Saturday, May 26, 2012

Guttmacher Institute Inflates Number of Illegal Abortions

Poor-choicers grossly mistate abortion stats. Heard that one before:

A recent article in a medical journal in Mexico completely debunks the Guttmacher Institute numbers on “unsafe” abortions in several Latin American countries. The study found that the Guttmacher methodology is not only unsound scientifically, but unprofessional. According to the authors Guttamcher did not only obtain estimates that are empirically impossible through unsound methodology, but they failed to validate their numbers with estimates that are readily attainable through tested and established epidemiological methods.

The article is a very important addition to the growing number of studies on abortion that conflict with the conclusions of well funded organizations that promote abortion worldwide. For years abortion activists have claimed that there is an overwhelming demand for abortion in Latin America. What has been surfacing in recent years is that Guttmacher, IPPF, WHO and other well-funded large organizations have been using inflated figures to make a case for free access to abortion in developing countries. They claim that unless abortion is legal it substantially increases maternal mortality and morbidity. It looks as though the numbers are finally catching up with them.

The article, authored by Elard Koch and other Chilean doctors and academics, focuses on the findings of a Guttmacher Report that estimated 400,400 clandestine abortions per year in Colombia for the year 2008. The experts in epidemiology conclude that the Guttmacher Report overestimates the number of induced abortions in Colombia by a factor of 18. That is the actual induced abortion numbers for Colombia in 2008 were more like 22,000.

The study first criticizes the Guttmacher methodology for estimating the number of illegal abortions in latin American countries, and then attempts to offer an alternative methodology to obtain results that are empirically verifiable.


The Guttmacher authors first estimated the number of hospitalizations for induced abortions in Colombia for the year 2008. To do this, they simply went to a select number of medical institutions (300 out of over 1200), without any specified reason for choosing those, and solicited replies to questionnaires from the head of those institutions on the number of abortions performed or treated there. The opinion surveys did not ask for hard numbers but for recollections of the numbers of induced and spontaneous abortions of the most recent month. Those figures were then multiplied for the twelve months of the year. The result was an estimated 115,325 abortions of which a mere 19% (21,898) were not induced. That result should raise alarm bells, and the Koch article probes into these numbers.

Next, to estimate the total number of illegal abortions, the Guttmacher report multiplied the results obtained above by a factor between 3.29 and 5.29, on the basis of a survey of 102 professionals “who are knowledgeable about the subject”. Of these 102 interviewees 47 were medical service providers, and 55 were researchers, political analysts and human rights defenders. Koch compares this method of obtaining a multiplier to a politician launching a survey into his approval ratings among 102 of his party members. The result of this methodology resulted in an unnecessarily alarming number of induced abortions in Colombia for the year 2008: 400,400.


Koch and his co-authors re-created estimates of 2008 hospitalizations for abortions in Colombia, whether induced or not, by using methods accepted in the epidemiological field. They used the known ratios between conception, pregnancy and abortions from Chile (which has an class A vital records registry) and applied them to Colombia’s official vital records data for 2008. According to this estimate, there were between 84,824 and 105,190 abortions in Colombia for 2008, of these only approximately 11% would have been induced abortions.

Next, to estimate the total number of abortions (including illegal abortions), Koch and his co-authors used the ratios of Spain, a country that does not prohibit abortion, and also has excellent vital records. Using the Spanish ratios on the Colombian numbers the results were surprising. For 2008 Colombia would have had 21,978 abortions, a far cry from the 400,400 estimated by Guttmacher. The Guttmacher estimates were that there were 400,400 ilegal abortions, 18 times more!

The Guttmacher Report, and similar studies, are used by abortion advocates of evidence of the need for “safe abortion” in countries that do not allow the destruction of human life from the moment of conception. The Report is conveniently made available in power point format on their website.

Koch’s article points out that similar methods have been employed to estimate abortion demand in other Latin American countries since the 1990s. The figures in these studies and reports, that have gained an audience in the prestigious medical journal Lancet, are not empirically possible, the Koch article insists. A recent study in Mexico City, also conducted by Guttmacher, estimated between 0.7 and 1 million abortions in the year 2006-2007, prior to abortion restrictions being removed. This figure may have been inflated by a factor of 40. Unofficial estimates of actual demand for abortion in Mexico’s capital is more like 16,000 per year.

Koch cautions that alarmist publications like the ones from Guttmacher and other abortion activists are totally unnecessary. What is necessary to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity in developing countries is the provision of pre-natal care, skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care and other basic necessities. The scientific evidence that the reduction of maternal mortality is linked to these simple medical services has been known for some time and is overwhelming. According to one recent study published in PLoS One, so called “unsafe abortion” is simply not relevant in increasing maternal mortality. Unfortunately, this scientific evidence is unlikely to sway abortion advocates who are hell bent on imposing their ideology on others. Note: Stefano Gennarini, J.D., writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Turtle Bay and Beyond publication and is used with permission.