Running the numbers

numbersRobin Abcarian has a story in the Los Angeles Times explaining that late-term abortion doctor George Tiller's clinic will be closing following his murder at his church. Here's the subhed:

Tiller had been the only abortion provider in Wichita, Kan., and his family's decision to close the facility leaves only two other clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions.

The story repeats the claim:

The shuttering of his clinic means there are no abortion providers left in the Wichita area, and only two other clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions, Tiller's specialty.

And yet that's not true. It's a really hard statistic to nail down because clinics and hospitals that perform late-term abortions aren't exactly clamoring to have that information shared far and wide. The violence that Tiller and his clinic received over the years is all you need to know to understand why. Late-term abortions are also extremely unpopular -- not just with pro-lifers but even those who self-define as pro-choice. Even some abortion doctors oppose the practice.

Washington Post staff writers Peter Slevin and William Branigin handled that piece of information better:

The shutting of Tiller's clinic reduces by one the handful of places in the United States where women could receive a late-term abortion.

The Washington Post's Rob Stein had a piece a few days ago with information from a 2001 survey of 1,819 providers in 15 states and New York City found 18 clinics and 12 hospitals performed late abortions. The numbers, according to sources, had dropped an indeterminate amount since then:

"We know it's a very small handful," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, the largest group of abortion providers, who would not be more specific. "Given the fact that these people are targeted for violence, I don't necessarily want to name other providers that we know are providing necessary reproductive health care in these circumstances."

I had long believed that Doctors Warren Hern, George Tiller and Leroy Carhart were the only three abortion doctors to perform abortions on late- and full-term fetuses. They had claimed as much repeatedly. But as with other claims from sources, reporters should always double check. Kudos to the Washington Post reporters for attempting to source the difficult-to-source claim instead of uncritically accepting the claims of interested parties.

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