A Disgraceful Example of B.A.D. Science (biased, agenda-driven)
Anti-Choice “Research” on Maternal Mortality in Chile
One of the weaknesses of the anti-choice position is the failure to confront the death toll from unsafe abortion. In recent years, however, some anti-choicers have tried to challenge the estimates. In particular, an anti-choice group of professional researchers and doctors has formed for the sole purpose of publishing their own “research” in mainstream venues, in an effort to put a gloss of scientific respectability on their religious ideology. Called “We Care,” the name exemplifies the dishonest approach of the anti-choice movement – pretending to care about women, while in reality working to relegate women to a baby-making role and hide their suffering and deaths from unsafe illegal abortion.
One of the key members of “We Care” is Elard Koch, an epidemiologist from Chile. Through “We Care,” Koch and his associates appear to be using Chile as a testing ground for the practice of deliberately obfuscating data in order to deny the existence of unsafe abortion and its consequences. This has potentially serious global consequences.
I have exposed Koch as an anti-choice ideologue who pretends to use the scientific method, but whose work is filled with factual errors and serious distortions because he's abusing science to promote his personal views. Koch and I have a “connection” going back to 2010, which partly explains my interest in this issue. Prior to the G8/G20 summit in Canada in 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to include funding for safe abortion as part of Canada’s commitment to reduce maternal mortality in developing countries. On March 4, 2010, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix published my op-ed explaining that legal abortion saves women’s lives and why anti-choice claims to the contrary were wildly false. A “rebuttal” was printed 11 days later in this small Prairie paper, which is little known outside of Canada, but Elard Koch of Chile was the author.
Koch has recently made it his mission to discredit the Guttmacher Institute, a highly respected organization that specializes in global research on reproductive health. But it’s Koch, not Guttmacher, who’s using research methods so flawed they can only be called a disgrace to science. Even a non-scientist like myself can easily discredit his studies, even though Koch is highly educated and trained, with a prestigious academic position at a university – an intelligent and experienced man who should know better.
The anti-choice movement loves Koch and his “studies,” with hundreds of favourable links and comments all over the place, but very few rebuttals have been published. Below is a compendium of the small number of pieces I've come across, in order by date. (I’ll add more later if they appear.)
By Susheela Singh and Akinrinola Bankole, Guttmacher Institute, July 30, 2012
This rebuttal from Guttmacher demolishes Koch’s false accusations about Guttmacher’s “flawed” methodology for calculating the incidence of illegal abortion in Latin American countries, particularly Colombia and Mexico. The above link goes to the detailed rebuttal, but here is a Summary. Quote: “The Koch et al. critique is characterized by pervasive distortions of Guttmacher's methodology, and their proposed alternative methodology is based on scientifically unsound and illogical assumptions and contains such serious errors that its results are not valid."
By Joyce Arthur, June 1, 2012
This article refutes Koch’s dangerously flawed study that examined various factors associated with Chile's declining maternal mortality rate, and concluded – incredibly – that the legal status of abortion has no influence on maternal deaths in Chile, a country that completely prohibited abortion for any reason in 1989. By rendering invisible the women who are injured or die from illegal abortion, the study is a dangerous weapon that threatens to slow down the global decrease in maternal mortality and continue allowing women to suffer and die unnecessarily.
By Joyce Arthur, June 1, 2012
This piece refutes several specific aspects of Koch’s study, as well as his response to Guttmacher's May 2012 rebuttal (see below). Topics addressed include:
- Illegal abortions still common in Mexico
- Increases in abortion after legalization to be expected
- Koch guilty of over-reliance on official statistics and unwarranted dismissal of evidence that doesn’t fit anti-choice ideology
- Small numbers of pre-1989 legal abortions in Chile
Conclusion: “In my opinion ... Koch's anti-choice advocacy as a privileged male academic in Chile is an irresponsible abuse of power that puts women's lives and health at risk – not just in Chile, but throughout Latin America wherever abortion is mostly illegal.”
By Chileno, May 26, 2012
This blog reports almost uncritically on Koch’s Chile study, but the first comment from Annraoi ODiothigh recognizes the study as highly suspect and critiques it (as do I in a couple of later comments).
Review of a Study by Koch et al on the Impact of Abortion Restrictions on Abortion Mortality in Chile
By the Guttmacher Institute, May 2012
Summary: The study by Koch et al. asserts that the expansion of abortion restrictions in Chile in 1989 did not lead to an increase in the incidence of abortion-related mortality. The study concludes that “making abortion illegal is not necessarily equivalent to promoting unsafe abortion.” However, the study has several serious conceptual and methodological flaws that render some of its conclusions pertaining to abortion and maternal mortality invalid.
By Marc, December 6, 2012
This is an anti-choice article criticizing Guttmacher, to which I contributed many comments in an online debate underneath, with "Por Polilla." (The above link goes directly to my first comment in the thread; it's the fourth comment posted in case you can't find it. To read the article itself, just scroll up.)
Basically, Por Polilla wanted evidence that Guttmacher's methodology was credible and independently validated, and when I gave it to her, along with evidence and arguments refuting Koch's methodology, she turned off her mind and said she found Koch's proven errors and lies more believable. The debate is an illuminating window into anti-choice non-thinking – especially her last comment (which I didn't respond to), in which she simply repeats one of Koch's most egregious errors that I had already exposed as false in a previous comment to her.
Everything Old Is New Again—Debunked Criticism of Guttmacher Methodology Resurfaces
by the Guttmacher Institute, December 14, 2012
Guttmacher criticizes Elard for recycling his disproven claims about Guttmacher's methodology, concluding: "We reiterate that Guttmacher rejects these false criticisms and stands by the validity of its methodology." Guttmacher also takes the opportunity to critique in more detail one of Elard's worst errors (in my opinion it's most likely a deliberate lie): He confuses the number of abortions in Mexico City with the number for all of Mexico.
by Sharona Coutts and Sofia Resnick, RH Reality Check, November 13, 2014
Fourteen anti-choice activists and researchers are exposed as "False Witnesses," including Dr. Ellard Koch. The authors state: "Each member of the False Witnesses gallery has pushed false information designed to mislead the public, lawmakers, and the courts about abortion. RH Reality Check analyzed scores of public records, contracts, public statements, and research articles, and identified their key falsehoods in order to set the record straight."
Elard's "Signature Falsehood": That making abortion illegal does not result in more maternal deaths.