Friday, October 22, 2004

Prof. Stassen Responds

Yesterday in this space we discussed an op-ed piece by Prof. Glen Harold Stassen of Fuller Theological Seminary. In an op-ed piece (Pro-Life? Look at the Fruits) that has been published and is now circulating the Internet, Dr. Stassen argued that the number of abortions have increased under the Bush administration, and that being pro-life goes beyond just rhetoric--it also involves economic issues like health care, jobs, etc.

I posted a brief response by my friend Matt Perman, and then the National Right to Life Committee issued a more detailed response (there is a short version and a longer version).

I have invited Prof. Stassen to respond, and he graciously agreed to do so in this space. Here is his response. He also sent a chart with related statistics. I will seek to post this just as soon as I can--but I'll first have to figure out how to upload a PDF file. More soon....


Randall K. O’Bannon and Laura Hussey are right that I say "state abortion data from 2001, 2002, and 2003 show a clear pattern of increase over figures from 2000 and earlier." But they are wrong when they deny this. They say I note "correctly, that there were about 1,610,00 abortions in 1990 and. . . 1,313,000 in 2000, representing an overall decline of 17.4% for the decade. Pretty much on the mark." This is a decrease of about 300,000 abortions per year in the 1990s.

Because my wife and I know from the experience of amazing, gracious help raising our son David, damaged by the German measles that my wife had when pregnant, we know that believing you can raise your child, and getting help in doing so, is hugely important in refusing to have an abortion. It is because we know this from first-hand experience that we know support for prospective mothers is crucial in preventing abortions. This is no "twist in logic," as they suggest. This is our life experience. Perhaps they have not raised such a child. Perhaps this is why they do not understand. My wife also worked as a nurse in a high school for pregnant teenagers, enabling them to bring their babies to school, to get their medical exams there, to get training in nutrition and healthy mothering there, so they would not have abortions. And they did not have abortions. They raised healthy babies. We know support for prospective mothers is crucial in preventing abortions. This is experiential reality. The data I analyzed are simply a supplement to what anyone who assists pregnant women should know intuitively.

An advantage of citing actual data publicly is that other persons can check the numbers to see if an error crept in. An honest person admits errors when they are found in this process, and makes corrections. O'Bannon and Hussey have worked hard to refute what I have shown, and they are right that I made an error in tallying South Dakota and Wisconsin. These two states experienced a decrease rather than increase, totaling 510 abortions. Correcting that error means that the increase in abortions in the sixteen states was 6,849, not 7,869. Hence if the trend in these sixteen states holds for the fifty states, the total U.S. increase in abortions that year was about 21,500. Had the average annual decrease in the years prior to Bush continued, we would have instead expected a decrease of 28,000 fewer abortions. Hence close to 50,000 more abortions took place in 2002 than expected.

They then raise the possibility that Colorado and Arizona increases may or may not be caused by better reporting. But there are also two countervailing possibilities. The very underreporting that they speculate on is more likely to occur in most states in the most recent years of 2002 and 2003 because some providers did not get their reports in yet. This underreporting may be corrected later when they do report. Hence the actual increase in abortions may be greater than the numbers I found. Furthermore in more recent years, quoting them, "RU486, the abortion pill, which went on the market in late 2000," may have resulted in abortions that were not reported because they did not take place in reporting clinics. This, too, probably means the increase in abortions was greater than the numbers I found. Had I estimated these possibilities of overreporting and underreporting, surely speculation and bias could have crept in. Therefore, I reported all the data that I could find, as it came from the state health departments, and did not omit any data one way or the other, in order to be as objective as I could. Selective reporting according to whether the data fit one's conclusion would bias the results. For example, O'Bannion and Hussey confirm my report that Illinois abortions increased in 2002, but then they report that they found data for Illinois in 2003, in which the number of abortions then decreased. Yet when they point to Wisconsin's 2002 decrease, they fail to report that in 2003, abortions in Wisconsin actually increased. Such selectivity looks like trying to defend against the truth and support a preconceived notion rather than accepting all the data in a consistent way. I sought to be objective by counting all the data the health departments reported.

O'Bannion and Hussey rightly state that I say the data show "if jobs are lost, abortion increases." But they call this speculation. It is surely more than that. I cite the following four sets of confirming facts:

1) Two-thirds of women who have abortions say they do not see how they could afford to raise the child. When unemployment is up, affording to raise a child is harder.

