When self-styled Defender of Life Bill Clinton was in the White House, he told us he wanted to make abortion "safe, legal, and rare." As we know, abortions of every kind, including the barbarically gruesome partial birth variety, remained legal throughout his eight years, and they were 100 percent unsafe for the unborn being aborted. As for rare ? Well, the best that can be said is that the small but statistically significant decline in the number of abortion that began during Reagan's term continued during Clinton's, no thanks to him.
But recently, Bill's senator spouse Hillary has alleged that the U.S. abortion rate has been rising during George W.'s time in office. She is joined in her accusations by, among others, John Kerry and Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean - all trying to make the case that draconian social and fiscal policies under Republican leadership are driving more poor women to resort to abortion. Under this interpretation of current events, Democrats like Hillary qualify (in their own minds, at least) as both pro-choice and "pro-life." This is because they favor the kind of spending that, they argue, would allow women in straitened circumstances to have their babies if they so chose. All this is part of the Democratic makeover that is supposed to lure significant voters in the middle come election time.
The problem is, the statistics they quote don't withstand scrutiny. Their source is an article by Glen Harold Stassen, an ethics professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary, published in the Oct. 2004 web and e-mail publication Sojourners. Stassen extrapolates from 16 states, four of which, he says, have issued statistics on abortion rates during the first three years of the Bush II era, and 12 of which have statistics from the first two years, 2001 and 2002. He finds decreases in rates of abortion (averaging 4.3 percent) in five states and increases (averaging 14.6 percent) in eight of them. He provided no data for the other 34, and there is no reason to think those he was looking at were somehow representative.
Stassen's article drew the surprised attention not only of pro-lifers, but of the venerable Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit (and left-leaning) organization named for a former Planned Parenthood president and describing its mission as protecting the reproductive rights of women. Guttmacher has been tracking national abortion statistics sine the 1970s, and their stats are relied upon by politicians and activists of all stripes. A reversal of the kind Stassen described struck them as unlikely, to say the least.
So the Guttmacher Institute undertook its own comprehensive survey of abortion providers, to update the one prepared for 2000, right before George W.'s first term. In findings released on May, 19, 2005, Guttmacher explained, first, that many of the small sample of states Stassen was using for his extrapolation historically rack up higher abortion rates than the rest of the country, and record sharper changes when rates rise. Second, two of the states Stassen pointed to for steep increases in abortion rates, Colorado and Arizona, had recently changed their reporting technique to compensate for past underreporting of abortions. Comparing the rates before and after these states changed their reporting procedures would be like comparing apples and oranges - you would have to know what both sets of numbers meant.
So what kind of numbers did the Guttmacher folks come up with? After analyzing data from 43 states, they found a decrease in the total number of abortions in the U.S. of 0.8 percent in 2001 and 0.8 percent in 2002. The rate of abortions - which differs from the total number in that it relates the number of women having abortions to the total population - decreased by a smaller but still significant one percent in 2001 and 0.9 precent in 2002. That still adds up to over a million too many abortions performed in the U.S. yearly, but Guttmacher's statistics should - if widely aired - contradict the line that George W. has somehow been a boon to the abortion industry.
But that's a big "if." St. Philip Neri once told a woman who had spread slanderous gossip that her penance was to rip open a pillow, let the feathers fly in the open air, and then gather up each one. Undoing the harm caused by spreading untrue or unsubstantiated stories, he told her, was just as difficult. The Alan Guttmacher Institute has done its part; now it's time for the Democratic leadership to engage in some truth-telling.
Madame X works in Washington DC for the federal government. Because of her employer, she must write under a pseudonym.