Would More Women Die If Not for Legalization?
By Christina Dunigan
Demetrice Andrews, age 22, underwent an abortion on October 17, 1988. She became progressively ill, and was finally admitted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Demetrice suffered multiple organ failure. She died on November 9, 1988. It is ironic that Demetrice was admitted to Grady to be treated for abortion complications. Another woman, Jacqueline Reynolds, died just two years earlier, from complications of anesthesia administered for an abortion performed at Grady.
“Yvonne” Roe is one of the women Life Dynamics notes on their “Blackmun Wall” of women killed by legalized abortion. Yvonne was a 19-year-old student who died from sepsis on November 9, 1999 in Marrero, Louisiana, after undergoing a safe and legal abortion. She had been an All-American cheerleader and a member of the National Honor Society. Life Dynamics cites the Clarion Ledger, November 11, 1999, and indicates that though they have information giving Yvonne’s real name, they can not release it due to a confidentiality agreement.
Supporters of legal abortion would argue that while these young women’s deaths were sad, even more women would die every year if abortion had not been legalized. To encourage people to believe this, abortion-advocacy organizations and leaders put forth claims such as:
- “The legalization of induced abortion beginning in the 1960s contributed to an 89% decline in deaths from septic illegal abortions during 1950-1973.” (Centers for Disease Control )
- “By making abortion legal nationwide, Roe v. Wade has had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of American women. Deaths from abortion have plummeted, and are now a rarity.” (Alan Guttmacher Institute)
The problem is, they’re omitting far more than they’re saying, and what they do say gives a very false impression as a result.
Let’s look at these claims:
“The legalization of induced abortion beginning in the 1960s contributed to an 89% decline in deaths from septic illegal abortions during 1950-1973.”
The first legalization of abortion in the US was in 1966, when Mississippi legalized abortion for rape cases. From 1967 through 1970, states began allowing “mental health” abortions approved by hospital committees. In 1970, New York legalized abortion on demand.
Let’s zoom in on the period between 1950 and 1973, with a line at 1966 to mark Mississippi’s groundbreaking legalization of abortions for rape, another at New York’s legalization of abortion on demand, and another at Roe to see how much of the decline can be attributed to legalization:
Actually, I’m sort of bewildered as to why they set their starting point at 1950, 16 years before the first state legalized abortion at all, when the 1950s was a time when abortion mortality was leveling off rather than declining. But regardless of the selection of 1950 rather than 1960 as a starting point for illustrating the supposedly life-saving impact of legalization, clearly abortion deaths had been falling long before the first rather tepid forays into legal abortion in a few states. If legalization had any impact at all, judging from the data, it was to cause a slight blip in the existing downward trend.
Now let’s look at the Alan Guttmacher claim:
“By making abortion legal nationwide, Roe v. Wade has had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of American women. Deaths from abortion have plummeted, and are now a rarity.”
That claim was more vague, and also far less supportable by the data. In fact, it’s not even supportable by their own graphic:
I’ll add a line at Roe to make this clearer:
Look at the chart below, which shows the number of women dying annually from abortions since 1940. The first vertical line is at 1970 — when New York became the first state to legalize abortion-on-demand. (It had become de-facto on-demand in California by then as well.) The second is at 1973, when the Roe vs. Wade decision struck down every abortion law in the United States.
Pointing to Roe as the reason why abortion deaths plummeted starts to look downright delusional when you stand back and look at the data.
What really does account for the dramatic fall in abortion deaths? Two things: antibiotics and blood transfusions.
So you could use actual facts to argue that were antibiotics and blood transfusions not available, even more women would die from abortions. But you can not rationally and honestly claim that legalizing abortion deserves any credit at all for reducing abortion deaths.
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