There's No Way to Know How Many Abortions Happen Each Year


We often hear statistics about abortion, but do you ever wonder where the numbers come from and how accurate they are? In a piece for Slate, L.V. Anderson asks: How do researchers count abortions?

The answer is complicated. In China, for instance, the “number” that’s making news? 336 million. Official data from the government states that there have been 336 million abortions in China since 1971.

But as Anderson points out:

China’s abortion data has vacillated from year to year, which indicates that the country’s official data may not be reliable. Health care providers and regional governments may have incentives to overreport or underreport abortions. Since prefectures must demonstrate their adherence to China’s one-child policy, they may overreport abortion numbers. Unmarried women may be underrepresented in China’s official numbers. Private-sector abortions, which are illegal but on the rise, are absent from governmental tallies.

In the US, the CDC collects data from state health agencies, but: State agencies aren’t required to report abortion numbers to the CDC.

The CDC encourages agencies to ask abortion providers for the woman’s age, gestational stage, race, ethnicity, abortion type, the woman’s marital status, and the woman’s previous abortions and births, but not every state collects all this information, and some states (California, Delaware, Maryland, and New Hampshire) don’t report abortions to the CDC at all.

The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization interested in advancing sexual and reproductive health worldwide, does its own legwork, asking for data, sending out surveys and making phone calls.

But as you can imagine, in places where abortion is illegal, it’s nearly impossible to get numbers. Anderson writes, “One common method of counting illegal abortions is to examine hospital reports of women admitted due to complications following an illegal abortion and supplement that data by surveying local reproductive health experts for their estimates of the number of illegal abortions performed.” How sad is that?

How Are Abortions Counted? [Slate]

Image via Allies Interactive/Shutterstock.

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