The tweet is one of a series from the Twitter account of Parents for Choice. Every day in September, they are tweeting what they consider to be a fact about abortion and the effect of the Eighth Amendment in Ireland using the hashtag #30FactsHasSeptember. We could (and probably will) poke holes in and disagree with every single one posted so far. For reasons of time, this post will just discuss one of those tweets, because it’s deals with a pro-choice tactic that I’ve always found baffling: rarity.
This is the tweet in question. It was posted on 5 September 2017.
Although there’s no source cited (it’s a tweet, not a thesis, so this is completely understandable), this figure seems to be from the 2016 NHS Abortion Statistics, which, in Table 3aiii, shows that 81% of abortions were carried out between 3 and 9 weeks of gestation, and 11% between 10 and 12 weeks. 81+11=92. There’s no quibbling with that, although let’s remember that that figure only represented one year. If you look at the table, you can see that the figures vary, albeit not hugely.
So that’s all fine, then. Except if we look at another jurisdiction. Let’s take Canada, seeing as Justin Trudeau felt it was so appropriate to lecture us on our national abortion policy. In 2015 (I couldn’t find the 2016 statistics, so if someone could point them out to us, that would be great), there were 23,561 abortions in hospitals and 76,543 in abortion clinics. We only have gestational age details for those abortions carried out in hospitals, so that’s what we’ll work with here. 16,031 of hospital abortions were carried out before 13 weeks. That’s 68%. A lot lower than the UK’s 92%. It’s also interesting to note that 4,522 of the overall abortion total were carried out without the gestational age being known. This seems very odd to me, given that we’re being encouraged to follow in Canada’s footsteps, and in a single year, they didn’t record or didn’t find out the gestational age for 19% of the abortions carried out in hospitals (this seems to have been chiefly Ontario—the pro-choice source I cite here appears very annoyed that it was an ‘anti-choice’ activist who uncovered these missing figures. I would have thought that they would have wanted as much information as possible, regardless of who discovered it. But apparently not). Even if we pretend that EVERY SINGLE ONE of those unknown abortions was carried out at below 13 weeks, that’s 4,522+7,330+8,701=20553/23561*100/1= 87.2% of pre-13 week abortions. Still well below 92%, and that’s making the huge and generous assumption that all the ‘unknowns’ were below 13 weeks. (I’m actually going to do another blog post on Canada’s abortion statistics, because they’re so crazy they deserve their moment in the spotlight, and I don’t want this to turn into a Canada-bashing post when it’s supposed to be a general pro-choice argument bashing post).
Even if we ignore other jurisdictions completely, and pretend that 92% is the correct figure, and not just the one that’s most convenient for pro-choicers, I really don’t understand why pro-choice advocates think that this argument is a point in their favour. Doesn’t the argument ‘But it’s so rare’ imply that there’s something wrong with those abortions that do fall into that minority category? Aren’t the pro-choice movement really acknowledging here that, yes, there’s something very unsettling and wrong about ending the lives of children, especially once they’ve reached a certain developmental stage? Why use rarity as an argument if you don’t think the premise is bad in the first place? Third, as a pro-life advocate, I value life at all stages. A death at 6 weeks is as tragic as one at 12 weeks, or 24 weeks or 32 weeks. It’s no consolation that the abortion happened earlier. It’s a tragedy that it happened at all. Fourth, rarity is not nonexistence. Imagine saying (the following figures are completely made up), ‘Well, 92% of people don’t drink drive, so we shouldn’t worry about drink-driving’. ‘92% of people don’t experience domestic violence. Let’s forget all about it!’ ‘Only 8% of people will ever die of skin cancer. That’s grand, nothing to see here’. You’d never say that. You’d still accept that that 8% that pose the issue need attention in some way. It doesn’t work as an argument. It doesn’t work from a pro-life perspective either. If we say, ‘Pregnancies from rape are rare’, that isn’t enough to form a complete argument against allowing abortion in pregnancies that happen as a result of rape. We need better, more complete arguments. So, going by this evidence, do the pro-choice side. If you hear a pro-choicer making the rarity argument, let them know it doesn’t work for you. If you’re pro-life, make sure not to rely on rarity. We have better, smarter weapons than them. Let’s use them.
The Statistics Fairy