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The Numbers Game

On the heels of the ballyhooed Gallup report (see the previous New Oxford Note), the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) released its latest National Vital Statistics Report (vol. 60, no. 7; released June 20), an exhaustive report on the “Estimated Pregnancy Rates & Rates of Pregnancy Outcomes for the United States, 1990-2008.” As with the Gallup report, the results of the NCHS report were immediately championed by pro-lifers as documenting further the strides the movement has made in combating the abortion juggernaut.

The NCHS’s report documents the number of pregnancies, births, miscarriages, and abortions in the U.S. on a year-by-year basis from 1976 to 2008. The year 1990 set the record for abortions in the period under study: According to the NCHS, 1,609,000 of all pregnancies that year ended in abortion. By contrast, in 2008, the most recent year of the NCHS study, 1,212,000 pregnancies ended in abortion. Quick to capitalize, LifeNews.com gleefully reported (June 20) that “the abortion rate in the United States has dropped 25 percent since 1990.” Twenty-five percent! Wow. This eye-popping drop, LifeNews.com tells us, proves that “the pro-life movement is making progress in stopping abortions.”

That’s certainly cause for a round of congratulations.

But before we start chest-bumping and high-fiving, let’s take a deeper look into the NCHS study. It so happens that 1990 was the high-water-mark year both for abortions and pregnancies in the U.S. There were more pregnancies and abortions in 1990 than in any other year between 1976 and 2008. So, we must account for the fact that there were fewer babies in the womb to abort in 2008 than there were in 1990. Let’s do the math.

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