You’ve probably heard that abortion is “safe,” or that abortion is one of the “safest procedures” today. These are common talking points touted by Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups in public.
It sounds good — who doesn’t like safety? — but is there sufficient evidence to back up such bold claims? The evidence we have suggests that there isn’t. “Safe” abortion, as it happens, killed half a dozen women in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Recently, CDC published its latest Abortion Surveillance Report on the status of abortion in the United States. Unfortunately, the latest data comes from 2015. But the report remains a good read because it confirms that abortion is poorly reported on, that the demand for abortion is decreasing, and that there is insufficient evidence to back abortion providers’ claims of abortion safety.
Besides the obvious shortcoming that its data is three years old, the report suffers from another major defect: It is a product of voluntary reporting. While most states do report information to the CDC, several do not, including California, the most populous state in the U.S. Of the states that do report, state reporting requirements vary widely, with many states suffering from lax enforcement or voluntary reporting requirements of their own. The voluntary and inconsistent nature of abortion reporting makes the CDC report incomplete at best, and skewed by selective reporting at worst.
It’s worth noting that when it comes to the most important data of all — “abortion mortality,” or the number of times an abortion procedure is fatal to the patient — the CDC itself seems unwilling to rely on the reported data. Instead, it researches third-party sources, such as state vital records, media reports, and reports from healthcare professionals and private organizations. According to these sources, “safe and legal” abortion took a mother’s life half a dozen times in 2014.
Although the CDC data is late and incomplete, it reveals a downward shift in demand for abortion over the last 25 years. The overall number of abortions, within reported areas, hit its lowest level since Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision creating a constitutional right to abortion. Since the last CDC report, covering the year 2014, there was a drop of 2 percent in the abortion rate nationwide, meaning that a total of nearly 15,000 more human beings were given a chance at life in 2015.
Accurate and complete data on abortion can be collected through comprehensive abortion reporting laws that provide appropriate safeguards for a woman’s privacy and require abortion providers to report relevant medical and social information relating to each abortion.
These laws would include the demographics of the woman who had an abortion, whether the abortion was chemical or surgical, how the abortion was paid for, and at what point of gestation the unborn human was aborted. They would also require reporting of complications related to the abortion procedure — information that is necessary, not only to provide women with accurate information for informed consent, but to ensure and improve the health and safety of women who choose abortion. This is consistent with other laws and regulations requiring medical practitioners to report all sorts of information relating to the outcomes of various health interventions.
Many states have passed laws requiring abortion reporting or enhancing existing reporting laws, including Idaho, Indiana, and Arizona just this year. Surprisingly, abortion providers meet these laws with stiff resistance, lobbying against them before they’re passed and filing lawsuits challenging them after they’re enacted. For example, Planned Parenthood sued to stop both Idaho’s and Indiana’s new reporting laws from going into effect. The outcome of these ongoing court cases will determine whether women in those states will have adequate and relevant information on the impact of abortion as they consider the procedure.
Lawsuits like these make one wonder what Planned Parenthood is trying to hide by avoiding reporting requirements. If abortion is so safe and complications are so rare, abortion practitioners should have nothing to fear from abortion safety reporting information to state and federal governments. In fact, they should laud the opportunity to back up their claims with real data.
Considering that information on abortion and its resulting complications is vastly underreported, and that abortion providers keep suing to block abortion reporting laws, pro-abortion advocates simply cannot credibly back up their claim of abortion safety, much less their claim that it is one of the safest procedures.
Rachel N. Busick is staff counsel at Americans United for Life.