Running the numbers

numbersRobin Abcarian has a story in the Los Angeles Times explaining that late-term abortion doctor George Tiller’s clinic will be closing following his murder at his church. Here’s the subhed:

Tiller had been the only abortion provider in Wichita, Kan., and his family’s decision to close the facility leaves only two other clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions.

The story repeats the claim:

The shuttering of his clinic means there are no abortion providers left in the Wichita area, and only two other clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions, Tiller’s specialty.

And yet that’s not true. It’s a really hard statistic to nail down because clinics and hospitals that perform late-term abortions aren’t exactly clamoring to have that information shared far and wide. The violence that Tiller and his clinic received over the years is all you need to know to understand why. Late-term abortions are also extremely unpopular — not just with pro-lifers but even those who self-define as pro-choice. Even some abortion doctors oppose the practice.

Washington Post staff writers Peter Slevin and William Branigin handled that piece of information better:

The shutting of Tiller’s clinic reduces by one the handful of places in the United States where women could receive a late-term abortion.

The Washington Post‘s Rob Stein had a piece a few days ago with information from a 2001 survey of 1,819 providers in 15 states and New York City found 18 clinics and 12 hospitals performed late abortions. The numbers, according to sources, had dropped an indeterminate amount since then:

“We know it’s a very small handful,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, the largest group of abortion providers, who would not be more specific. “Given the fact that these people are targeted for violence, I don’t necessarily want to name other providers that we know are providing necessary reproductive health care in these circumstances.”

I had long believed that Doctors Warren Hern, George Tiller and Leroy Carhart were the only three abortion doctors to perform abortions on late- and full-term fetuses. They had claimed as much repeatedly. But as with other claims from sources, reporters should always double check. Kudos to the Washington Post reporters for attempting to source the difficult-to-source claim instead of uncritically accepting the claims of interested parties.

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  • dalea

    In the bumper sticker thread, I did investigate medical terminology regarding abortions. From this, I got some sense of what is going on. There is a distinction between induced and accidental abortion. The accidental is the one where there is a lot of room to maneuver. Apparently there are a number of treatments for other conditions that, as a side effect, cause the fetus to be expelled. There are also conditions that can result in a spontaeneous expelling. These are more subtle than the classic falling down the stairs move. My guess is that most late term abortions are moved into the accidental catagory.

    The question the media should be asking is if the figures refer to all abortion or just to induced ones. But that would involve learning about medical terminology as well as statistics, so not going to happen.

  • Julia

    Usually it’s spontaneous and induced abortions.

    When preparing materials for pathologist examination, I don’t recall any specimens being labelled accidental abortions.

  • danr

    “providers that we know are providing necessary reproductive health care in these circumstances”

    Did she mean “necessarily”? What’s “necessary” about an elective procedure, regardless of whether or not one thinks it should be legal? I suppose it might be deemed legally/medically “necessary” in those extremely rare cases where the life of the mother is at risk, though pro-choice advocates and legislators love to add that wonderfully ambiguous “health” of the mother exemption as well. Otherwise, it’s not necessarily necessary.