Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Scoreboard is Scoreboard

Memorial of St. John Neumann

Origins Part IV:

In the same reply as the “actions and words” comment was the question, “other than sign legislation banning partial-birth abortions, what had w done?” For what it’s worth, let me give the direct answer right away so that it’s not hanging over our heads, while also limiting the context of discussion to just the abortion issue. Keep in mind my point is to use the comment as a starting point for developing toward something else, so my ultimate point isn’t really going to be about abortion.

George W. Bush and his Administration have:

Action - Signed the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act into law, as mentioned.

Action - Reinstated the Mexico City Policy that prevents federal tax dollars from being given to agencies that promote abortion as a method of family planning in other countries.

Action - Signed the Born-alive Infants Protection Act into law, which guarantees that every infant born alive enjoys full legal rights under federal law, including those that survive an abortion.

Action - Opposed in the UN efforts to establish an international “right” to abortion.

Action - Denied funding to the United Nations Population Fund based on its support of China’s coercive abortion policies.

Action - Nominated, or appointed, pro-lifers to crucial positions in the executive
branch, including the Attorney General.

Action - Nominated pro-lifers to the Appeals Court, including Priscilla Owen, William Pryor, Charles Pickering, Carolyn Kuhl, Janice Rogers Brown, and Miguel Estrada.

Action - Lobbied in favor of a US ban on the cloning of human embryos (including a “clone and kill” provision), the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (later named for Laci Peterson), and the Child Custody Act (making it a federal crime to take a minor across state lines to avoid a state parental notification law).

Action - Lobbied against amendments and provisions overturning the Mexico City Policy, allowing federal employees’ health insurance plans to cover abortion, allowing abortions within the federal prison system, and repealing the law prohibiting military personnel and their dependents from obtaining privately funded abortions at military hospitals overseas.

That seems like quite a few actions, and it’s an incomplete list. But what of them?

Now, the impetus for the question appears to be consistent with that of some recent authors who paradoxically assert that pro-lifers would better be able to advance their goals of reducing the number of abortions by supporting politicians, particularly presidential candidates, who support abortion rights. One can recall that President Clinton once claimed he desired that abortion be legal, safe, and rare. The implicit assertion, of course, is that if abortion were to be made illegal, or restricted, it would then be unsafe and un-rare.

The argument can be summarized:

By Mark W. Roche, dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame, “During the eight years of the Reagan presidency, the number of legal abortions increased by more than 5 percent; during the eight years of the Clinton presidency, the number dropped by 36 percent. The overall abortion rate (calculated as the number of abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44) was more or less stable during the Reagan years, but during the Clinton presidency it dropped by 11 percent.”
And by Glen Harold Stassen, Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary and allegedly trained in statistics, “When President Bush took office, the nation’s abortion rates were at a 24-year low, after a 17.4% decline during the 1990s… Under President Bush, the decade-long trend of declining abortion rates appears to have reversed. Given the trends of the 1990s, 52,000 more abortions occurred in… 2002 than would have been expected before this change of direction. How could this be…? First, two-thirds of women who abort say they cannot afford a child… Second, half of all women who abort say they do not have a reliable mate… Third, women worry about health care for themselves and their children.”

OK, now I am first going to respond as someone who majored in mathematics with an emphasis in statistics, received an engineering degree from an elite institution that emphasizes understanding statistical effects as part of its training, completed the equivalent of 1-2 years of post-graduate training in statistics, and practiced the use of statistical methods for nearly 20 years in industry.

Messrs. Roche and Stassen have employed what is known in industrial parlance as “Time Magazine statistics,” not unlike the folk who say things like “Today’s high temperature of 78 degrees shattered the old record high of 77 degrees.” Their statements of data analysis are true, as far as they go, based on the source data from the Alan Guttmacher Institute (an affiliate/partner/whatever of Planned Parenthood) and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). The abortion numbers do change as they describe, and the reasons given by women for aborting do reflect the polling data. However, they are guilty of selective data mining and confusing correlation with causation; sins that, if un-repented, eventually would have bounced them from every undergraduate probability and statistics course that I took. More specifically, they have, I suspect, intentionally ignored data, empirical and analytical, that would make their conclusion appear less sensational, or at least not support their established positions nearly as well.

Looking at the last 30 years of legalized abortion, one feature of the yearly abortion counts is that they are remarkably consistent around the average of 1.4 million. In fact, the only years that are either abnormally high, or low, with respect to the mean number of abortions, are the first two years (statistically low). That said, there are four distinctive patterns that do exist (a.k.a. trends) in the number of abortions reported by year.

Trends in number of abortions per year:

1973 - 1980: steadily increasing (0.9 - 1.6 million)
1980 - 1990: essentially flat (about 1.6 million)
1990 - 1998: steadily decreasing (1.6 million - 1.3 million)
1998 - present: essentially flat (about 1.3 million)

Taking population size into account by looking at the yearly abortion rate per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 from 1973 to 2000 (last year data available) still tells a similar story.

Trends in yearly abortion rates:

1973 - 1980: steadily increasing (16 up to 29)
1980 - 1990: slightly decreasing (29 down to 27)
1990 - 1995: steadily decreasing (27 down to 23)
1995 - 2000: slightly decreasing (23 down to 21)

What we can conclude so far is:

  • In general, there has been little change in abortions per year since about 1976.
  • There have been four trends that exist within this larger context.
  • The abortion trends do not synchronize with changes in the presidency.
  • The abortion trend of Bush’s first term continues that of Clinton’s second term.

So, doesn’t this support an assertion that Bush hasn’t really delivered anything and those interested in a Culture of Life should focus on other issues? What about why women have abortions? Both good questions, which we’ll consider next time.

Next up: The Engine of History

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing articles with us.



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