Stassen’s Thesis Blaming Bush for Abortions Still Flawed
by Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., Director of Education &
Research and Laura Hussey, M.P.M., Special Research Assistant, National
Right to Life Educational Trust Fund
Dr. Glen Stassen's response to our report on his errors [www.nrlc.org/abortion/stassenpart1.html]
misrepresents our position and continues to cling to an argument that lacks
solid statistical support. In his reply, Stassen seems to try to make it
look as if our disagreement is over whether or not "support for prospective
mothers is crucial in preventing abortions." This is not our disagreement at
all. We agree wholeheartedly that each of us should seek to provide
emotional and material support to mothers and that this outreach can be a
critical factor in those mothers' decisions regarding the lives of their
Our disagreement with Dr. Stassen is largely a factual one – we went to the
original data sources and did not find consistent evidence that abortions
increased under Bush.
Stassen's original piece claimed that a) abortions increased during
President George W. Bush's administration, b) abortions increased because of
job losses, and c) President Bush's policies were responsible for the
country's economic situation and hence the abortion increase. Stassen's
implication, the "twist in logic" to which we refer, is that pro-life people
should vote for pro-abortion candidate John Kerry if they want to reduce
The available data do not support Stassen's argument. There is no national
data on abortion during the Bush years, and the state abortion data Stassen
cites for his thesis was, at critical points, mistakenly or misleadingly
Stassen’s State Data Still Does Not Show Abortions Up Under Bush
Stassen admits the mistakes he made on the Wisconsin and South Dakota data,
but does not own up to the problems this creates for his thesis. Stassen
made much of the claim that abortion rates went up in 11 out of 16 states,
but it simply wasn’t true. If one counts Wisconsin and South Dakota as
states where abortions decreased, rather than decreased, and one moves
Illinois into that group after a 10% drop in 2003, the tally is eight states
up, eight states down, which is no trend at all.
Shifting the argument to aggregate numbers, as Stassen tries to do, doesn’t
work either. Stassen reduces his net increase from 7,869 to 6,849 after
revising his figures for Wisconsin and South Dakota, saying this still gives
evidence of an overall national increase. But even Stassen’s “corrected”
increase depends greatly on extraordinary single year jumps from just two
states, Colorado and Arizona, where state officials (not us, as Stassen
implies) specifically caution that their numbers may not reflect real
increases. Stassen never shares this caution with his readers.
We know of no reputable statistician who believes the real number of
abortions in a state would go up 67.4% in just one year’s time, and we do
not believe Stassen can point to economic or political changes of sufficient
magnitude in Colorado to account for such a big change in such a short time.
Heeding the caution of officials from those state health departments and
rejecting the temptation to project these aberrant counts as indicators of
some trend, Stassen’s aggregate increase is now just 1,554, a difference
that could easily be made up by a single state going significantly in the
other direction. Illinois, one of the states Stassen originally had on his
list of increasers, dropped 4,717 abortions in 2003, more than enough to
offset the supposed overall increase.
We suppose, using Stassen’s methods, we could take that data mentioned above
and argue for some large national decrease, rather than increase, in the
number of abortions under Bush, but we don’t believe one should make broad
claims of national trends on the basis on limited state data. Perhaps
abortions did decline, despite all the previous administration did to
promote abortion here and abroad. Perhaps the Clinton administration’s
approval of RU486, the French abortion pill, spurred an increase that showed
up during Bush’s first term (how is that supposed to be Bush’s fault?). No
one, including Stassen, knows at this juncture. Trends are not obvious at
this point, and certainly nothing that would correlate with any national or
state economic data.
Stassen’s claim of simply reporting all the data he could find in order to
be “objective” is disingenuous. The Illinois data Stassen ignored showing a
big drop in 2003 was available in August of 2004. Data on Indiana, a state
which saw its abortions decline from 2000 to 2001, was available in
September of 2003. Nebraska stats, which, in each of the three years Bush
has been in office, show fewer abortions per year than in any of the Clinton
years, were available in March of 2004.
Statements by state officials in Colorado and Arizona cautioning about the
overplaying the significance of the abortion data Stassen highlighted were
part of those states’ health reports; the possible underreporting which
Stassen speculates about was not. After mistakenly saying that abortions
increased in Wisconsin from 2001 to 2002, Stassen tries to counter this
mistake by saying they increased in the following year, but neglects to
share with his readers that the 2003 number is still lower than any of the
numbers posted during the Clinton administration.