2) Half of women who have abortions say they do not have a reliable mate. Data from Children's Defense Fund clearly indicate that men without jobs do not usually marry. So increased unemployment in the last three years predict fewer marriages and fewer reliable mates, and therefore more abortions. I checked this for the sixteen states. Marriages in fact were down. Only three states had more marriages in 2002 than 2001, and as a group, their abortions actually decreased. Thirteen states had fewer marriages in 2002, and as a group, their abortions increased. Nicer confirmation is hard to fine.

3) Black and Latina women tend to be poorer and more unemployed. Their abortion rates are two to three times higher than white women.

4) The thirty-year trend confirms it. Abortion rates move in tandem with unemployment rates of women over the last thirty years. From 1973 to 1980, women's unemployment increased from approximately 6% to 7.6%, and the abortion rate increased from 16 to 29 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 45. (Of course, these were the first years after Roe v Wade, which surely also contributed mightily to the increase in abortions.) But then abortions did not keep increasing. From 1980 to 1992, unemployment decreased from 7.6% to 5.5% briefly, and then partway up briefly to 7%. During this period of slow decrease in unemployment, the abortion rate slowly decreased from 29 to 26. During the Clinton administration, unemployment dropped nicely to 4.5%, and the abortion rate dropped significantly to 21. During the present administration, women's unemployment increased above 6%, and the abortion rate appears to have increased to 22.

O'Bannion and Hussey say I look at only one year for my conclusions. In fact, I have looked at thirty years, but could report only one part of what I saw in a 700-word op/ed article.

They err when they claim I say that I got my information on national trends from Wisconsin Right to Life but that it actually came from Guttmacher. In fact I got my information from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, not Wisconsin, as I say clearly. I am a native Minnesotan, where the state invests in education, and therefore the unemployment rate is among the nation's lowest, and the abortion rate is the very lowest, and where the abortion rate actually decreased in 2002 while others were increasing. I am proud of Minnesota. I did not get my data from Wisconsin or Guttmacher. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life did get some of their data from Guttmacher, but I am citing the actual source from which I actually got my data—MCCL.

I did not sign a statement in 1977 supporting Roe V Wade; along with very large numbers of Christian ethicists, I signed a statement supporting academic freedom for Christian ethicists and moral theologians who take varieties of positions on these issues, and who were under pressure in some schools. I do not appreciate the personal attack. I invite O'Bannion and Hussey to come meet our son, who lives in our home with us, and meet my wife, who worked for many years in a school for pregnant teenagers so they could have their babies and stay in school and plan a future. It was a huge success, from a prolife perspective. I want our whole nation to be a huge success in supporting prospective mothers, and fathers, and their babies. I want us to be prolife in deed, not only in rhetoric. I am hoping that here we can find common ground. I respect O'Bannion and Hussey for their very extensive work in checking the numbers, and for their prolife commitment, and I sincerely hope we could work together.

I urge policy changes in both George Bush and John Kerry in the directions that I have indicated. Bush does better in words, and Kerry does better in supporting prospective mothers. I want Bush to support prospective mothers, and Kerry to articulate a commitment to dramatically reducing the number of abortions. Both changes are possible.


[Ed. note: Thoughtful, substantive responses are encouraged in the comments section below.]

Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review responds:

Prof. Glen Harold Stassen has argued that pro-lifers should support John Kerry because Bush's economic policies have led to increased abortion rates. The National Right to Life Committee, among others, has responded to the bits of evidence and logic Stassen uses to reach these conclusions. Now Justin Taylor has posted Stassen's response to the critiques. I don't doubt that Stassen is sincere in wanting to reduce the abortion rate. But to my mind, his response is totally unpersuasive, as was his initial "study." He doesn't establish that higher unemployment or lower health-insurance rates increase the abortion rate, that Bush's policies have caused unemployment to rise, or that abortion rates have even risen at all under Bush. For example, he does not deal with NRLC's point that abortion rates and unemployment rates don't appear to correlate with each other among states. Nor does Stassen attempt to deal with other factors that might have affected the data. Stassen also leans too much on his own family's experience, in a way that attempts to guilt-trip people out of disagreeing with him.

One side-issue that has come up here is whether a statement that the professor signed in 1977 supported Roe v. Wade. If anyone has a copy of that statement and could post it, this issue, at least, could be resolved.