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We need stronger abortion reporting requirements

U.S. anti-abortion protest 2017
A man stands during an anti-Planned Parenthood vigil outside the Planned Parenthood - Margaret Sanger Health Center in Manhattan, New York, U.S., on Feb. 11, 2017. |

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Joni Ernst of Iowa recently introduced legislation that would strengthen abortion reporting requirements in the United States. The Ensuring Accurate and Complete Abortion Data Reporting Act of 2019 would specifically require states to publicly report cases where infants were born alive during failed abortions.

The bill would also require states to release accurate and timely abortion data in order to receive certain federal Medicaid family planning funding. This legislation has been cosponsored by seven other Republican U.S. senators. Additionally, companion legislation in the U.S. House has been introduced by Republican Reps. Gary Palmer of Alabama and Ralph Norman of South Carolina

Improved regulation of abortion has recently become a very salient policy issue for several reasons. In January, New York passed legislation that effectively legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The same month, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam indicated that proposed legislation in Virginia would allow doctors to terminate the lives of infants born after botched abortion procedures. In response to this, legislation was introduced in the U.S. House that would provide legal protection to infants born after failed abortions.

While this bill enjoys strong support from House Republicans, Democratic leadership has refused to allow a floor vote on this bill. Finally, the discovery of thousands of aborted children in the home of deceased South Bend, Indiana, abortion doctor Ulrich Klopfer both outraged and disgusted countless Americans.

The provisions requiring data collection on abortion survivors are receiving the most attention. However, the provisions strengthening federal abortion reporting requirements are also important. Federal reporting laws on abortion are weak. The Centers for Disease Control collect aggregate abortion data from state health departments, but compliance on the part of the states is voluntary. Neither California nor New Hampshire has reported abortion data to the CDC since 1997. Maryland has not reported abortion data to the CDC since 2006. While some states provide data about the demographics of the women who obtain abortions, other states report little information besides the total number of abortions performed. Additionally, the CDC‘s reporting is slow. The most recent year for which the CDC has released abortion data is 2015. In contrast, the CDC has already released 2017 data on infant mortality and dental visits among senior citizens.

An alternative source of abortion data is the Guttmacher Institute, which until 2006 was the research arm of Planned Parenthood. As a friend of the abortion industry, Guttmacher periodically surveys abortion facilities to develop abortion estimates that include every state, unlike the reports published by the CDC.

However, as broad estimates, Guttmacher’s reports do not always provide important data that would be of interest to researchers and policymakers. For instance, Guttmacher’s reports often fail to include information about the age or racial demographics of women obtaining abortions or the gestational age of aborted children.

In response to the dismal quality of abortion reporting in the United States, some states have taken the initiative to improve their reporting standards without waiting for the CDC. Arizona’s annual reports, which are available to both researchers and the general public, include monthly data. An even better example is Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Health publishes a high-quality annual report at a total cost to taxpayers of just $4,000. Pro-lifers on the ground have found that accurate state abortion reporting allows them to ensure that safety protections are being enforced, gauge the effectiveness of pro-life laws, and identify locations where their help is most needed.

However, to provide a comprehensive picture of abortion in the U.S., stronger federal abortion reporting standards are necessary. Better abortion reporting requirements should interest all parties in the abortion debate. Improved data on the incidence of abortion could reveal insights about the impact of various pro-life laws, contraception programs, and sex-education curricula. It could also provide better evidence about the health effects of legal abortion. Unfortunately, it does not appear that supporters of legal abortion will be running to the barricades to support this bill. As it currently stands, not one Democrat has cosponsored the legislation introduced by Cotton and Ernst. Pro-lifers may well be fighting this battle alone.

Originally posted at Washington Examiner

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New

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