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A closer look at Bachmann’s ’30 percent increase in abortions’ claim

Over the weekend, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) warned that passage of the health-care reform legislation would result in a huge jump in the number of abortions in the United States.

“We know from the Alan Guttmacher Institute that if there is taxpayer funding of abortion, there will be 30 percent more abortions,” she said at a press conference.

Given that an estimated 1.2 million abortions are performed in the United States each year, a 30 percent increase would mean an additional 360,000 abortions.

That seemed a rather large and, frankly, unlikely number to me.

When I asked Bachmann’s spokesperson, David Dziok, where the 30 percent statistic came from, he referred me to an article on the Guttmacher Institute’s website, which includes this statement: “Studies published over the course of two decades looking at a number of states concluded that 18-35% of women who would have had an abortion continued their pregnancies after Medicaid funding was cut off.”

The website cites one study in particular (conducted in North Carolina and published in 1999), which found that “about one-third of women who would have had an abortion if support were available carried their pregnancies to term when the abortion fund was unavailable.”

Nuanced numbers

I then spoke with Rebecca Wind, senior communications officer for the Guttmacher Institute in New York. She seemed to audibly sigh when I told her what I was calling about.

“There’s been a lot of numbers flying around and a lot of misuse of data,” she told me.

The Guttmacher Institute statistics cited by Bachmann’s office come with all sorts of caveats, she said.

Wind explained that although the Guttmacher Institute does report that if the so-called Hyde Amendment (which has banned federal Medicaid coverage of abortions since 1976) were repealed, the number of abortions in the U.S. would increase about one third — but only among Medicaid-enrolled women and only in states that don’t themselves currently subsidize abortions for poor women. (FYI: Minnesota is one of the 17 states that does subsidize abortions of Medicaid enrollees.)

But, of course, the Hyde amendment isn’t going to be repealed under the new health reform legislation. So the whole issue is moot.

Still, even if the Hyde amendment were repealed, noted Susan Cohen, director of governmental affairs at the Guttmacher Institute, in a “Reality Check” article published in the Guttmacher Policy Review last August, 

that would translate to only a 5 percent increase in the total number of abortions in these states, because relatively few women in any given state are actually enrolled in Medicaid. And because many of the most populous states (such as New York and California) already use their own money to pay for abortion services for poor women, the national impact of repealing the Hyde amendment would be even smaller: The number of abortions among Medicaid-eligible women nationwide would be expected to increase by approximately 33,000, a figure that would represent an increase in the number of abortions nationwide of only 2.5 percent.

The Massachusetts experience

“The Hyde amendment bans federal dollars for abortion, and health care reform didn’t change that one bit,” said Kathi Di Nicola, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and North and South Dakota, in a phone interview on Monday. “What we do know is that increasing women’s access to health care is the surest way to decrease the rate of abortions.”

And, indeed, that seems to be what happened in Massachusetts after it enacted its “Commonwealth Care” legislation in 2006 that expanded health care to almost all state residents. A paper published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, reported that during the first two years of the expanded coverage, the overall number of abortions fell 1.5 percent.

Among teenagers the decline in abortions was even greater: 7.4 percent.

And, as the study’s author, Patrick Whelan, MD, a pediatric rheumatologist at Harvard University (and president of Catholic Democrats), points out, these decreases occurred during a period of rising birth rates and an increase in the state’s overall population.

Granted, the decrease in the abortion rate began in Massachusetts (and nationwide) in the 1990s, but expanding health care certainly hasn’t reversed the trend.

And it certainly hasn’t increased it by 30 percent.

“As of February 2010,” writes Whelan, “more than 439,000 additional people were covered by health insurance [under Commonwealth Care], yet the most recent data indicate that the number of abortions in Massachusetts simultaneously reached its lowest level since at least the 1970s.”

Whelan also points to a report [PDF] by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good that found that Medicaid funding has a “statistically insignificant effect” on the abortion rate. And what factor was most likely to decrease the likelihood that a woman will seek an abortion?

A job for her boyfriend or husband.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Van Mueller on 03/23/2010 - 12:10 pm.

    Thank you for the multiple data sources and analysis on health care and abortion relationships. My congresswomen is Michelle Bachmann. I don’t know whether she is ignorant or evil or both.I do know that she an unreliable source of information.

  2. Submitted by Michael Ernst on 03/23/2010 - 12:21 pm.

    Yeah, but you can’t scare anyone with that kind of logical and reasoned analysis.

  3. Submitted by Douglas Shambo II on 03/23/2010 - 01:13 pm.

    That there are people that actually believe what Rep. Bachmann puts forth as fact is a sad testament to the present state of our democracy. SHE is the one needing to be repealed.

  4. Submitted by Herbert Davis on 03/23/2010 - 02:35 pm.

    Surprise surprise! Her claims are unfounded and she continues to fight against sex education and birth control…I am shocked that she has made claims that are without factual merit.

    If the claim is goofy enough you get more press coverage? Worked again!

  5. Submitted by Michael Zalar on 03/23/2010 - 03:33 pm.

    Meanwhile, roughly 22,000 people lost thier lives due to lack of health insurance in 2006, according to an Institute of Medicine study and recently Harvard study in 2009 puts that figure at 45,000.
    Michele Bachmann is already attempting to repeal the legislation that will significantly reduce those numbers. Lets call it about 30,000 people per year that will die if Bachmann gets her way.

    30,000 people that YOU want to KILL Ms Bachmann, how does your conscience handle THAT.



  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/23/2010 - 04:56 pm.

    Michael: You are actually implying that Michele Bachmann has a conscience?

    More seriously, one might distinguish between legal and illegal abortions. The latter actually have a higher health care cost, since they are often followed by visits to the ER to clean up the mess.

  7. Submitted by myles spicer on 03/23/2010 - 05:26 pm.

    I have studied Bachmann’s comments over the years (and have written two op-eds about them). When you examine the outrageous claims and frequency of her contentions, one can only conclude that she lives in a fantasy world of her own creation.

    Hmmm…having said that, I should note she is also a “creationist”.

  8. Submitted by Howard Miller on 03/23/2010 - 07:15 pm.

    good article. love when someone digs in, finds out, shares with it with the rest of us. Susan Perry did us a real service.

    it IS frustrating that Rep.Bachmann’s comments get such reaction – though a member of Congress, she says so many outrageous things, a journalist would be pressed to fact-check it all and still make a deadline.

  9. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 03/23/2010 - 08:37 pm.

    Thank you for devoting the time for a “moot point”. Is there any way Rep. Bachmann can be re-elected?

  10. Submitted by Tad Bornhoft on 03/26/2010 - 04:19 pm.

    An international perspective: Universal health care tends to cut the abortion rate.

  11. Submitted by William Pappas on 03/27/2010 - 11:54 am.

    Republicans should be ashamed that Bachmann, my congresswoman, is leading the fight aqainst health insurance reform with misleading information every day. This statement is typical of what Republicans let pass for information in discussion of the law (not a bill any longer). In a discussion of the law in my office this week I was shocked at what people thought the law would entail. When I simply gave them several pages of facts put out by CBS network on major elements of the law they seemed to think the negatives needed equal time. They still didn’t understand these were facts, not democratic spin, but real consequences of this legislation that don’t require a truth squad to understand.

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