Accuracy in Media

In a new article, Seventeen magazine tries to educate its young audience on what abortion actually is.

While much of what is said is factually true and, as with its own subhead to the piece, “And BTW, this is a 100% judgment-free zone!”, there’s a certain glossing over of what a late-term procedural abortion actually involves.

One of Seventeen’s sources is Dr. Meera Shah, “Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic,” whom they call on “to be our non-judgemental, medical guides.” Planned Parenthood conducts some 40% or so of all abortions each year in the U.S., so perhaps this is a little like asking the barber if you need a haircut.

But our particular factual objection is to this:

While there is overwhelming evidence that abortion is extremely safe and effective, with patients experiencing serious complications less than one percent of the time according to Dr. Shah, there can be some risks and complications involved as with any medical procedure or treatment.

One in 100 people might sound like a small number. But as the saying goes, compared to what? For example, with the usual childhood vaccines, the complication rate is around one in a million. That’s 10,000 times different and yet we have an awful lot of people out there who refuse to think vaccinations are safe at even that level of complication. 

It’s also true that a new drug or procedure which caused significant complications in one in one hundred otherwise healthy people who took it would not pass the Food and Drug Administration licensing process. The FDA would accept that sort of injury rate in a drug for – just as an example and a perhaps – terminal cancer patients, but not in the general and healthy population. 

Don’t forget that fen-phen caused complications in – for 3-month users – about 3% of those taking it and that led to $13 billion in damages and its withdrawal from the market. 

Seventeen is clearly aimed at the female teenage audience and gains some 6 million views a month from that market. It’s also true that abortion is going to be of great interest to that audience just given the basics of human biology – which is why the insistence we have that the information needs to be correct.

A complication rate of 1% is not low. It’s the sort of rate which would get a drug refused a license. That just isn’t the right thing to be saying to the audience here of teenage girls. Whatever else we might say about abortion it’s a serious medical business and glossing over that simply misleads – even, is disinformation.




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