Mostly True
Says there have been "well over" 54 million abortions since 1973.

Chris Smith on Thursday, March 8th, 2012 in a speech on the House floor

Chris Smith says more than 54 million abortions have been performed since U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.) delivers a speech on the House floor on March 8.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith has garnered attention for his ardent -- and sometimes graphic -- condemnation of abortion.

The Republican congressman, who represents parts of central New Jersey, took to the House floor on March 8 to denounce a new proposal: "after-birth abortion."  

During his speech, Smith said: "since 1973" -- when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in the Roe v. Wade case -- "well over 54 million babies have had abortion forced upon them."  Now, he said, this "perverse proposal" for "after-birth abortion," or killing a newborn in all cases where abortion is permissible, has emerged.

PolitiFact New Jersey will leave others to debate "after-birth abortion." We decided to look only at Smith’s claim about the number of abortions.

First, let’s note that some abortion rights supporters contest using words such as babies and children in describing unborn fetuses. Jeff Sagnip, Smith’s public policy director, dismissed that argument, saying "to object to the use of the term ‘babies’ in this context is out of step with common use."

And it’s clear Smith was referencing the number of abortions since 1973, so that’s what we are fact-checking here.

Sagnip referred us to a report from the National Right to Life Committee, a group that opposes abortion, that claims there have been more than 54.5 million abortions through 2011.

The committee’s total is based on data collected by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that advocates on issues of sexual and reproductive health.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also collect data on abortions, but states aren’t required to report to the federal agency so the numbers are incomplete in some years. And people on both sides of the abortion debate largely consider the Guttmacher Institute the authority for this type of data.

The institute has tracked roughly 49.3 million abortions through 2008 from surveys of abortion providers.

The National Right to Life Committee estimates the total through 2011 by assuming the number of abortions in 2008 -- about 1.2 million -- stayed  the same. That puts the total near 53 million, a reasonable estimate, according to a spokeswoman for the Guttmacher Institute.

But the committee also adds 3 percent for a possible under-reporting rate, which pushes the total above 54 million.

The Guttmacher Institute found its 1992 survey overlooked some small providers and suggested that the number of abortions was actually between 3 percent and 4 percent more than reported. In its most recent report, the institute said: "undercounting has likely become more pronounced over the last decade" because of early medication abortions at facilities that don’t offer surgical abortions.

Spokeswoman Rebecca Wind said the Guttmacher Institute "acknowledges the potential underreporting in our abortion reporting, but we do not adjust the figures to account for underreporting. Rather, we report the actual number of abortions that are reported to us, so we are confident in this figure. We then acknowledge the level of potential underreporting in the reporting of those data."

Our ruling

Smith said that since 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, there’s been "well over" 54 million abortions.

The Guttmacher Institute has tracked roughly 49.3 million abortions through 2008. If the recent trend of about 1.2 million abortions per year holds true through 2011, it’s reasonable to assume the total is now close to 53 million. Even by that figure, Smith is close.

The Guttmacher Institute acknowledges the potential for underreporting in its data, but does not adjust its figures. The statistic Smith cites relies entirely on the Guttmacher  Institute data, except it adds 3 percent to adjust for the potential underreporting -- a calculation the institute doesn’t support.

Either way, both totals through 2011 are subject to projections and estimates, and for that reason we rate this claim Mostly True.

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