FEMFACTS
08 May 2019

Does abortion kill more women than cancer? Hell, no!

When Spanish far-right group Family Forum selectively interpreted research to assert that induced abortion kills more women than cancer, its social media network made the claim go viral.

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Foro de la Familia (Family Forum) is a Spain-based group that describes itself as an “association of associations” (more than 5,000 in all). It was created in 2000 to represent the “interests of the traditional family”. Basically they oppose abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia. On March 11, 2019, the Family Forum published a report claiming that in Spain, abortion kills more women than cancer  -- since then this claim has spread all over Spanish-speaking web.  

The news was quickly picked up by other media linked to this big “family”. On the same day, ACI Prensa published an article with the same headline. Based in Lima (Peru), ACI Prensa (the Catholic Information Agency) is one of the biggest providers of Catholic news content, with a wide range of followers (1,816,828 on Facebook alone) throughout Spanish-speaking countries. It was followed by Actuall, the main communication channel of HazteOir, a Spanish NGO, which has an aggressive pro-life discourse and a wide network of spokespersons.

From there, it was easy to make the claim go viral. It was published on many websites from Actuall’s hub and beyond, including the websites of Catholic parishes or groups from the entire Spanish-speaking world and many other outlets of right-wing groups posing as “online media”. The reach on social media was enormous: about 23,500 shares, likes and comments on Twitter and Facebook. Actuall’s post was the most successful, with approximately 12,000 interactions.

 Sources: CrowdTangle (top interactions record) and Buzzsumo (all interactions record)

WHAT ARE THE CLAIMS?

Based on the report published by the Spanish Family Forum, ACI Prensa and Actuall are claiming that induced abortion is the second cause of female mortality in Spain, responsible for even more victims than cancer.

Spanish women die in the first place from diseases of the circulatory system, secondly from abortion and the third from cancer.

The director of the Family Forum, Javier Rodríguez, presented the data of the report made by the organization concerning the mortality of woman in Spain, which indicates that induced abortion is, in the last decades, the second cause in the number of female deaths, more than cancer.

Secondly, the authors explain the logic behind this conclusion: if we apply the average number of female babies born to the number of induced abortions, we will get the number of women “killed” by induced abortion. From here, determining the average number of female victims per day requires only some simple mathematical calculations. What is more, if we consider that the one who decides about the termination of pregnancy is the mother, it is clear that they are the ones responsible for the fact that “133 women die each day”.

The average of female births between 1988 and 2017 is 48.42% (6,141,218). In this period there were 2,273,168 induced abortions. If we apply the female birth rate indicated above, we can point out that 1,100,168 of the abortions performed were women.

"In these days in which women are the protagonists, it is our duty to present a  tragic reality: that 133 women are voluntarily aborted every day in our country," said the director."

Last, but not least, it is claimed that this “tragedy” requires a public debate in order to expose the “truth”: that women are not the “protagonists” in making decisions about their bodies but are rather the “executioners” of their own babies and in Foro de la Familia’s argument, this is the fact that we should be talking about.  

"It is necessary to open a public debate about this tragedy that we are allowing. We fill our mouths with rights and protection for women while defending as a right the elimination of thousands of women at the moment when they are most defenseless, in the womb, without being able to say ‘My body, my choice'."

WHAT ARE THE FACTS

The main claim is clearly unfounded from the start since we cannot consider fetuses as women. According to the Spanish National Institute of Statistics, the real top three causes of death for women are diseases of the circulatory system, tumors, and, in third place, diseases of the respiratory system.

However, the headline saying that “133 women die from abortion every day” became a smash hit on social media.

Looking at the multipliers of the article, the profiles are either ultra-Catholic groups and pages, or those oriented towards the far-right political agenda. One Twitter profile has been keeping this “news” as the pinned post for weeks. Two pages with the same name (“Cultural Marxism”), one in Spanish and one in Portuguese, have shared it repeatedly. The description of the page is the following: “A reliable source of digital information in order to get informed about the ultimate tool of political engineering: the Cultural Marxism or the New Left”. The comments are even more disturbing, instigating hate against women: “This is Feminazism,” one of them says. “Let them abort and die,” writes another.  

We’ve measured the success of the claim on social media using the CrowdTangle and Buzzsumo tools, but it should be noted that these are not able to detect all interactions (websites which don’t have social media “trackers” are not detected). Therefore, there were even more than 23,500 reactions to this “news”. All data and sources on social media interactions are available on this link.

