From the time I (Chris Humphrey) became involved in pro-life work, back in the late 1970's, I have been concerned about making a difference, and not just a statement. We've had 46 years or so since Roe v. Wade to make a difference with our protests and education, and we've had very little success, if we're honest. It's true, we've seen great progress in state regulation of abortion, which frustrates some who want to see abortion banned outright. However, these state regulations have had, at most, a 5% effect on the ratios of abortions to live births.
What is amazing, however, has been the decline in abortion numbers -- rates and ratios to births, too -- since about 1984. There's little question, to my mind, that it's pregnancy help that has accomplished this. (See earlier articles.) The ratios are lower now than they were back in 1973. With first-time customers declining in number faster than "repeat customers," the abortion business is dying. Thank God.
The fact that our advertising has had a demonstrable effect on the abortion ratios in Allegheny County confirms that it is pregnancy help that has driven numbers lower everywhere. The pregnancy medical centers, and the women and men at Choices Pregnancy Services and Women's Choice Network, are the heroes of the story. Without the centers, we would have nothing to advertise. Just tell women not to have abortions? It's done all the time, but there's no reason to think that it changes many minds.
From the beginning of our work with Vision for Life, I have wanted to measure the effect of what we are doing. If we're making a difference, how do we know? Our best resources here are the State Health Department figures: the birth numbers and the abortion numbers.
What do we measure?
Of course, we measure abortions. But how do we measure the effects of what we are doing in Allegheny County from just after Christmas in 2010 to 2018, the last year for which we have abortion numbers?
If abortion numbers are going down everywhere, it's clear that we can't just point to declining numbers in Allegheny County and say that our work caused that. We have to compare numbers with numbers. Our first concern is that pregnancy numbers are going down everywhere: if fewer women are getting pregnant, then of course abortion numbers will go down if the ratio of abortions to births remains the same. So we want to measure the ratio of abortions to births: if they are lower in Allegheny County after we have done our work, then we know roughly how effective advertising is. The ratios of abortions to live births fell 26% from 2010 to 2018 in Allegheny County, compared to 15% in the rest of PA, and 13% in Philadelphia County (where 40% of PA's abortions are performed).
Translating predictions into Approximate numbers of lives Saved
We know that we are succeeding: many more young women are choosing life rather than abortion because we are advertising. We can quantify the effect, approximately. There is a certain abstract character to numbers of "abortions to live births," however. How do we keep before our eyes the fact that moms and babies are being delivered from abortion by our work? One way is to take an educated guess at how many lives have been saved.
To do this we again need numbers to compare: actual numbers, and predicted numbers. The predicted numbers are approximations, representing a possible mathematical center in a range of possibilities. There are two basic ways of making these comparisons, that I can see. One looks at past trends over the years (determined mathematically by Microsoft Excel), and extrapolates these into the period in which we were working, and then compares those numbers with the actual numbers. There is an assumption made, here: the period 2011 to 2019, and especially the period 2011-2013, when numbers fell sharply, was basically similar to the previous 25 years. There were no new developments in pro-life work, or changes in sexual mores, or availability of abortion, or of pregnancy help, and so forth. Another assumption is that the deviation from the norm of abortion numbers for the period will not be extreme. Here's what we get when we chart the numbers. As you can see, Excel predicts that by 2019 there were about 10,600 fewer abortions, based on the trend of the previous 25 years. By this point in 2021, we can be assume by the same analysis that there have been well over that.
But what if there were changes outside allegheny county?
The assumption of predictions of the future (even a "future" in the past, so to speak) based on past performance is that there have been no significant changes that would affect those predictions. We can't "control" for all the things happening around us, especially regarding an issue that is at once very personal, emotional, and controversial, with relational and socio-economic factors beyond our ken. Do women in one period view abortion more as a moral failure, and in another period more as a necessary wrong? Has a disillusionment with abortion affected recourse to it?
