Journalists love to print stories laden with irony–at least when it comes to Republicans. Just weeks before the 2004 presidential election, George W. Bush was being blasted over his pro-life stance. Nothing new there, except this time the critic was a highly respected fellow evangelical.
In an article for the liberal-leaning Christian magazine Sojourners, Glen Harold Stassen, the Lewis B. Smedes professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, blamed the president’s social and economic policies for an increase of 52,000 abortions in 2002 than would otherwise have been expected nationwide.
“I am a Christian ethicist, and trained in statistical analysis,” Stassen wrote. “I am consistently pro-life. … I look at fruits of political policies more than words. I analyzed the data on abortion during the George W. Bush presidency. My findings are counterintuitive and disturbing.”
Stassen used data in 16 states to make his case that while abortion had decreased by 17.4 percent during the 1990s, abortions started increasing when Bush took office in 2001. Stassen said falling incomes, rising unemployment, and a lack of health insurance under Bush’s watch were factors.
While some pro-life groups, such as the National Right to Life Committee, quickly raised questions about the data and Stassen’s conclusions, the message had been delivered, predictably amplified by the mainstream media. Bush, seeking to solidify his standing with pro-life voters, had little opportunity to refute it but still won a high percentage of religious voters, carrying him to victory.
But in the wake of the November election, Democrats from Howard Dean to Hillary Clinton have used Stassen’s argument to tell values voters that they represent the real pro-life party. Dean, never prone to understatement, even told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that “abortions have gone up 25 percent since George Bush was president.”
There’s just one problem. Stassen’s conclusions are bunk.
That’s the assessment not of Karl Rove but of the abortion-rights-supporting Alan Guttmacher Institute. The institute, known as the authority in abortion statistics, looked at data not from 16 states, but from 43. It found that in those states the number of abortions had actually decreased by 0.8 percent in both 2001 and 2002, continuing a 20-year trend.
It’s also the conclusion of the Annenberg Center’s respected FactCheck.org website. In a May 25 article entitled “The Biography of a Bad Statistic,” the center called Stassen’s sweeping claim “false,” “untrue,” and “[not] justified by the sketchy information he cited.”
And did this self-described “Christian ethicist … trained in statistical analysis” apologize for using incomplete and erroneous data right before the vote? Sadly, no. The most Stassen, son of the late nine-time losing presidential candidate, Harold Stassen, would concede is that the new Guttmacher statistics are “significantly better” than those he used.
Far from being chastened, Stassen called the decreases in abortion under Bush–which after all occurred during a recession inherited from the Clinton administration, worsened by 9/11–a “stall” in the progress made during the 1990s. Even Sojourners declined to apologize to a fellow Christian, saying, “[F]or those pursuing a consistent pro-life ethic, these updated statististics still paint a troubling picture.”
In other words, much like the ludicrous CBS News defense of its forged-documents story, the charge by these “consistently pro-life” Christians is “fake but accurate.”