Q: Are there statistics on therapeutic abortion within the Mormon population?

A: First, this type of information is difficult to come by. As one member of our organization noted, “One problem with trying to get comparative rates is that government agencies don’t track abortions by religious groups. So, for instance, Utah’s rates include both LDS and non-LDS cases so aren’t a definitive source of information about Mormons specifically (although some judicious inferences can sometimes be made–for instance, since Utah generally has the lowest rate of U.S. states, the majority LDS population *probably* is low). And, as you have noticed, social research that does try to isolate particular religious groups may not be up to date.”

As I found this question intriguing, I did check the abortion rates for Utah (non-therapuetic and therapuetic combined) on the Centers for Disease Control’s website (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/ss/ss5212.pdf). The average number of abortions (per 1,000 live births) for the entire U.S. in 2000 was 246. For Utah this number is 71. As noted in the above response, statistics for the entire state of Utah cannot be considered representative of the Mormon population generally, but the influence of the Mormon population on this number can be inferred.

Another individual suggested you might want to look at Lester Bush’s ‘Health and Medicine Among the Latter-day Saints’ (1993, Crossroad Press). “Bush describes some of the doctrinal background relevant to abortion, as well as Utah legislation on the issue.” This information may be of interest to you.

Finally, one member of the organization has recently published some of these statistics in a journal article. The article reference is:
Heaton, Tim B. 2000. Social Forces that Imperil the Family. Dialogue, 32 (4):19-42.

I did receive some additional information from two individuals on this topic.

The first individual examined the Utah Department of Health’s abortion statistics for 1999 by county and found the following:

“I had a minute to look at some abortion statistics in the report by the Utah Department of Health. In the 1999 report the rate of abortions is given per 1000 live births. The state rate is 68.3/1000, but the rate varies substantially by county. The highest rate, 201.8, occurred in Summit county, which contains Park City, and has a high proportion of non LDS. The lowest rate for a large urban county was in Utah county with about 80% LDS. The rate was 24.8. The other urban counties, Salt Lake, Davis, and Weber with LDS populations in the 60% to 70% range had rates of 115.3, 50.8, and 83.2 respectively.”

Again I note that only very general inferences can be made from this data as the religious affiliation of the women having abortions in any given county is not included. The contributor of this information is inferring (most likely an accurate inference) that the religious affiliations of the women having abortions in these counties reflect the general religious affiliations of the counties in which the abortions were performed. I should also note that the abortions are not separated into ‘therapeutic’ and ‘non-therapeutic’. This same individual specified the difference (as did another individual), which highlights another dimension of abortion statistics that isn’t always recorded:

“As a physician I used the word “therapeutic abortion” to mean an abortion performed for a medical reason, i.e., to protect the life of the mother. Others may expand the definition to include elective abortions.”

However, the second individual that responded provided a spreadsheet (see linked file) with a breakdown of abortion in Utah from 1974 to 2001 by the reason given for performing the abortion. This same individual also provided the following information:

“I tried one more file and came up with some old papers; one pro-life group in Utah cites the Utah Dept of Health as reporting in 1987 a total of 4,612 abortions and while the religious affiliation of most women was not listed, 589 reported LDS, 380 None, 307 Catholic, and 240 as Protestant. So at least until 17 years ago that data was being collected incompletely) by the Utah Dept of Public Health. One might calculate the rate of abortions / religious population in Utah (589/ # of LDS in Utah in 1987, and calculate similarly the rate for Catholics and Protestants), but since so many respondents did not answer and women belonging to different churches may not all be equally reluctant to report, even that data would be very incomplete and unreliable.”

Thus, even the data that has been collected that includes religious preference isn’t comprehensive.

Finally, I was able to get a copy of the article referenced in my previous email by Tim Heaton (2000. Social Forces that Imperil the Family. Dialogue, 32 (4):19-42). Using the National Survey of Family Growth, Heaton found that, “women reported 13.5 percent of their pregnancies ended in induced abortion. The comparable figure for Mormon women was 5.2 percent.” (p. 34). This data does provide information on the differences in abortion rates between the general public and Mormons (in the U.S.).

Additional File:

UtahAbortionStats-1974-2001

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