Fact check: Gov. Bryant’s claims about abortion numbers, black women

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant speaks during a press conference before the special session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Jackson Thursday, August 23, 2018.

At a Nov. 12 press conference, where a group called National Right To Life endorsed U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in her campaign bid against Mike Espy, Gov. Phil Bryant said the senator would cast pro-life votes that, among other things, would stop what he called “genocide” from occuring.

During his comments, delivered in Jackson, Gov. Bryant cited several statistics that he attributed to Wikipedia, including that 60 million abortions have occurred since the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case guaranteeing a woman’s right to have an abortion. Additionally, he said the rate at which black women obtain abortions is tantamount to genocide.

Mississippi Today tracked down the sources of the governor’s claims to provide additional context.

Bryant claim: “I can tell you that across America today, thousands and thousands of children are being aborted. Wikipedia, someone you may have heard of before, says that the U.S.A. has killed its own, through abortion, 60 million since Roe v. Wade.”

Fact check: National Right to Life, the group that endorsed Hyde-Smith, often cites this figure, which a graphic on the group’s website purports to draw from the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that advocates for abortion access. Statistics from the group were frequently cited by state legislators earlier this year when the state House and Senate worked to pass a bill limiting abortions in Mississippi to no later than 15 weeks.

Quantifying the total number of abortions is challenging because most groups keep track of this by annual self-reported data. However, several reputable agencies tally data each year. The U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, for example, produces annual reports on the number of abortions in the U.S. These reports are voluntary, and reports for 1973-78 and 1982-83 are not available from the CDC. The CDC reports shows that from 1979 to 2014, at least 35.9 million abortions were provided.

When the CDC data is combined with Guttmacher data, which includes the years CDC does not make readily available, the total number of abortions provided since 1973 jumps to more than 45 million.

Guttmacher also reports that abortion hit its lowest rate ever in 2014.

Claim: “We’ve killed more by abortion than in all wars this country has been involved in.”

Fact check: There exists no universally accepted definition of when life begins, so terminated pregnancies and soldier deaths is an incongruous comparison. However, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 1.1 million people were killed in war between 1775 and 1991.  

Claim: “According to Wikipedia, African American women are three times more likely to have an abortion – three times more likely. Twenty million — over 20 million — African American children have been aborted in this nation. A genocide. Imagine that. It says that had those children not been aborted, the African American population would have been 48 percent larger in America.”

Mississippi Today could not find this specific assertion on Wikipedia, the crowd-sourcing website that allows its users to edit the site. Although Bryant did not say which racial group to which he compares African American women, his information seems to again come from Right to Life, which states on its website : “More than 19 million Black babies have been aborted since the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision legalized abortion in our country,” but offers no sources to support that assertion.

Combining Guttmacher and CDC data, estimates of the total abortions among African American women since 1973 are around 16 million. The most recent data from 2014 show that African American women are 2.7 times more likely than white women to have an abortion, but white women have the most abortions, comprising 39 percent of the total, according to a 2017 analysis in the American Journal of Public Health.

Public health studies show that abortion rates are going down. While African American women have a higher rate of abortions than other racial groups, that rate has dropped more in recent years compared to the decline in white women having abortions. Abortions among African American women have decreased by 32 percent in recent years, while the rate for white women has dropped by 14 percent. The 2017 report suggests that increased reliance on contraception — particularly long-acting reversible contraception, such as IUDs and implants, which the CDC say is the most effective method for preventing unintended pregnancy among sexually active women — have contributed to the decline.

OB-GYNs, who are most likely to provide the most effective contraception, are in short supply in Mississippi. According to the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, fewer than half of Mississippi counties have an OB-GYN, and of those seeking family planning services through publicly funded clinics, Mississippi women are the least likely in the country to use the most effective contraception.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.”

Claim: “(Wikipedia) says that had those children not been aborted, the African American population would have been 48 percent larger in America. We can play with those numbers and we can look at statistics, but the cold, grim truth is children are being murdered.”

This statistic is not found on any Wikipedia page. It is, however, cited in just one online article from the Washington-based Center for Urban Renewal and Education, a religious pro-life advocacy group that aims to “build awareness that a conservative agenda of traditional values, limited government and free markets is of the greatest marginal benefit to low-income Americans.”

Their articles attribute the 48 percent figure to a man named Dennis Howard, who runs a pro-life group called the Movement for a Better America. That statistic does not exist on Howard’s website and is not listed in his laundry list of statistics by the self-proclaimed “leading market researcher.” On his website, Howard blames the Great Recession on population declines due to abortions. Also on Howard’s website, he compares the rate of abortions for African American women to the number of African Americans who were lynched in America.