The CDC Coverup Now Turns to Bureaucratic Panic

It’s never the action, it’s the cover up.

Yesterday RedState broke a significant story which points to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s premier public health organization, making a conscious decision to stop publishing the only federal report on abortion.

To briefly recap, for 40 years the CDC has published the Abortion Surveillance Report. For 40 years that report has appeared in the last November or first December issue of CDC’s journal, the Morbidity and Mortality Report Weekly Report. This year it didn’t. A RedState tradition has been to use this report for our annual retrospective on abortion. When it didn’t appear in November… or December… or in January we decided to ask why.

That inquiry and its response led to our article yesterday.

The internet is an amazing thing. After weeks of checking and phone calls and emails … no report. Then one blog post at RedState later, and suddenly the CDC is falling over themselves to produce something. Funny how that works. Two hours and six minutes after the post went live we had an official response from CDC. The full response is posted below the fold.

According to the CDC we should move along because there is nothing to see here. Really? We’re not so sure.

One thing the government does well is routine. If you have any doubt witness the difference between how the government reacts to an emergency and how it delivers Social Security checks or collects taxes. A low intensity statistical report that has been produced at the same time for the past 40 years would strike most of us as the epitome of routine. “Wait,” says their reply, “it isn’t that simple”. Here is their “explanation”. (Full text of statement below the fold):

My understanding is the population data needed to develop rate/ratio statistics was not available at the time we normally prepare the ASR. It is these data that are often desired by many to track trends and changes in a most precise way possible.

Possible. But is it likely? Another key fact is that the report in question covers abortions conducted in the United States in 2007. So the population data has been extant for at least two years because the Census Bureau – which has done routine real well for, oh, 200 years – had that particular data aggregated on July 1, 2008. That’s pretty “available” by our standards.

But let’s just pretend for a moment the data was somehow not “available” to the CDC. Why? It was available to the Census. Indeed, it was available to anyone with internet access. But somehow the CDC was out of the loop? A more likely and obvious reason the data weren’t available is that a decision had been made to not acquire the data.

Now we’re assured that the 2007 Abortion Surveillance Report is “tentatively” – CDC’s response has this word in bold so we’re assuming the real context is “not going to happen but we’re counting on you guys forgetting about it” – scheduled to be published this month. By “this month” they are saying that it will appear in one of the next three issues of the MMWR.

But wait. The response also says the editorial calendar is booked “well in advance.” Most of us would assume “well in advance” is more than three weeks, especially as the report in question will have to proceed through various levels of clearance from the authors through final approval at the Department of Health and Human Services. So if it isn’t on the calendar… which is implied by the CDC response… and the calendar is locked in well in advance … how do we make the trip from there to here?

The short answer is that now CDC is about to do the other thing bureaucracies do frequently but not well: panic.

After all, the CDC told us last week there were ‘no plans’ to release the data. The CDC now says (at least as of late yesterday) it is scheduled for ‘this month’. Did the CDC just not bother looking at the editorial calendar it now tells us is booked ‘well in advance’?

We have very little doubt what happened it this case. An inconvenient report was quietly killed. The interview we had with the CDC press office confirmed that not only had the report not been written but that there were no plans to do so. This was confirmed by the CDC. The person who confirmed it was not confused. She did not misunderstand. She answered that the report hadn’t been produced, that she didn’t know why, and that she would find out. She then later called back to confirm that it was not an oversight, and that the report would not be forthcoming.

The distance between that response and the current position of it being ready to go to press at seemingly a moment’s notice is difficult to bridge without a skyhook.

The CDC did not run the report. They confirmed that they were not going to run the report. Only after we brought attention to it have they begun scrambling to appear as if they were going to do it all along. At RedState, we’re reminded of the guy who trips on a curb and, embarassed, explains, “totally meant to do that.”

Full text of CDC response:

Our office prepares the Abortion Surveillance Report (ASR). The next report (for calendar year 2007) is tentatively scheduled for release this month, pending no problems with the publishing schedule for CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Report (MMWR).

The ASR is published annually as a MMWR Surveillance Summary. My understanding is the population data needed to develop rate/ratio statistics was not available at the time we normally prepare the ASR. It is these data that are often desired by many to track trends and changes in a most precise way possible. This created a change in the schedule for MMWR Summary release as the “editorial calendar” is booked well in advance.

Also, please know the ASR is compiled from aggregate data reported by several states and reporting areas. We do take great pains to be sure the data reported is as accurate as possible. Our website presents general information about the ASR – and perhaps might be helpful in the future. is the “launch page” for information about this topic.

I apologize for any misunderstanding about the report’s release.

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