New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof responded via e-mail to this post criticizing his claim that the number of abortions has “increased significantly” since President Bush took office. He writes:
thanks belatedly for your note about hillary and abortions. i was in zimbabwe, skulking around and pretending to be a tourist, and didn’t have web access. but now i did have a chance to look at your web link, and i’m afraid i disagree.
you’re right that it was stassen’s work that originally pointed me to this issue and that the data cover only 16 states. but stassen has considerable credibility, since he is himself pro-life and trained in statistics, and others in the repro health field have found his work sensible. moreover, while the data are incomplete, the states represented include a range of different geographic areas and seem representative. and among those 16 states, the trend was very clear. Stassen calculates that there are 50,000 more abortions a year than if the previous trend had continued.
sorry for the delay….
allbest, nick kristof
Let’s take a look at Kristof’s claims:
“stassen has considerable credibility, since he is himself pro-life and trained in statistics…” Stassen’s position on abortion, whatever it is, has no bearing on the quality of his statistical analysis. He is a professor of Christian Ethics, not statistics.
“and others in the repro health field have found his work sensible.” Who finds his work sensible? Pro-choice activists? Critics of the Bush Administration? His work has not been published in any peer-reviewed journal.
“moreover, while the data are incomplete, the states represented include a range of different geographic areas and seem representative. and among those 16 states, the trend was very clear.”
I’ll grant for the sake of argument that the 16 states were reasonably representative. I will not grant, however, that the trend was “very clear.”
Stassen originally said that abortions increased in 11 of the 16 states he examined. He conceded that abortions decreased in 5 of the 16 states.
Five other states that Stassen cited showed only small increases in the number of abortions: Pennsylvania (+1.9%), Illinois (+0.9%), Missouri (+2.5%), South Dakota (+2.1%), and Wisconsin (+0.6%).
Of those five states, three did not experience actual increases:
– In Illinois, the number of abortions increased from 46,546 in 2001 to 46,945 in 2002–that’s the 0.9% increase Stassen referred to–but more recent figures show a large decrease for 2003, down to 42,228.
– In Wisconsin, Stassen said abortions increased by 0.6% from 2001 to 2002, but state figures show a small decline. Stassen has admitted he made an error.
– In South Dakota, Stassen reported a 2.1% increase, but state figures show a decline of 9.7%. Stassen has admitted the error.
As the National Right to Life (my source for the data cited in this post) notes, “When one shifts Wisconsin and South Dakota to the decrease column, and adds in Illinois after its dramatic 2003 drop in abortions, Stassen’s claim that abortions have increased in 11 out of 16 states now turns into a 8 to 8 tie, with as many states decreasing as increasing. Hardly anything definitive.”
Among the eight states that experienced increased abortions, the National Right to Life makes a strong case that there were at least two states in which the increase appears to be an artifact of improved reporting techniques:
– In Arizona, where Stassen reports a 26.4% increase, state officials said, “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.”
– Colorado, where Stassen reported a mind-boggling 67.4% increase, recently revamped its reporting to reduce underreporting. State officials expected an increase in the number of reported abortions, and cautioned that “No one could or should conclude that this anticipated increase in the rate of reported terminations reflects an increase in the true rate.”
As the National Right to Life notes,
Stassen doesn’t report these caveats. But if state officials are reluctant to say their data indicates real increases, they don’t belong on Stassen’s list of states with more abortions. That would leave just 6 increasing versus 8 decreasing states, the opposite of what Stassen claims.
Bottom line: Kristof’s defense of his statement that abortions have “increased significantly” under Bush is completely unpersuasive. The “very clear” trend he says Stassen found simply does not exist.
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