So perhaps a better gauge of the effect of advertising is to compare the rates of change in Allegheny County to those in all the other Pennsylvania counties. If there are social and cultural changes that affect abortion numbers generally, it is unreasonable to think that women in Allegheny County would be immune to them. So we can take the percentage change of abortion numbers in the rest of PA, and apply them to the numbers in Allegheny County, beginning with 2010 as the base year. Then we can subtract the actual numbers from these projections to get our number of saved lives. When we do, we find that there were about 9,600 fewer abortions in the 9 years from 2011 to 2019. That's over 1,000 fewer abortions every year. By the end of 2020, there would have been well over 10,000 fewer abortions.
The Numbers all point to the same conclusion
It is striking that the number of lives saved is not that far from the 10,600 that Excel predicted. It is fewer in this prediction, because Excel could not take into consideration that abortion numbers were falling elsewhere in PA. Without advertising, numbers in Allegheny County would have fallen, presumably, about the same as elsewhere. The abortion ratio numbers we have, however, point to the same conclusion: numbers and ratios were falling in Pennsylvania as a whole in 2011-2019, but they fell significantly faster in Allegheny County, and stayed lower overall, because of the advertising.
Birth Numbers point the same way, too
Another way to measure success is to look at birth numbers. If there are fewer abortions in Allegheny County, you would expect birth numbers to go up, or at least not to fall as fast. In fact, birth numbers rose after we began our work, and settled in 2019 a little bit higher than they were in 2010. If we apply the same technique of projecting past performance on the 2011-2019 period, we see a phenomenal difference between those projections and the actual birth numbers -- an amazing 11,259!
Again, however, this leaves unanswered the question, What's happening elsewhere in Pennsylvania? If birth rate are falling, are they continuing to fall as fast as before?
So we want to see what Allegheny County's birth numbers would have been if they had changed at the same rate as the rest of PA, and then compare that to the actual numbers. It's still impressive.
The 5,079 births is lower than the projected 9,600 fewer abortions. Why? Wouldn't one fewer abortion in the County mean one more birth?
No. About half of the 6,000 abortions a year in Allegheny County are to non-residents. So the women who would have had abortions in Allegheny County, but didn't, were not all residents of Allegheny County. Some came from surrounding counties. Many would have been students, and would have gone home or elsewhere to have their children. So this chart is the least helpful in knowing how many unborn children were saved from abortion. Births as a whole, too, are less reliable as an indicator. Yet both birth projections point to the same result: thousands of lives have been saved by advertising pregnancy medical centers in Pittsburgh.
Our calculations for abortion numbers do not take into consideration the proportion of early pregnancies that would end in miscarriage if abortion were declined. There are no sure numbers here, as most early miscarriages do not involve a trip to the doctor. I have heard that between 17% and 32% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. So the number of births would likely have been smaller than our predictions using the abortion numbers.
Miscarriage is a tragedy, felt to varying degrees as such, often depending on the age of the child in utero or on the temperament of the woman. It is still important that a woman who miscarried did not have an abortion instead, because she knows that at least she did not participate in the killing of her child.
What do we conclude?
a personal note . . .
I have three daughters and nineteen grandchildren. (Yes, when everybody's together, it can be like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party). I take great delight in my grandkids. They come to me to roughhouse (which at my age I can still do for short periods). I want many others to have the joy I have had in my kids and grandchildren. Children are challenges; I learned when I was raising them that the children make the father, too. Yet they are a tremendous blessing, one I hope that many others may have. If you can help us share this blessing with others through our work, please donate today.
Chris Humphrey has been involved in pro-life activity of one kind or another since the late 1970s, when he first looked at the subject of abortion in seminary in Canada. He has an undergraduate degree in English (University of Toronto), and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in religious studies (McGill). He has had a varied career as a pastor, chaplain in a psychiatric hospital, editor of academic and instructional publications, semi-professional photographer, and home renovator. He is a husband of over 45 years to Edith (a Professor of New Testament), father to three girls, and grandfather to seventeen grandchildren. He lives and works in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh.