John M. Thorp, Jr., and Clark Forsythe write at the Washington Post about the lack of good data on abortion in the U.S., noting that “women’s health cannot be protected without accurate data:”
Abortion advocates in Congress and in state legislatures claim that abortions are “safe.” Yet numerous, long-standing problems at the state and federal level illustrate that the abortion data collection and reporting system in the United States is haphazard and dysfunctional, making assertions about “abortion safety” unreliable.
The U.S. abortion data and reporting system, unlike many other countries, relies completely on voluntary reporting. No federal law requires the reporting of abortion numbers, complications or deaths. (Denmark, in contrast, requires mandatory reporting by providers of all induced abortions.)
In fact, only two national organizations collect abortion data in the United States: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal government agency, and the private abortion advocacy group, the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Reporting of abortion data to both is completely voluntary and not all states participate.
Even the most basic statistics about abortion — for example, the annual number in the United States provided by the CDC — is based entirely on estimates, and is therefore vulnerable to human error. How reliable can the annual number of abortions be if California, which used to report approximately one-quarter of all abortions across the nation annually, hasn’t reported its data to the CDC for several years?
It’s impossible to say how safe abortion is in the United States when only 26 states require providers to report injuries and complications from abortion.
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