Politics & Policy

Republicans Move to Improve Quality of U.S. Abortion Statistics

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, May 1, 2019. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
Several GOP senators are sponsoring a bill that requires states to report infants delivered alive after attempted abortions, among other data.

Several Republican senators have introduced legislation requiring states to cooperate in an effort to obtain more-accurate abortion statistics across the country. Senators Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) are serving as lead sponsors of the Ensuring Accurate and Complete Abortion Data Reporting Act of 2019, an effort to standardize and upgrade what we know about where and how often women obtain abortions in the U.S.

The legislation has two primary functions: first, to require states to report all instances in which infants are born alive in the course of an attempted abortion procedure; and second, to incentivize states to provide abortion statistics for their general population, in an effort to improve the quality of overall data available to the public.

Only a few states have strict laws on the books requiring abortion providers to report cases of infants being delivered alive after a failed abortion attempt. Abortion-advocacy organizations often insist that laws regulating the treatment of newborns after attempted abortion are unnecessary because these cases never occur. In fact, in the states that mandate reporting of such instances, records show that there have been dozens of these cases in the past few years alone.

“The American people deserve to know how many babies are born alive during abortion attempts in our country,” Cotton said in a statement to National Review about the legislation. “This is life-or-death information, yet most states don’t collect it. Our bill would require states to report accurate and complete data about abortion, including instances where babies are born alive during abortions.”

Cotton and Ernst are joined in sponsoring the Abortion Data Reporting Act by fellow GOP senators Steve Daines (Mont.), James Lankford (Okla.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Kevin Cramer (N.D.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), and Tim Scott (S.C.). The legislation is a companion to a nearly identical House version, introduced this summer by Republican congressmen Gary Palmer (Ala.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.).

The Ernst-Cotton bill would make data available from every state on born-alive infants, making it easier to assess and articulate the need for regulation in cases where newborns are delivered alive. This February, after Virginia governor Ralph Northam suggested that, at least in some cases, it should be left up to mothers and doctors to decide whether to care for infants born alive after attempted abortion procedures, Democrats blocked a Republican effort to pass legislation protecting such infants.

That legislation, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, would’ve made it illegal for abortion providers to fail to provide the same level of medical care to infants who survive abortions as they would to any other infant of the same gestational age. In voting against the bill, Democratic senators repeatedly insisted that no such thing ever happens.

But thanks to data from the few states to require reporting, along with eyewitness accounts from former abortion providers, we know that it does. This new bill would improve our understanding of how often it happens, by mandating the thorough collection of data on born-alive infants from all 50 states.

In addition, the new legislation would do more than Congress has ever done to improve the quantity and quality of available statistics about the overall incidence of abortion in the U.S., something both proponents and opponents of legal abortion should be willing to support.

“America’s main source of abortion data comes from a biased think tank that only collects information on a voluntary basis,” Ernst told National Review, referring to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute. “That’s unacceptable. Why wouldn’t we want the most reliable and complete data possible surrounding such an important issue?”

“The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) itself has long acknowledged that national statistics on abortion are lacking,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, founder and president of the Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement to National Review. “State-level abortion data reporting is completely optional, resulting in a patchwork of incomplete, outdated and sometimes entirely missing information.”

Dannenfelser is correct. Under current law, reporting abortion data to the CDC is entirely optional, and three states that account for 15 percent of the U.S. population — California, Maryland, and New Hampshire — consistently decline to provide their statistics. Under the new legislation, states that refuse to provide their annual abortion statistics to the CDC will lose some Medicaid family-planning funds for populations ineligible for traditional Medicaid, such as non-pregnant and non-disabled childless adults.

“Americans expect accurate and comprehensive data about public health and medicine, especially when taxpayer funds are being used to support procedures like abortion,” Tom Shakely, chief engagement officer at Americans United for Life (AUL), told National Review. “Abortion-promoting states shouldn’t be entitled to receive tax funds for abortion on the one hand, and then on the other refuse to track the most basic information about the outcomes of those abortions.”

Both SBA List and AUL have endorsed the Republican effort to pass this legislation, and Dannenfelser said she hopes to see it pass with bipartisan support. No Democratic lawmakers have yet stepped up to cosponsor the legislation.

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