The Abortion Industry, Like Big Tobacco Before It, Undermines Science | Opinion

In the early 1950s, confronted by a wave of peer-reviewed studies indicating that smoking was causing lung and heart disease deaths, leaders of the tobacco industry embarked on a strategy to disrupt the process of knowledge production.

Their goal was to distort and undermine the emerging science. Rather than ignore research on smoking outcomes, they seized the chance to control and engineer that research and to manipulate the debate surrounding it.

Today, Big Abortion is following Big Tobacco's old playbook.

The tobacco industry's approach was simple and powerful: fund and publish research that supported the industry's position, suppress and criticize research that did not and disseminate a favorable interpretation of data broadly to the media and policymakers. Big Tobacco did this by establishing the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC), which would be tightly controlled by the industry but promoted to the public as an independent body.

The TIRC funded friendly university scientists and clinical specialists to perform research only tangentially related to the causal link between smoking and cancer, carefully avoiding the work of independent scientists who focused on this critical relationship. Further, the TIRC aggressively implemented a public relations campaign that involved scientists, editors, authors, opinion-makers and celebrities—remember Virginia Slims?—to distort and confuse what was known about the smoking-cancer connection.

These strategies proved effective well into the 1990s, when Big Tobacco worked to suppress data on second-hand smoke. But more importantly, the industry successfully avoided effective federal regulation for 50 years following the first papers linking cigarettes to premature death.

Planned Parenthood St Louis
ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 31: Planned Parenthood employees look on from the balcony to a pro-life demonstration outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center on May 31, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. In the wake of Missouri recent controversial abortion legislation, the states' last abortion clinic is being forced to close by the end of the day. Planned Parenthood is expected to go to court to try and stop the closing. Michael Thomas/Getty Images

A similar process is at work today, with groups like the Guttmacher Institute and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco advancing a line friendly to the abortion industry under the guise of independent research. Guttmacher, founded in 1968 within the corporate structure of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, is the research vanguard of the abortion industry. It continues to receive funding from pro-abortion interest groups and foundations. The first words on its web site decry "unprecedented threats to U.S. abortion rights and access." Guttmacher and its captive journals carefully avoid any incisive research on the adverse effects of induced abortion.

Rather than objectively report on the inherent bias in this situation, too many in the media accept spoon-fed abortion industry talking points based on flawed studies. One prime example is the frequently cited Turnaway Study, a paid survey of fewer than one thousand actual participants promoted as reliable research about women who were denied or did not obtain abortions for various reasons. Buried in the study, press releases and media reports are the facts that over 68 percent of the women researchers approached refused to participate, half of those who did participate dropped out and the researchers acknowledged the minority who did participate were atypical.

Effective research on a consequential topic such as abortion requires both valid data sources and independent financial support. The abortion industry and relevant federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are complicit in assuring that the United States has neither.

The CDC's abortion data collection system relies on voluntary reporting by states. Some states—including California, the state with the highest number of abortions—simply fail to collect or report data. States that do report abortion statistics often neglect critical variables (e.g., race) or don't report them every year. For analytical purposes, therefore, the CDC abortion data is of little value.

To get a more complete picture of national abortion incidence, the CDC defers to abortion patient and provider surveys conducted periodically by Guttmacher, which include every state but are not taken every year. The most recent survey dates to 2017. Similarly, the FDA recently relied on data from the abortion industry—abortion providers and the manufacturers of abortion pills—in its decision to eliminate longstanding patient safeguards on the abortion pill. As in the days of the TIRC, the FDA and abortion industry studiously avoid independent research findings that the rate of U.S. abortion pill-related emergency room visits increased more than 500 percent from 2002 through 2015 (the most recent data available).

Many other nations, by contrast, link a mandatory, comprehensive, uniform national abortion data registry with death certificates and registries of health services. Studies undertaken using Scandinavian systems have uncovered an incidence of serious abortion complications, including hemorrhage and the need for follow-up surgery, that is an order of magnitude greater than those discerned in the U.S. No wonder the abortion industry and its complicit federal partners remain committed to the shamefully inadequate abortion data reporting in the U.S.

As we have seen with the tobacco industry, the abortion industry's persistent undermining of the conduct of valid science will exact its toll in the misery of preventable illness and the desolation of preventable death.

James Studnicki, Sc.D., MPH, MBA, is vice president and director of data analytics for Charlotte Lozier Institute. John W. Fisher, Ph.D., J.D., is an associate scholar at Charlotte Lozier Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.