Thursday, March 09, 2006

Article: Parental Notification of Abortion in Texas Does Not Reduce Unwanted Pregnancies

Sadly, my headline was not the headline being used by all the news outlets. Most of them used something akin to "Teen abortions reduced by Texas notification law." And that's exactly how its playing out in the media - Restricting Abortion Laws = Fewer Abortions. Not a huge stretch of the imagination.

Except for the inconvenient fact that the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, makes no such claim...

It states in much more precise language:

After enforcement of the law, abortion rates fell by 11 percent among 15-year-olds (rate ratio, 0.89; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.83 to 0.94), 20 percent among 16-year-olds (rate ratio, 0.80; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.76 to 0.85), and 16 percent among 17-year-olds (rate ratio 0.84; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.80 to 0.87), relative to the rates among 18-year-olds. Among the subgroup of minors 17.50 to 17.74 years of age at the time of conception (who would have been subject to the parental notification law in early pregnancy), birth rates rose by 4 percent relative to those of teens 18.00 to 18.24 years of age (rate ratio, 1.04; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.00 to 1.08). The adjusted odds ratio for having an abortion after 12 weeks' gestation among minors 17.50 to 17.74 years of age as compared with 18-year-olds was 1.34 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.10 to 1.62).

The Texas parental notification law was associated with a decline in abortion rates among minors from 15 to 17 years of age. It was also associated with increased birth rates and rates of abortion during the second trimester among a subgroup of minors who were 17.50 to 17.74 years of age at the time of conception. [Emphasis mine.]

Got that everyone? The notification law was associated with some minor declines in abortion for 15-17 year olds. One of the most basic premises of statistics is that correlation does not equal causation. This result may be entirely spurious, and has yet to be replicated in other research. A better study would have tracked 10,000 or so 14-18 year olds in Texas with a similar demographic group in another state without notification laws during the same time period. But they decided to do it on the cheap. But let's disregard that for a moment, and take their results at face value.

Abortions among 15-17 year olds went slightly down, but birth rates went slightly up, and many abortions were simply delayed to the second trimester, when it is more dangerous. There is no evidence that the number of unwanted pregnancies were effected, just the number and timing of abortions.

The study's authors go to immense lengths to qualify their language. The media took the easy route, and now its talking points for right wingers.

Reuters, to their credit, does a half decent job of exploring the issue, even if their headline is wildly inaccurate. But just take a perusal of headlines, or turn on your cable news network, and you'll see how little this country understands math, and how that ignorance has a deleterious effect on public policy.
<-Back to the Main Page