By Nancy E. Paltell, Ph.D.
This testimony in support of HB 898 is offered on behalf of the Catholic Bishops serving Maryland and their dioceses.
There are numerous public health reasons why the State should collect abortion statistics. These public health reasons are why 46 states collect abortion statistics. Forty-six states know that data about abortion is important for maternal health, something confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Not only do abortion statistics help identify the type of women who are at risk for unplanned pregnancies, but tracking abortion complications helps identify the health risks of abortion surgery and gives indicators as to how to minimize the risks. Attached to this testimony is a table that compiles the reasons that other states collect abortion statistics.
The teen pregnancy rate in Maryland is unknown. It seems odd that members of the General Assembly have no interest in understanding whether efforts to lower the teen pregnancy rate are effective or not. The way to measure the effectiveness of programs designed to lower the teen pregnancy rate is to measure the teen pregnancy rate. But that’s impossible in Maryland because the number of teen pregnancies is the sum of the number of teen births, miscarriages, and abortions. Since the State refuses to track the number of teen abortions, there’s no way to determine the number of teen pregnancies. The teen birth rate can be measured, but without the number of abortions, the correlation of the birth rate to the pregnancy rate is unknown.
Abortion erases evidence of a crime. When an adult male impregnates a young girl during an act of statutory rape, it’s easy in Maryland to erase evidence of the crime. He takes her to an abortion clinic, and since her parents don’t have to consent to the abortion or even be notified of it, no one would know; disposal of the dead fetus eliminates DNA evidence that would help prosecute the crime. Yet the General Assembly seems uninterested in knowing how many 13-year-old, 12-year-old, or 11-year-old children had abortions last year, and whether or not there should be some sort of intervention to attempt to lower the number of statutory rape cases in Maryland.
The infant mortality rate likely correlates to the abortion rate. Numerous medical publications show a statistically significant link between one or more prior abortions and having a preterm delivery or a low-birthweight baby. Preterm deliveries and low-birthweight babies are leading causes of infant mortality. But there seems to be no interest in investigating whether there’s a link between the state’s very high abortion rate (4th highest in the nation) and high infant mortality rate, because investigating the possible link would require collecting adequate abortion statistics instead of relying on a third party, the Guttmacher Institute. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Maryland’s abortion rate is 48% higher than the national abortion rate.
An estimated seventy percent of abortions in Maryland are repeat abortions. When the State previously collected abortion statistics on a voluntary basis, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) prefaced the annual report with a statement that since the state had a voluntary reporting system, “the data contained in this report are incomplete…. The quality of the data is uncertain….” Even the incomplete data showed that women were having three, four or more abortions, a far cry from abortion being “rare.” A woman who’s had four abortions needs help, but the General Assembly doesn’t seem interested in knowing whether repeat abortions are commonplace.
Abortion is a politically-charged topic. And that’s no reason not to collect the data the State needs to address the many public health issues related to abortion. Attached to this testimony is a copy of the report that DHMH formerly issued each year. This is the type of report that would be available if HB 898 were enacted. It’s easy to see that the data used to prepare the report are kept confidential. There are no patient names, no doctor names, no abortion clinic names – just numbers and demographics. So anyone who claims that enactment of HB 898 would violate patient confidentiality is ill-informed about the language in the bill. The $5,000 penalty for violating patient confidentiality should demonstrate that confidentiality is of utmost importance.
Maryland should join the 46 states that collect confidential abortion statistics in order to protect the health and safety of women and address other public health issues related to pregnancy. I urge a favorable report.