This back and forth with new data from one state or another could go on and
on, but the point is simply that one cannot project a nationwide trend on
the basis of short term results from a few states. It might be plausible if,
as Stassen originally believed, increases were seen in a clear majority of
the sample states, but with increasers running about even with decreasers,
and with some of the increaser’s numbers in question, the idea that one can
give a credible estimate of additional national abortions on the basis of
this limited and sometimes ambiguous data is ludicrous.
The claim that abortions increased under George W. Bush is not borne out by
the available data.
Failure to Establish Connections Between Bush Policies, the Economy, and
What about Stassen’s larger claim, that there is a demonstrable 30 year
correlation between abortion and female unemployment rates?
As far as the economic arguments go, we do not really intend to dispute the
notion that economics may have some impact on abortion. Discovering the
extent and nature of that correlation, if there is one, is, in fact, a prime
focus of Hussey’s doctoral research. But what we do dispute here is the
quality of Stassen’s data and the adequacy of his “confirming facts” for a
causal argument about Bush’s policies, the economy, and abortion.
The data we have seen does appear to indicate that there could be some
general correlation between national abortion and female unemployment rates,
so that there tend to be higher abortion rates when there is higher female
unemployment, and lower abortions rates when that rate decreases. But what
does this tell us? Not as much as Stassen would have us believe.
There is room to question whether this correlation holds at all times and
certainly room to question whether it holds in this specific case. We know
national female unemployment rates increased in 2001 and 2002, but the data
we have on abortion doesn’t yet indicate any clear increase in those numbers
(see above). If so, was there something unique about Bush’s policies or
economic circumstances that caused the correlation to fail to hold?
There is, in statistics, something known as the “ecological fallacy” – a
relationship that appears to hold at some level of aggregation that does not
hold at the individual level. We mentioned, in our previous response, data
from Ohio showing abortion decreases in the midst of high unemployment.
Additional data we have from Pennsylvania also show that what might appear
to be a global correlation doesn’t always pan out on a more local level.
In 2001, Pennsylvania’s jobless rate and abortion rate both increased, but
in 2002, the unemployment rate increased while the number of abortions
decreased. The reverse occurred in 2003, with the unemployment rate
declining while the abortion rate increased. No correlation follows from
that data set.
When abortion and female unemployment rates do rise or fall in tandem, it
could be due to other common factors. One argument that has been made is
that abortion rates may be more directly related to female employment. The
model here would be that more women in the workforce translates into
pressure to abort to keep one’s job or advance one’s career.
While the national data do appear to show a correlation between abortion and
female unemployment rates, they do not show us which women are having the
abortions. It is entirely possible that most of the increased abortions come
from within the ranks of the employed, rather than the unemployed. How is
that pool of unemployed women changing? If older, rather than younger
workers, are being laid off, pregnancy itself would be less likely among the
It is not the only possible explanation for a correlation. If women
voluntarily decide to leave the work force in order to have their children,
both abortion and female unemployment rates may fall (as previously
unemployed women fill the jobs left by women leaving the workforce)
independent of whatever economic programs or policies are in place.
Conversely, a greater number of abortions may mean more women angling to
enter the workforce. Decisions about childbearing may impact the female
unemployment rate, rather than the other way around.
Stassen never seems to consider whether there may be other non-economic
factors driving abortion rates up or down. Doesn’t it mean something that
abortion is marketed to “young women, low-income women, women of color?”
Does the passage of parental involvement and right to know legislation not
have an impact? (see Dr. Michael New’s fine study at www.heritage.org/Research/Family/CDA04-01.cfm).
Does the opening of some 3,000 pro-life pregnancy care centers in the
aftermath of Roe offering loving abortion alternatives – the way Dr.
Stassen’s wife did at the school for pregnant teens – make no difference?
Does the widespread dissemination of ultrasound photos and picture books on
fetal development not change a few minds?
Even if it were shown that abortions had increased, and shown beyond doubt
that there was a positive, direct correlation between unemployment rates and
abortion, it would mean absolutely nothing if it could not be conclusively
demonstrated that Bush’s economic policies were, in fact, responsible for
those high unemployment rates. Stassen comes nowhere close to proving this.
