Improving Abortion Statistics in Canada, and Elsewhere

by Michael J. New

On Thursday, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada released an interesting report that raises very serious questions about the reliability of the official abortion statistics released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). A private group, the Project for an Ontario Women’s Health Evidence-Based Report (POWER), conducted their own analysis of abortion statistics in Ontario. Analyzing insurance-fee codes, they found that over 51,000 abortions were performed in Ontario in 2007. This figure is a whopping 50 percent higher than the official statistics reported by the Canadian government.

The reason Canadian abortion statistics are so unreliable is that private abortion clinics, unlike hospitals, are not required to release data. In 2007 and 2008, three provinces (Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) and all three territories failed to report abortions in private clinics. Even worse, in British Columbia, legislation was passed which places abortion-related information outside access-to-information requirements. And since Canada has a single-payer health-care system, these private clinics are all subsidized through taxpayer dollars. One would think the Canadian government could require accurate data in exchange for funding .

Here in the United States, reporting requirements for abortion are better, but far from perfect. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) releases annual data on the number of abortions performed. However, states are not required to report data to the CDC. In fact, California, which has the largest population of any state, has not released abortion data to the CDC since 1997. Furthermore, several other states release totals but fail to provide detailed data on the age of women seeking abortions, the type of procedure used, and gestational age.

Better reporting requirements for abortion data, both at home and abroad, would serve everyone well. After all, access to more reliable abortion data would provide valuable information about the effects of pro-life laws, publicly funded contraception programs, sex-education curricula, and various programs to support single mothers. More information about gestational age would also be useful, since late term abortions pose greater health risks. All in all, everyone should agree that access to reliable and accurate data is important when analyzing a subject as politically contentious as abortion.

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.

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