.19||0.24||0.32||slight correlation|
|female unemployment rate (civilian, %)||0.23||0.22||0.24||slight correlation|
|marriage rate (per 1000 pop.), excluding NV||-0.32||-0.14||-0.17||slight correlation|
|fraction of pop. in poverty (%)||0.04||-0.01||-0.06||no correlation|
|fraction of pop. without health insurance (%)||0.07||-0.04||-0.02||no correlation|
|marriage rate (per 1000 pop.)||0.1||0.14||0.18||slight correlation with more marriages|
|public education spending ($ per student)||0.59||0.54||0.59||some correlation with high spending|
|disposable per capita income ($)||0.65||0.58||0.6||some correlation with high income|
Stassen claims a correlation between homicide rates and abortion rates; there is some correlation, less for data by state of residence than by state of occurrence. There is slight correlation between unemployment rates and abortion rates. For the other variables examined, the relations Stassen claims either do not exist at all or are the opposite of what he claims. There is no correlation of abortion rates to fractions of the population either in poverty or lacking health insurance. Higher abortion rates are somewhat correlated with higher education spending or higher disposable per capita income--the opposite of what Stassen claims. This data was available to Stassen.
Regarding Stassen's claim of correlation between state education spending and unemployment, the CC value is 0.03, indicating no correlation. For his claim of correlation between male unemployment and marriages, the CC value is 0.08, indicating no correlation (the slight positive value indicates rising marriages with rising unemployment).
Stassen's statements regarding his pro-life position
In S1 and S2, Stassen describes himself as "consistently pro-life." O'Bannon and Hussey, in the first NRLC article, pointed out that Stassen signed "A Call to Concern" in 1977, a document they said "expressed support for the Roe v. Wade decision and affirmed that 'abortion in some instances may be the most loving act possible.'" Stassen responded strongly in R3: "I did not sign a statement in 1977 supporting Roe V Wade; along with very large numbers of Christian ethicists, I signed a statement supporting academic freedom for Christian ethicists and moral theologians who take varieties of positions on these issues, and who were under pressure in some schools. I do not appreciate the personal attack."
The full text of "A Call to Concern" was posted by J. Taylor at Between Two Worlds. There is no reference to academic freedom in the document (although the final statement is "In the long run, the true test of ecumenical authenticity is the ability to sustain dialogue and friendship in spit of very sharp disagreements on matters of substance."). It does state "We support the Supreme Court decisions of 1973 which had the effect of removing abortion from the criminal law codes." While it does state that abortion "cannot be blandly legitimized," the focus of the document, including its five points, is to criticize the pro-life position. The statement, signed by Stassen, quite clearly supports the Roe v. Wade decision.
In several articles (S1, SK2, S3, S5, and S6), Stassen gives a personal family story. As relayed in S1, "For my family, 'pro-life' is personal. My wife caught rubella in the eighth week of her pregnancy. We decided not to terminate, to love and raise our baby. David is legally blind and severely handicapped; he also is a blessing to us and to the world." This is commendable and is a testimony to the value of human life.
It may be noted that the context of this decision was quite different than that today. In S6 he indicates that his son was born in 1967. In 1967, abortion laws had been liberalized in only three states: Colorado, North Carolina, and California. Callahan reports that a 1967 survey found the fraction of hospitals permitting abortion in cases of maternal rubella were 79% among non-Catholic private hospitals and 66% among public hospitals. Clearly, there was not the prevalence of support for abortion in such as case then as today. This is not to say that the Stassens would have made any other decision; their decision was from personal conviction (S3). This is only to note that the context of this decision is different than what a reader of S1 or SK2 might conclude.
Stassen's quantitative analysis gave an increase, rather than the decrease found by the AGI and CDC in far more complete and robust analyses. That his approach was unreliable results from incomplete data collection, errors in data entry, use of a sample that is both small and biased, and incorrect statistical treatment. Many of these issues were pointed out immediately, but Stassen has responded by affirming his approach and minimizing the significance of the AGI and CDC findings.
His broader thesis, however, is even more flawed. The minimal data that Stassen offers to support his linkage of government socio-economic policies and abortion rates are often misrepresented. The data in general refute his claimed correlations. More importantly, correlation does not prove causality: it is insufficient scientifically to merely demonstrate a correlation. Prove of a cause and effect relation requires demonstrating the mechanism. An important step here is use of controlled studies. A major flaw in Stassen's thesis is that he ignores the multitude of other factors that influence abortion rates. Scholarly studies would control for such factors by analyzing multiple subsets. Stassen has made no reference to controlled studies.
Stassen's claims not only lacked peer review, they were offered in what he describes as an opinion piece. For these claims to garner nationwide credibility among both the news media and politicians is quite telling. Importantly, no academics experienced with abortion statistics rose up to offer scientific analyses in his support. When such analyses did arrive, from the CDC and AGI, they weighed against Stassen's conclusions.
How Stassen could be so off the mark is suggested by a statement in S3: "The data I analyzed are simply a supplement to what anyone who assists pregnant women should know intuitively." It appears, particularly in light of Stassen's reaction to his critics, that his conclusions were predetermined. Some of his statements suggest a greater concern with a particular outcome rather than with a factual outcome. In S8 he attacks his critics for disputing his results: "Had my estimate... turned out to be right, it would have put significant pressure on the Bush administration... You would expect consistently pro-life advocates like me to hope I was right, and the increase the incentive and the pressure to reduce abortions... It raises the question whether their real loyalty is pro-life, or whether their priority is partisan politics." Observers, both expert and non-expert, do and will continue to disagree on the appropriate policies to reduce abortions. Such disagreements should not cloud the analysis of relevant data.
© 2005 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 29 December 2005.
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