Stassen is hardly evenhanded in his evaluation of Bush’s economic policies,
blaming Bush for bad economic circumstances that occurred in 2001 and 2002,
which may not have been his fault, but giving Bush no credit for the job
creation and economic expansion that occurred in the second half of his
term, after his policies had a chance to take effect.
Bush took office in 2001 with a recession already in progress. Corporate
scandals that erupted early in his term had their origin in shady accounting
practices that began back in the 1990s. The U.S. economy took a major hit
with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. While Bush’s economic policies might be
analyzed in terms of how they did or did not help the country get out of
that economic hole, there is no legitimate way they could be blamed for
creating those dire economic circumstances occurring at or before the
opening of his term.
A Lack of Even-Handedness
Stassen speaks here as if he was even handed in his criticism of Bush and
Kerry in his original piece. We challenge readers to find any criticism,
stated or implied, of Kerry or his policies in that piece. The clear
implication of that piece was that pro-lifers should support John Kerry, the
pro-abortion candidate, if they want to reduce abortions. That’s the “twist
of logic” we accused him of.
Stassen says Bush offers better words, but says Kerry does better in
supporting prospective mothers. We know what President Bush has said and
done on behalf of unborn children and their mothers – signing the
partial-birth abortion ban, signing the unborn victims of violence act,
prohibiting the use of U.S.
taxpayer funds in the performance and promotion of abortion overseas,
establishing a policy for stem cell research that does not federally fund
the creation and destruction of living human embryos for research purposes.
All these are measures Senator Kerry opposed.
Stassen now says he wants Kerry to articulate a commitment to dramatically
reducing the numbers of abortions. But what Kerry has articulated is a
commitment, not to fund abortion alternatives, but to fund abortions for
poor women, and to appoint justices to the court who will defend abortion
against any and all challenges.
In the realm of public policy, there may be room for debate as to whether
the best means of support for “prospective mothers” is public, private, or
some combination of both. But if someone lacks a basic respect for the right
to life of every human being, no one’s rights are safe, and the poor and
politically powerless can be marginalized just as easily as the unborn.
Stassen never proved that Bush policies were connected to adverse economic
circumstances, or that those adverse economic circumstances were connected
to higher numbers of abortions. He has not demonstrated that Kerry’s
economic policies would necessarily lead to better economic circumstances.
What we do know is that Bush is pro-life and working to promote a culture of
life where every child is welcomed in life and protected in law. And we know
that whatever Kerry has said, he has always supported abortion.
On the Charge That Our Critique Represents a “Personal Attack”
We are both baffled and saddened that Stassen interpreted our fact-checking
as a personal challenge against him and his family.
We quoted Stassen correctly in calling himself “consistently pro-life” and
mentioned, without any derogation, his love and care for his son who has a
disability. We are happy to hear of his wife’s work with pregnant teen
mothers. We work in the realm of public policy, but we also believe in and
support the personal outreach to and practical help for poor mothers and
pregnant teens as a critical factor in decisions regarding the lives of
their unborn children.
Stassen claims he did not sign a 1977 statement supporting Roe v. Wade, but
we have a copy of “A Call to Concern” and the page listing Stassen as a
signatory. That document states: “We support the Supreme Court decisions of
1973 which had the effect of removing abortion from the criminal law codes.
The Court did not appeal to religion or ethics in arriving at its judgment,
but we believe the decision to have been in accord with sound ethical
judgment.” We don’t see how one can read that any other way than as
supporting Roe and Doe, the decisions which legalized abortion on demand for
the full nine months of pregnancy. And the statement “we believe that
abortion may in some instances be the most loving act possible” comes
straight out of the text.
There’s a lot about abortion (not just defending abortion, but supporting
taxpayer funding of abortion -- “it is wrong to deny Medicaid assistance to
poor women seeking abortion”), about challenging the “absolutist position,”
but not a whole lot about “academic freedom.” Those actual words never
appear, and it certainly isn’t the theme of the piece.
Stassen signed it, that’s what it said, and we don’t see how anyone can
fairly characterize that as a “personal attack.”
Note: We were mistaken in saying Stassen got the data on the reasons women
choose abortions from Wisconsin. We read his piece several times and knew
that he said Minnesota, but for some reason just typed Wisconsin when we got
to that section of the response. That correction has been made in the
current edition running on our website. No offense intended to the fine
people of Minnesota!