Last month, something remarkable happened. The New York Times published a pro-life op-ed by Chuck Donovan, my colleague at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Its subject was a new study he co-authored with Nora Sullivan about federal and state reporting laws on abortion. The study analyzed abortion-reporting data for all 50 states. Not surprisingly, it found considerable variance in how states report abortion data. Some provide data online, others offer data only upon request, and a few do not report any data at all. The level of detail also varies considerably. Many, but not all states, provide aggregate data on the age of the woman, the gestational age of the unborn child, and the type of abortion method used. Relatively few states report on complications during the abortion, maternal mortality, or follow-up care.
The report also details the history of federal abortion-reporting requirements. As many pro-lifers know, federal reporting laws on abortion are weak. Neither New Hampshire nor California has reported abortion data to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) since 1997. Maryland has not reported abortion data to the CDC since 2006. Furthermore, while some states provide detailed data to the CDC about the demographics of the women who obtain abortions, other states report little besides the total number of abortions performed. Additionally, the CDC is slow to release abortion data. The most recent year for which the CDC has released such data is 2009. In contrast, the CDC has already released 2011 data on infant mortality and 2010 data on children’s dental visits.
In fairness, pro-lifers have not generally made better federal abortion-reporting standards a high legislative priority. Better reporting standards do not provide any tangible protection for unborn children. They neither put our opponents on the defensive nor educate the public about the humanity of the unborn child the way other types of incremental pro-life laws do. Still, the Lozier Institute report points out that some states have taken the lead. For instance, Minnesota and Arizona both require prompt reporting and make monthly data available to both researchers and the general public.
Better abortion-reporting standards should interest all parties in the abortion debate. Improved data on the incidence of abortion could reveal insights about the impact of various pro-life laws, contraception programs, and sex-education classes. It could also provide better evidence about the health effects of legal abortion. That having been said, it does not appear that supporters of legal abortion will be running to the barricades to join us. Anna North of BuzzFeed states that many supporters of legal abortion oppose stricter reporting requirements. She rejects Donovan’s premise that both sides wish to lower the abortion rate, quoting late-term Dallas abortion provider Curtis Boyd who says, “The number of abortions needed are the number that women want.” Perhaps, unsurprisingly, pro-lifers may be fighting this battle alone.
— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New