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Why Can't We Get Accurate Data on the Safety of Abortion?

Rachel N. Busick, staff counsel at Americans United for Life, has analyzed the latest Abortion Surveillance Report from the Centers for Disease Control and finds much of it wanting.

At issue: Why can't we get accurate and complete information on how many women die or are injured as a result of abortions?

Washington Examiner:

 Recently, CDC published its latest  Abortion Surveillance Report on the status of abortion in the United States. Unfortunately, the latest data comes from 2015. But the report remains a good read because it confirms that abortion is poorly reported on, that the demand for abortion is decreasing, and that there is insufficient evidence to back abortion providers’ claims of abortion safety.

Abortion, according to advocates, is a simple medical procedure that is safe and is vital to the cause of women's health.

How the hell do they know?

Besides the obvious shortcoming that its data is three years old, the report suffers from another major defect: It is a product of voluntary reporting. While most states do report information to the CDC, several do not, including California, the most populous state in the U.S. Of the states that do report, state reporting requirements vary widely, with many states suffering from lax enforcement or voluntary reporting requirements of their own. The voluntary and inconsistent nature of abortion reporting makes the CDC report incomplete at best, and skewed by selective reporting at worst.

It’s worth noting that when it comes to the most important data of all — “abortion mortality,” or the number of times an abortion procedure is fatal to the patient — the CDC itself seems unwilling to rely on the reported data. Instead, it researches third-party sources, such as state vital records, media reports, and reports from healthcare professionals and private organizations. According to these sources, “safe and legal” abortion took a mother’s life half a dozen times in 2014.

What's needed, says Busick, are comprehensive abortion reporting laws that protect a woman's privacy and require abortion providers to report both medical and social information relating to each abortion.

These laws would include the demographics of the woman who had an abortion, whether the abortion was chemical or surgical, how the abortion was paid for, and at what point of gestation the unborn human was aborted. They would also require reporting of complications related to the abortion procedure — information that is necessary, not only to provide women with accurate information for informed consent, but to ensure and improve the health and safety of women who choose abortion. This is consistent with other laws and regulations requiring medical practitioners to report all sorts of information relating to the outcomes of various health interventions.

Many states not only are deficient in reporting accurate and complete stats, but fail to enforce reporting laws already on the books. Some states don't report any abortion statistics at all, including -- incredibly -- California, the largest state in the union. Several states are trying to rectify their deficient reporting by passing laws to enhance existing laws.

So what's the problem? This doesn't sit well with Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers:

For example, Planned Parenthood sued to stop both Idaho’s and Indiana’s new reporting laws from going into effect. The outcome of these ongoing court cases will determine whether women in those states will have adequate and relevant information on the impact of abortion as they consider the procedure.

Lawsuits like these make one wonder what Planned Parenthood is trying to hide by avoiding reporting requirements. If abortion is so safe and complications are so rare, abortion practitioners should have nothing to fear from abortion safety reporting information to state and federal governments. In fact, they should laud the opportunity to back up their claims with real data.

What they fear is that negative statistics will be used against them politically. Any ammunition at all to pro-life supporters that would make the case that abortion is not as safe as providers claim is a danger to their business.

If abortion is, indeed, a women's health issue, don't women's advocates want to help safeguard women's health by arming them with the most accurate and detailed information the government can provide?

Of course not. Abortion is a political issue, not a health care issue. It is a symbol of a woman's control over her own body. Whether it is as safe as it can be is not the issue. Whether it should be legal or banned is. And any hint that abortion can be dangerous or unhealthy for a woman must be suppressed in the interest of women's rights.

Planned Parenthood may know a lot more about the medical effects of abortion than they let on. Could that be why they are fighting laws to mandate accurate and detailed reporting on abortion?

We are free to speculate that if the procedure was as safe as they claim, they wouldn't be fighting full disclosure.