WASHINGTON — Do pro-lifers unwittingly collaborate with abortion advocates by not challenging statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, a former Planned Parenthood affiliate?

Consider: The institute’s January 2008 report stated abortions were decreasing nationwide.

But when the country’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, released its annual report this April, the document showed a 5.3% rise in its abortion business and increased taxpayer funding.

One Catholic activist has repeatedly written to bishops, pro-life groups and Catholic media outlets about the need for a nonbiased statistical source, an alternative to Guttmacher.

In a February letter to the Register, Charles Coudert of Sherborn, Mass., noted that Guttmacher has swayed public opinion by framing the debate to include only statistics on procured abortion.

He said Guttmacher “helped promote President Obama’s eventual election when, in January 2008, it released a report alleging that the United States abortion rate had fallen from 1.31 million per year in 2000 to 1.21 million in 2005.”

This report “resulted in the abortion issue becoming less of an impediment for Obama among pro-life Catholics and, at the end of the day, he even got a majority of the Catholic vote,” said Coudert, who leads a monthly Rosary vigil outside a hospital where abortions are done.

“The surgical abortion rate has indeed fallen a bit,” he said, “but this has been more than made up for by the increased availability and popularity of medications and devices which, although called ‘contraceptives,’ can and do act as abortifacients.”

Guttmacher spokeswoman Rebecca Wind said the institute considers abortion “the interruption of an existing pregnancy.” Thus, RU-486 (mifepristone, marketed in the U.S. as Mifeprex), is considered an abortifacient, but Plan B, the “morning after pill,” is not.

She denied any relationship between Planned Parenthood and the institute, which became a nonprofit entity upon their separation in 1977.

‘See Through the Spin’

Guttmacher compiles more abortion-related data than any other U.S. source, even the federal government. It conducts a periodic census of all known abortion providers.

“Guttmacher says life begins … at implantation,” said Coudert. “By accepting Guttmacher, we’re in essence disagreeing with the magisterium and doing a disservice to parishioners, the majority of whom use contraception during their fertile years, by depriving them of the truth on this issue.”

“When life starts is not a question to Guttmacher,” said Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications for the Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S.-- Conference of Catholic Bishops. “What we call potentially abortifacient — devices and hormonal contraception — doesn’t ‘count,’ because they’ve won the language battle. They focus only on procured abortion and report on numbers that produce that tragic end. We don’t consider its numbers to be complete.”

McQuade and other Catholic pro-lifers agreed that Guttmacher’s statistics must be viewed in context.

“You need to see through the spin,” added Marianne Luthin, the Boston archdiocesan pro-life director. “But Guttmacher’s numbers are the best we have available, more precise than those from the CDC.”

Congress mandates that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collect state statistics, but it doesn’t mandate that states report them.

“We’re not a regulatory agency,” said CDC spokeswoman Karen Hunt. “Most states do report, but three, including California, don’t.”

This is a real obstacle to establishing any accurate national data, Luthin noted.

She said: “The point about the abortifacient nature of contraceptives — that’s what people need to hear. I don’t think most women on the pill have been made aware of that.”

Although nearly 50 million unborn Americans have been killed by surgical abortion in the 36 years since Roe v. Wade, estimates are far higher for total deaths.

American Life League’s president, Judie Brown, puts the casualty figure at between 6 and 12 million annually from all induced causes, including intrauterine devices, hormones, the pill, fertility treatments and other chemical or mechanical means.

Pharmacists for Life International estimates nearly 277 million unborn lives have been terminated in the United States since 1973.

“We recommend not using a propaganda arm of Planned Parenthood like Guttmacher for any credible information,” said the organization’s executive director, Bo Kuhar.

Pregnant Women’s Support

But Kuhar could not envision any viable alternative source with the current reporting situation and the pro-life movement so disorganized.

Catholic author and lay evangelist Victor Claveau agreed.

“Each group has its own constituency,” said Claveau, author of Birth Control and Abortifacients, published by Life Cycle Books. “I’d like to see a pro-life alliance that educates and influences clergy, laity and our elected representatives.”

Catholic pro-life philanthropist Ray Ruddy does think an alternative database is feasible.

“We could get a favorable group to replace Guttmacher tomorrow, if the federal government provided the funds,” said Ruddy, who founded the Gerard Health Organization based in Natick, Mass.

According to its annual report, Guttmacher received $1.9 million in government funding in 2007.

One step toward some cohesion would be congressional passage of the Pregnant Women Support Act, which the bishops are backing, according to McQuade. Among its provisions are beefed-up reporting requirements and federal funding to collect accurate data.

Gail Besse writes

from Boston.