Sources: CrowdTangle and Buzzsumo

Besides the completely inaccurate claim that safe and legal abortion kills women in Spain, the claims about “aborted female babies” are not based on facts either. There is no available data concerning the natural sex of the fetuses aborted.  So, let’s see how the Family Forum arrived to its numbers.

In Spain, voluntary abortion was decriminalized in 1985 by the Law on Abortion which allowed the termination of pregnancy under three circumstances: when there is a serious danger to the life or to the physical or psychological health of the woman in any moment of the pregnancy; during the first 12 weeks in case of rape; and during the first 22 weeks if the fetus would be born with severe physical or psychological defects.

In 2010, a new law was adopted in order to allow unrestricted abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy; during the first 22 weeks if there is a severe danger for the life of health of the woman or a risk of severe anomaly for the fetus; and at any moment if there are identified fetal anomalies incompatible with life or an extremely severe or incurable disease of the fetus.

Therefore, and if we do not take into consideration factors such as rape, we could talk about abortion as an independent and personal choice of the mother only by the 14th week of pregnancy. In 2017, 70.22% of abortions were made in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy. But, in general, the natural sex of the fetus can be identified in the second trimester of the pregnancy, which is long after the time when an abortion can be performed.

Source: Spanish Ministry of Health, Consumer Affairs and Welfare

In the original report made by the Family Forum, data from both the National Institute of Statistics and the Ministry of Health are presented in a misleading way since neither of them has ever published data about the natural sex of aborted fetuses. Moreover, applying the female birth rate -- which obviously does not include aborted fetuses -- to the number of abortions, lacks logic.

Source: Foro de la Familia

Apart from misleading numbers, the authors of these reports and articles made an interesting word choice in talking about “women as protagonists”. Why does it appear in this context?

This particular expression, used here as a quote, seems to be a response to the project “Mujeres protagonistas” launched by the Spanish publishing house Santillana on March 5, 2019. The aim of this project is to document the contribution of women to the progress of human society, to promote female role models and to facilitate the public expression of women. Santillana is present in 24 countries, and in 2000 it entered the media group Prisa (which includes El País, LOS40, W Radio and As.) one of the most powerful media groups in Spain and the entire Spanish-speaking world.

WHY DID THE CLAIM BECOME SO POPULAR?

The current debate around induced abortion in Spain is linked to the evolution of the legal framework -- and the debate was a part of the discourse around the Spanish general elections that took place on April 28.

The NGO HazteOir, which runs Actuall, has recently struck again with another bus campaign even though the one from 2017 cost them the benefits of being considered “association of public interest” (see the details here). The last campaign ended on April 26 and it had a precise goal -- to convince the political leaders to repeal the law on abortion just before the elections. The Spanish far-right party VOX, supported by Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini had a shocking entry with 19 seats in the regional parliament of Andalucia. In the recent general elections, it  reached another historical record obtaining 24 seats in the national Congress, with 10% of the votes.

Source: HazteOir

HazteOir openly campaigned for VOX before the elections. The website Vota Valores (“Vote for your Values"), created by HazteOir, was dedicated to campaigning for candidates, who were ranked according to their “values”. Abortion held a prominent first place on that list.

Source: Vota Valores

The claim about “deadly abortions” was clearly meant to be instrumentalized in the pre-election political debate. For example, the president of Foro de la Familia, Javier Rodríguez, shared it in a comment on the left-wing Podemos party’s Twitter profile, without even noting that the “women” from his claim are actually the supposedly female aborted fetuses.

Translation: “Since 2002, abortion is the second cause of death for women in Spain. 48,520 every year. 133 every day. Any thoughts on this? Abortion kills more women than cancer in Spain 👇”

CONCLUSION

The claims that induced abortion is the second most frequent cause of female mortality, used in these headlines, is not just clickbait. As headlines are often all people read on social media, it amounts to the spreading of fake news. Even the numbers provided to account for the number of “aborted female babies” are based on a manipulation of facts and they are a good example of how disinformation can be generated and successfully disseminated. In the context of the general agenda of the Spanish pro-life movements and the political links of HazteOir, the claims must be rated antifeminist backlash.

WITH FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM:
SUPPORTED BY:

Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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