Public health issues in the city of Detroit have been receiving a lot of attention recently. Last month, The Detroit News ran a story about the rising abortion rate in the Motor City. This month Bloomberg News ran a story about the high rates of infant mortality in Detroit. The statistics paint a grim picture. In 2012 Detroit saw a greater proportion of babies die before their first birthdays than any other American city. Overall, Detroit’s infant mortality rate was higher than in China, Mexico, and Thailand.
Preterm births are the leading cause of infant deaths and the article reports that half of the pregnant women in Detroit who carry their pregnancy to term don’t receive adequate prenatal care. Yet it also describes a number of admirable public and private efforts to assist pregnant women. These include a campaign called “Make Your Date,” which attempts to prevent premature births with hormone therapy and counseling. Also, the Women Inspired Neighborhood (WIN) Network targets Detroit’s poorest areas to mentor pregnant women.
The discussion and coverage of abortion in the article predictably biased. Bloomberg correctly reports that in 2011, the U.S. abortion rate fell to its lowest level since 1974. However, citing Guttmacher, they state the abortion decline is due to increased contraception use and provide no additional commentary. As I have frequently pointed out, the gains in contraceptive use predate the abortion decline by many years. Furthermore, even though contraceptive use has been steadily increasing, the unintended pregnancy rate has actually slightly increased since the mid-1990s.
More importantly, even though the Bloomberg article reports extensively on both high abortion rates and the high rate of preterm births in the same story, it never bothers to draw a connection between the two. This is despite the fact that there exist 127 studies documenting such a link. These studies date back until 1963 and include a wide range of methodological approaches. They also include recent, methodologically rich studies from Italy and China, each of which analyzed thousands of women; as well as a 2009 meta-study of the literature from 1995 to 2007 authored by both pro-life and pro-choice researchers, which found a 64 percent increased risk of a preterm birth with just a single induced abortion.
Overall, it is heartening that publications like Bloomberg News and The Detroit News cover important public-health issues like abortions, infant mortality, and trends in preterm births. That said, it is disappointing that media outlets fail to thoughtfully engage the public health problems that are caused by high abortion rates in U.S. cities.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on twitter @Michael_J_New