By Michael J. New, Ph.D.-
Abortion has been a very salient issue in the upcoming Illinois primary elections. Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL), one of the few pro-life Democrats in Congress, is facing a primary challenge from Marie Newman, who supports legal abortion. On the Republican side, state representative Jeanne Ives has mounted an aggressive primary challenge to incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner. Rauner’s decision last September to sign HB 40, which calls for taxpayer funding of abortion through the state Medicaid program, has been a key element in Ives’ campaign.
The legality of abortion and the extent to which taxpayers should have to subsidize abortions are both important policy topics. However, often overlooked by politicians from both major parties is the quality and detail of abortion statistics reported by state health agencies.
At the federal level, abortion reporting requirements are very weak. The most recent abortion surveillance report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) includes data from 2014. Three states failed to report any data; California has not reported any abortion data to the CDC since 1997.
At the state level, the timeliness, quality, and detail of the abortion data provided varies. A new Charlotte Lozier Institute report nicely summarizes the quality of data reported annually by the Illinois Department of Public Health, which breaks down abortion statistics into a variety of useful categories including the woman’s marital status, her age, and the gestational age of the unborn child. The most recent data is from 2016. Reports dating back to 2005 are available online.
There is still room for improvement. The Department of Health fails to report the number of abortions paid for by Medicaid. This is unhelpful for policymakers, public health professionals, journalists, activists, and other concerned citizens. HB 40 took effect in January and there is considerable misinformation about what has changed. A recent Politifact article claims Medicaid already covered certain elective abortions before HB 40, citing a 1994 ruling by a Cook County Judge.
However, separate reports from the Guttmacher Institute and the Illinois Department of Public Aid have typically found that in previous years, less than one percent of all abortions in Illinois were paid for by Medicaid. In other states where abortion is covered, the percentage paid for by Medicaid is significantly higher – frequently over 50 percent in some states such as California and Washington. The number of abortions in Illinois has been going down, but with enactment of HB 40, I estimate there could be as many as 3,800 more abortions each year.
Furthermore, the state reports no information whatsoever on abortions after 24 weeks, which makes it impossible to prove or disprove claims about how many late-term abortions occur and why. We do know that in 2016, at least 134 abortions were performed between 20 and 23 weeks. A number of academic studies show late-term abortionspose health risks.
Transparent, timely, and accurate data have the potential to inform a number of important public policy debates, including the extent to which taxpayers fund abortion and the impact of HB 40 on state abortion rates, as well as the impact of other pro-life laws, contraception programs, and sex education programs. Illinoisans deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent, and with what outcome. Elected officials should collaborate across the partisan aisle on legislation that would improve the data reported by the state.
Michael J. New is an Associate Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New