Experts Debate Accuracy Of CDC Statistics At Abortion Law Trial

UNC Professor Claims CDC Data Underreports Medical Complications From Abortions


The reliability of statistics has become a central theme in the federal trial over a Wisconsin abortion law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

There was an unusual courtroom discussion today between U.S. District Judge William Conley and three abortion research experts. Dr. John Thorp of the University of North Carolina told the judge medical complications resulting from abortions are underreported because the Centers for Disease Control depends on self-reported data from abortion clinics and doesn’t correlate them with maternal death data. He says requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals would make it easier for them to deal with the complications.

Douglas Laube of the University of Wisconsin says the CDC data is all that is available and it does paint a relatively accurate picture of the low number of complications following abortions. Laube told the judge a woman who has complications the day after having an abortion may be 100 miles away from the clinic and would go to an emergency room in her town rather than depending on the doctor who performed the abortion.

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The neutral expert appointed by the judge, Dr. Serdar Bulum of Northwestern University, says he’s worried the new law will reduce the number of doctors performing abortions, causing women to turn to illegal and unsafe abortions.

In other testimony today, the director of the Emergency Medicine Department at the Medical College of Wisconsin Stephen Hargarten told the court if a woman suffering bleeding or an infection after an abortion came to the emergency room, she would receive the same care there whether the doctor who performed the abortion had admitting privileges or not.

There will be more testimony from witnesses for and against the law on Friday in the last day of the trial. A ruling is expected sometime next month.

Correction: The radio version of this story said the federal judge presiding over the trial is John Conley. The judge’s name is actually William Conley.