Guttmacher Greatly Overestimates Abortions in Colombia

by Michael J. New

Last month a study in the Mexican peer-reviewed journal Ginecologia y Obstetricia de Mexico found solid evidence that the Guttmacher Institute had greatly overestimated the incidence of abortion in Colombia. Guttmacher analysts frequently try to predict the incidence of abortion in countries where abortion is illegal. In 2011, they published a paper which projected that over 400,000 abortions were performed in Colombia in 2008.

However, this recent study authored by epidemiologist Elard Koch identified a number of problems with Guttmacher’s methodology. First Guttmacher surveyed approximately 300 of the 1,200 hospitals in Colombia. However, it does not appear as if this was a random sample.

Second, they asked various hospital administrators to recall how many patients were treated for illegal abortions within the past month.

They did not rely on actual hard data. Guttmacher then extrapolated these findings to cover the entire country for the entire year. Then, after consulting with some political analysts, human-rights defenders, and medical-service providers they — somewhat arbitrarily — multiplied this figure by a factor between 3 and 5 to arrive at their final estimate.

Koch and his coauthors attempt to use a methodologically rigorous approach to calculate the incidence of abortion in Colombia. They use data from Chile where abortion is restricted and which has a class A vital-records registry to obtain ratios of conceptions, pregnancies, and abortions (both spontaneous and induced). They then use ratios of induced abortions to spontaneous abortions from Spain — which expanded its abortion laws in the mid 1980s — to calculate the number of induced abortions in Colombia. Koch predicts that about 22,000 abortions were performed in Colombia in 2008, a far cry from the 400,000 that Guttmacher projected.

In some respects this is unsurprising. In a 2006 analysis, Guttmacher claimed that anywhere from 700,000 to 1 million abortions were happening annually in Mexico. However, after Mexico liberalized its abortion law in 2007, unofficial estimates indicate that anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 abortions are performed there every year. Sadly, the mainstream media consistently fails to realize that Guttmacher has incentives to overestimate the incidence of abortion in places where it is restricted. Guttmacher often cites the high numbers of illegal and potentially dangerous abortions as a reason to liberalize abortion laws. Additionally, Guttmacher also receives funding from Planned Parenthood, which uses these statistics to call for greater government funding of its international contraception programs.

Pro-lifers should commend Elard Koch and his coauthors for giving Guttmacher’s claims some much needed scrutiny.

Michael J. New is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at The University of Michigan – Dearborn, a Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New