Mike the Mad Biologist

Kirsten Powers attempts to debunk the claim that increased access to contraception prevents unwanted abortions:

In the U.S., the story isn’t much different. A January 2011 fact sheet by the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute listed all the reasons that women who have had an abortion give for their unexpected pregnancy, and not one of them is lack of access to contraception. In fact, 54 percent of women who had abortions had used a contraceptive method, if incorrectly, in the month they got pregnant. For the 46 percent who had not used contraception, 33 percent had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy; 32 percent had had concerns about contraceptive methods; 26 percent had had unexpected sex, and 1 percent had been forced to have sex. Not one fraction of 1 percent said they got pregnant because they lacked access to contraception. Some described having unexpected sex, but all that can be said about them is that they are irresponsible, not that they felt they lacked access to contraception.

Lack of knowledge of contraception also isn’t a reason that American women get abortions. Guttmacher reported that only 8 percent of women who undergo abortions have never used a method of birth control

But what is truly astonishing about the Guttmacher statistics is that they are completely unchanged from a decade ago.

In the year 2000, Guttmacher experts reported: “Forty-six percent of women [seeking abortions] had not used a contraceptive method in the month they conceived, mainly because of perceived low risk of pregnancy and concerns about contraception. More than half of women obtaining abortions in 2000 (54 percent) had been using a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant.”

These are exactly the same as the 2011 numbers.

SHAZAM! Sounds kinda devasting, doesn’t it? Powers then snarks, “By the way, [the] Guttmacher [Institute] was founded by Planned Parenthood; these are the numbers the group views as the most reliable.”

Zoiks! Well, let’s see what Guttmacher actually says (pdf; p. 16; italics mine):

By providing millions of women with access to the contraceptive services they want and need, public funding for family planning helps women avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies each year (Figure 2.4, page 15). An estimated 450,000 of these unintended pregnancies are prevented as a result of services provided by private doctors under Medicaid. Yet, publicly supported family planning centers are the dominant source of services–helping women avoid 1.48 million unintended pregnancies. Fully 300,000 of these pregnancies averted with the help of family planning centers would have occurred among teens, and just over one million would have occurred among poor and lowincome women. Centers that receive some Title X funds provide services that enable women to avoid nearly one million unintended pregnancies each year.

Enabling these women to avoid an unintended pregnancy reduces the number of women and couples confronting the choice between turning to abortion and having a birth they did not intend to have. Without publicly supported family planning services, the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions occurring in the United States each year would be nearly two-thirds higher among women overall and among teens (Figure 2.5); the number of unintended pregnancies among poor women would nearly double. Without the services provided just in centers receiving Title X funds, unintended pregnancy in the United States would be 31% higher. And absent publicly supported services, the U.S. abortion rate today would be higher than it ever has been.

Hunh. You don’t say.

Powers screws up by not asking the right question: how often do women who correctly use contraception become pregnant? Obviously, such women are going to show up very infrequently in a survey of women who have abortions. Powers also neglects to qualify contraception use–most women did not have good compliance (pdf):

Forty-six percent of women had not used a contraceptive method in the month they conceived, mainly because of perceived low risk of pregnancy and concerns about contraception (cited by 33% and 32% of nonusers, respectively). The male condom was the most commonly reported method among all women (28%), followed by the pill (14%). Inconsistent method use was the main cause of pregnancy for 49% of condom users and 76% of pill users; 42% of condom users cited condom breakage or slippage as a reason for pregnancy. Substantial proportions of pill and condom users indicated perfect method use (13-14%).

Instead, Powers accuses Planned Parenthood of “ignoring basic statistics about their area of expertise.”*

Pots calling kettles black, and all of that.

*Powers also ignores this part of the mission statement:

…in making effective means of voluntary fertility regulation, including contraception, abortion, sterilization, and infertility services, available and fully accessible to all as a central element to reproductive healthcare

Gotta love quote-mining.

Comments

  1. #1 hipparchia
    March 5, 2011

    Oh, noes! Actual facts!

    I always appreciate it when someone sets the record straight like this [thank you!], but what we really need is for it to be safe, legal, affordable [I prefer "fully taxpayer-funded"] for women to have abortions any time they want to, for any reason they want to, including as their primary method of birth control if that’s their preference.

    And without any outside interference. It’s not like deranged radicals are going around killing the doctors who prescribe Viagra, or anything.

  2. #2 Pierce R. Butler
    March 5, 2011

    Several years ago, wearing my reporter hat, I called the Centers for Disease Control press office about a discrepancy between some CDC stats and others from the Guttmacher Institute.

