Sunday, August 29, 2004

Doing the Abortion Math

Like many Catholic churches during this election season, our local franchise has put abortion on the table as a voter issue. Outside of the church, forty-one crosses have been erected. Each cross represents 1 million (not a typo) abortions since 1973. Being an engineer, I was somewhat blown away by the statistic.

How can that number make any sense? I decided to do a little research on the Internet. Every anti-abortion web site posted estimates of that magnitude. They cited all kinds of facts and figures including the CDC to "back up" their estimates. Most of these web sites list something on the order of 1.3 million abortions per year. Wow, that feels like a serious number. Especially considering that abortions would "ramp-up" from 1973 and that there was a notably smaller population back then. It's an annual statistic with shock value.

Further, I recently got into an argument with an anti-abortionist whose position was that Social Security insolvency was the direct result of the incredible number of abortions being performed. There's alot of passion behind these numbers and folks on the "No Choice" side quote between 38 million and 42 million.

It was time to put on my thinking hat and give some thought to the numbers. First, let's hit the U.S. Census web site. There we find really handy downloadable data for this information.

For 2003: (from
Total estimated population = 290,809,777
Total births = 4,026,538

With the purported 1.3 million abortions, that would indicate (1.3/(1.3 + 4.0) * 100) that 25% of women decide to get an abortion instead of giving birth to the child. That's 1 out of 4! Of four pregnant women you know, one is going to have an abortion. The number starts to feel like nonsense.

Let's go a step further. Take the population and split it by gender. We don't have a precise gender split for 2003; we'll have to make do with adjusted 2000 numbers.

For 2000: (from
Total population = 281,421,906
Total Male = 138,053,563
Total Female = 143,368,343

Estimated 2003 Female = 148,150,925
(290,809,777 * 143,368,343 / 281,421,906)

Assuming a 50/50 split for/against abortion and you're left with 74 million women who would even consider having one. You can split that number again to get a rough cut of the women who are of age that can actually conceive a child. This leaves you with approximately 37 million who could be potential "customers" for an abortion. By their statistics, 3.5% of this population opts to get an abortion. Huh, wait a minute. A 25% reduction in births is affected by this tiny group?

As I slice and dice through the numbers, it becomes increasingly evident that even armchair analysis yields foul-smelling fruit. Why are quoted numbers so high? You begin to read the fine print -- unfortunately, this fine print isn't everywhere. I did manage to find more than one site that admitted that the estimates included the use of chemical contraception, "the pill" in the totals. Given the relatively few web sites that include this disclaimer it hardly seems to matter. Apparently, menstruation is murder!

It's when these organization's cite the CDC that I raised an eyebrow. Planned Parenthood, the McDonald's of family planning, claims to only perform approximately 100,000 abortions/year. Others are performed via referral. I had to check out the CDC agency web site for a reality check.

You can click here to view actual statistics from the CDC's Abortion Surveillance. Low and behold, the CDC identifies 861,789 legally induced abortions in 1999. Anti-abortion web sites state 1.328 million (estimated) for the same year.

For the record, this is 35% exaggeration of the actual number of abortions performed. That's a significant distortion of the reality.

The anti-abortion organizations that mis-cite the CDC in their literature are purposefully trying to mislead citizens to further their cause. It's not even close to 1 in 4 pregnancies. The actual statistics point to a total rate that is less than 1 in 6. Total number of abortions since 1973 is less than 25 million. Now, I just have to convince the church to remove 16 crosses.

Those interested in following the abortion leader board on the CDC web site will note that New York City is #1 in the procedure followed by Texas! Go Texas. You're #2 to New York in something!


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Anonymous Steven James Blake said...

an interesting article, you seem close to the ability to accurately anaylize informational data with an eye toward reality, yet refering to the catholic church as a "franchise" while seemingly metaphorically accurate, belies a bent towards insult of others beliefs. engaging in the spurious logic of coupling this with equating menstration to chemical contraceptives, one a natural process necessary for human reproduction, the other an invasive purpousful manipulation of the reproductive process to exterminate fertilized eggs, the earlist form of a single human life, show an errent bent in thought process.

while I too do not like exageration and manipulations of statistics, I abhore even more those who cast aspersion upon those who do and then in the same "breath" do exactly the same thing.

Prehaps you would be better off working for the bush administrations propaganda department.

Care to respond?


Steven James Blake
Commited to reality

P.S. I appoligise for any spelling or grammer errors, as I do not have time to proofread right now.

thank you for your understanding and compassion.

December 6, 2005 at 7:55 AM  
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