Conservatives are accusing the Obama administration of suppressing abortion statistics after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last fall opted to hold off releasing its annual report on state abortion numbers.
The CDC typically releases its "abortion surveillance report" -- compiled from data sent by most states on women seeking abortions -- in November. Though the agency never released one last year, it now claims it will publish statistics at the end of February, and the only reason it did not release a report last fall is because the draft arrived "several months later than usual."
But conflicting comments out of the CDC have raised questions about the claim.
The conservative blog RedState, which initially drew attention to the missing data, had quoted a CDC official who late last month said the agency "will not have stats available at any time in the near future." The official reportedly said at the time there were no imminent plans to release them.
However, that story changed after the liberal website Media Matters, looking to refute RedState's allegation that the administration had nixed the report, posted an internal e-mail dated Nov. 15 from one CDC division to another saying the statistics had been submitted to officials with the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Media Matters reported that the CDC was still planning to release the data.
The CDC on Tuesday confirmed to FoxNews.com that the statistics, which cover 2007, will be released Feb. 24 on the CDC website.
But RedState blogger Erick Erickson claimed the scheduled release, and November memo, only prove that the CDC was sitting on the stats -- for months.
"What this means is that someone at the CDC received the report to review and edit and caused it not to be released on its usual schedule, with no publicly stated reason why and no apparent interest in releasing it until we publicized the issue," Erickson wrote Monday.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., accused the Obama administration of clamping down on data for political reasons.
"This is the epitome of hypocrisy being exhibited by the Obama administration as it hides facts and figures on abortion while claiming to want more transparency in government," she said in a written statement.
The CDC refutes the charges. Spokeswoman Karen Hunter said in an e-mail to FoxNews.com that the agency typically publishes the survey in November after receiving a draft report in the summer months. Last year, that draft didn't arrive until November. It typically receives the data for that draft in May but didn't receive the data until August, she said.
"This year MMWR was informed that due to a delay in receiving certain data needed to complete the report, the abortion surveillance report ... would be arriving late," she said.
Hunter said it can take between 12 and 16 weeks, or longer during the winter months, for the data to be reviewed. She said each submission goes through "multiple rounds of scientific and editorial review," involving exchanges between the CDC division handling the report and the report's authors. After that, the publishing team works to arrange "tables, graphics and pages of text so that they most effectively (communicate) the information."
As for the official quoted by RedState saying the statistics were not going to be available any time soon, Hunter said the staffer claims she was misquoted.
"She says she told whomever called her that she wasn't sure when the report was due out and would need to do some checking to find out," Hunter said.
Hunter said that staff "is not aware of any delays expected" for the next report, which is tentatively set for release this November "as usual."
The back-and-forth over the timing of data comes as the abortion debate heats up on Capitol Hill. The House Judiciary Committee was holding a hearing Tuesday on a proposal meant to strengthen restrictions keeping taxpayer dollars from funding abortions. Another bill addressing similar restrictions is up for a hearing Wednesday.
The CDC stats help inform that debate. The last report, released in 2009, showed that in 2006 more than 846,000 abortions were reported to the agency. The majority of the abortions were performed for women in their 20s. That's up from the 820,000 reported for the 2005 year released in 2008. The agency first started tracking abortion rates in 1969, before abortions were legal.
Though the study is among the most comprehensive in the country, gaps in the data are due in large part to the fact that it is provided to the CDC on a voluntary basis. In the last report, three states did not provide their information to the CDC. Over the course of the decade prior, Alaska, California, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and West Virginia did not provide consistent data.
Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel with Americans United for Life, said that despite the "dysfunctional" nature of abortion-data collection in the country, the CDC reporting is nevertheless vital. The only other report as comprehensive comes from the Guttmacher Institute, which used to be an affiliate of Planned Parenthood.
"It's got serious problems because they collect it from the states and the states don't uniformly report .... but it is the only national governmental agency that collects and reports so it would be significant if the CDC did not release its abortion surveillance data," he said.
"The administration apparently didn't see it as a priority," Forsythe said.