    Their spokesperson immediately told me that whenever such an anomaly was found, I should take the Guttmacher numbers as more reliable.

    I have yet to imagine a greater vote of confidence.

  3. #3 neveragain
    March 6, 2011

    Let look. Don’t get an abortion, but, buy a gun, keep the death penalty and then send them to war.

  4. #4 pharmer
    March 7, 2011

    How does one count pregnancies which never happened? Also how does one distinguish between pregnancies which never happened and very early miscarriages??

    Where do these figures of prevented unintended pregnancies come from?

    Are there people with indwelling cameras showing views of the secondary oocyte sailing by, and out of the uterus?

    Here’s an example of research showing disappointing results from the ready availability of contraception – which does not reduce abortion rates in this Scottish study.

    http://www.redfarmaciaresponsable.com/documentos/Advanced_provision_of_emergency_contraception_does_not_reduce_abortion_rates.pdf

  5. #5 Bobobobobo
    March 7, 2011

    …or you could simply not have sex and never have to worry about any of this. I suppose, perhaps, it’s too much discipline to keep your pants on.

  6. #6 Wow
    March 7, 2011

    What you could do is have the snip and then never have to worry again.

    Or is that not an option?

  7. #7 paraxanthine
    March 7, 2011

    RE the Scotland study provided by pharmer: That study deals not with contraception in general but only Plan B / emergency contraception.

    As the study says, “normal” contraception is relatively common in Scotland, and abortion rates are already low. Giving women Plan B to keep at home does not seem to further lower the abortion rate, according to the study.

    The authors theorize that perception (i.e., education) is necessary too: “Having a supply of EC to keep at home will not help women who do not recognize the risk of pregnancy, and therefore do not recognize the need to use EC.”

    @Bobobobobo: Now we know that, for you, sex is about a lack of discipline. How is that working out for your partner?

  8. #8 Monado, FCD
    March 7, 2011

    abortion was legalized not long after the Pill came out. When abortion was illegal there were no hospitals keeping statistics on how many they did and no doctors admitting that they did any. Deaths, especially where parents or victims were “respectable,” were often listed as having some other cause. So numbers may seem to have gone up.

    Before abortion was legal, and even now in places where it’s not, infections, blood loss, and incomplete abortion caused by attempted abortion were common. The anti-choice like to show statistics showing that fewer women are dying of abortion in the U.S. now than before 1973. They want you to conclude that their efforts to stop abortion are the cause, when in fact it’s the legalization of abortion.

  9. #9 Monado, FCD
    March 7, 2011

    To estimate non-pregnancies, you count the number of people who come to your service for contraception and multiply it by the average rate of pregnancy for their age group.

    To estimate abortions averted, you take the number of pregnancies calculated above and multiply it by the percentage of pregnancies that end in abortion for that group. In teens, about 2/3. In other groups, abnout 1/2.

    Very early miscarriages are not counted by anyone, using contraception or not, since they do not cause a pregnancy that requires medical intervention. The 80% of pregnancies that fail before causing anyone to take note do not appear in these statistics. They are just late periods or false alarms.

  10. #10 Veritate
    March 8, 2011

    Perhaps the reason for noncompliance to the contraception regimen for the “birth control pill” is due to all the negative side effects, e.g., weight gain, loss of libido, headaches, depression, increased irritability, and even abortions caused through break-through ovulation of low-dose pills. Could this explain the poor results from hormonal contraception methods?

  11. #11 Wow
    March 9, 2011

    There is now, IIRC, a male pill.

    I’ve never really seen the problem with using a rubber, mind. Except there’s nowhere to put the used one in a bedroom.

  12. #12 Rebecca
    March 10, 2011

    The author of the Daily Beast article, Kirsten Powers, posted the following retraction:

    “Author’s Note: I made a serious error in reporting this column that undermines the conclusion I drew. I compared statistics on contraceptive use from a January 2011 Guttmacher Institute fact sheet to a year 2000 study on the same issue. However, I did not realize that the 2011 fact sheet derived its statistics from the year 2000 numbers, so my argument was not supported by the data. I am deeply sorry for the error, which invalidates my piece.”

  13. #13 Mike Selmer
    April 10, 2011

    An excerpt from and anti-choice site. “pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute listed all the reasons that women who have had an abortion give for their unexpected pregnancy, and not one of them is lack of access to contraception.” Of course it wasn’t! How ignorant can you get! The women who had access to contraceptives and used them properly DIDN”T GET ABORTIONS! Take away Planned Parenthood and that will no longer be true.