The Obama administration has reportedly decided to start blocking the release of annual abortion statistics. Every year since 1969 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released abortion data through its annual “Abortion Surveillance Report.” However, in 2010 the “Abortion Surveillance Report” was not published, and according to a spokesman from the CDC, there are “no plans” for the data to be released at this time.
Pro-life activists have always been disappointed that the federal government does not have stronger reporting requirements for abortion statistics. The data from the CDC are far from perfect. Some states, most notably California, do not provide any data. Other states fail to provide complete information. That having been said, the CDC is the only source for annual abortion data from the United States.
Furthermore, the CDC provides the most detailed source of abortion data. Unlike the Guttmacher Institute, the CDC breaks down its abortion data by the age of the women seeking abortions (including minors), the type of abortion procedure used, the age of the unborn child, and the number of abortions the mother had previous to the current one. This data has been widely used by researchers on both sides of the abortion debate. Additionally, the annual report from the CDC has offered a consistent reminder about the prevalence of abortion in our society and provided evidence of the incremental progress the pro-life movement has made.
The Obama administration’s decision to stop publishing abortion statistics is nothing short of outrageous. This is especially true considering President Obama’s campaign rhetoric about openness and transparency. Even the pro-choice Clinton administration did not interfere with the annual release of abortion statistics by the CDC. Furthermore, the Obama administration’s motive is a bit puzzling. The CDC usually releases its annual abortion statistics in the fall with little fanfare and less media coverage. In fact, abortion statistics are quietly contained in a publication entitled Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which also contains data about other public-health issues facing the United States.
Perhaps the Obama administration is seeking to squelch evidence of the impact of health-care reform on the abortion rate. Perhaps, seeing the political momentum of pro-lifers, they do not want to be blamed if abortion numbers increase. Perhaps they want to reduce the amount of discussion on abortion trends in general. Regardless, research and human knowledge will not advance without access to reliable data. By blocking the release of abortion data, the Obama administration is doing a tremendous disservice to researchers, scholars, journalists, and the general public.
— Michael New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.