Chronicle editorial pages: facts not required?

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Recently the Chronicle published an opinion column purporting to show that during President Bush’s time in office, abortions have increased, perhaps even soared. This, the author speculated, is attributable to Bush’s economic policies that make it harder for women to keep their babies.

Enter George W. Bush in 2001. One would expect the abortion rate to continue its consistent course downward, if not plunge. Instead, the opposite happened.


Under 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 the United States in 2002 than would have been expected before this change of direction.

For anyone familiar with why most women have abortions, this is no surprise:

Two-thirds of women who have abortions cite “inability to afford a child” as their primary reason (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life). In the Bush presidency, unemployment rates increased half again. Not since Herbert Hoover had there been a net loss of jobs during a presidency until the current administration. Average real incomes decreased, and for seven years the minimum wage has not been raised to match inflation. With less income, many prospective mothers fear another mouth to feed.

Half of all women who abort say they do not have a reliable mate. And men who are jobless usually do not marry. In the 16 states, there were 16,392 fewer marriages than the year before, and 7,869 more abortions. As male unemployment increases, marriages fall and abortion rises.

Women worry about health care for themselves and their children. Since 5.2 million more people have no health insurance now than before this presidency — with women of childbearing age overrepresented in those 5.2 million — abortion increases.

It didn’t take long, a couple of days really, for the piece to be questioned and debunked. It is the latest good example of someone reaching a conclusion first and then making data fit the conclusion, no matter what.

Like we have said before, many of us read a piece like this and our internal warning radar goes off. Better find out what is behind this flurry of incontrovertible facts and data. The first clue that something might be amiss is Stassen’s claim that “not since Herbert Hoover had there been a net loss of jobs during a presidency until the current administration.” Yeah, we’ve heard that before and it’s still wrong.

So, with warning radar going off, enter Orrin Judd and the National Right to Life Committee for some fact-checking. Here’s Orrin Judd:

The authors pull an interesting stunt here, using one set of stats for the decline and then their own anecdotal evidence for the rise. Even better–they count 2000 and even 1999 as years of the Bush presidency.

I had little luck finding whatever new numbers they’re using, but here are some that would seem to suggest they’re just making it up:

Here are some numbers (not Guttmacher’s, which in turn come from the Feds) for Michigan, which has had a slight rise, but it began in 2000, not 2001, and remains extraordinarily low even for the U.S.

If Colorado has truly increased 111% it went from having a rather average abortion rate (for the U.S.) to one that approaches the District of Columbia’s–hardly likely.

Pennsylvania’s has actually dropped, Abortions Drop in Pennsylvania (PA Pro Life)

Abortions declined in Pennsylvania in 2002, thanks to a decrease in abortion facilities and the success of a state-funded program designed to provide alternatives to abortion.

According to figures released by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, abortions declined 4.5 percent in 2002 in comparison to the totals for the year before. In all, some 35,167 abortions were performed in Pennsylvania in 2002–the second-lowest annual number ever recorded. The 2002 figure represented 1,653 fewer abortions than in 2001.

And here’s Randall K. O’Bannon and Laura Hussey, of the National Right to Life Committee taking a closer look at Stassen’s “facts”:

Stassen looks at national figures showing the annual number of abortions dropping from about 1.6 million in 1990 to just over 1.3 million in 2000 to argue that there was a steady decline of 1.7% a year before Bush took office. There was a 17.4% decline over the decade, but Stassen’s claim is misleading. The decline was strongest in the first half of the decade, which began with George H.W. Bush in office, but slowed during Bill Clinton’s term, and even reversed itself one year. In Clinton’s last year in office, the decline was not 1.7%, but just 0.1%.

There have been no national figures published beyond 2000. Setting aside for the moment the question of whether the sixteen states Stassen uses to support his claim of a reversed national trend are representative of the country as a whole, Stassen’s case falls apart when one attempts to confirm the data he has reported.

Stassen lists South Dakota and Wisconsin as two places where abortions increased from 2001 to 2002. Figures from those state health departments show abortions decreased in both states during that time frame.

I have to stop here and point out a huge Chronicle weakness. For some reason the editors think that facts do not need to be checked or verified on the editorial pages. Why? Why shouldn’t readers expect that editorials and opinion columns have some basis in truth? If the editors are going to pick up any old column from who knows where, they would be well-advised to do some rudimentary fact-checking. Or, the editors should put a banner across the editorial pages: Fact-free Zone.

Back to the NRLC critique:

Stassen’s thesis [contention is probably a better word] that abortion increases can be linked to job losses and other economic factors doesn’t even hold up to his own data.

While some states where Stassen said abortions increased also saw increases in their unemployment rates over those same years, there are also plenty of counter-examples. Illinois’s abortions dropped substantially between 2002 and 2003, in spite of its unemployment rate being stuck at 6.7%, among the worst in the nation. Ohio’s unemployment rate rose considerably relative to most other states, but abortions there declined. If the economic determinism Stassen assumes was valid, those state results would be reversed.


Stassen presents himself as someone sympathetic to the pro-life cause who was shocked and saddened to find out that our pro-life president’s policies were not having the pro-life effects he anticipated. That persona is misleading.

Though he identifies himself as “consistently pro-life,” Stassen fails to mention that he was one of the original signatories of “A Call to Concern,” a 1977 document that expressed support for the Roe v. Wade decision and affirmed that “abortion in some instances may be the most loving act possible.”

blogHOUSTON sincerely wishes the Chronicle would find some opinion columns from more reputable places, like for example, instead of running columns that can be exposed almost as fast as Dan Rather was.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.