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Friday, September 20, 2013

Pro-Life 101: Back-alley Abortions

*This is the fifth installment in a series of posts on pro-life apologetics based on the “When They Say, You Say” talks developed by Olivia Gans Turner and Mary Spaulding Balch. While reading in order is not strictly necessary, you may find it helpful. Post 1Post 2. Post 3 Post 4.

Abortion advocates often state that if abortions were difficult to obtain or illegal, thousands of women would die or be horrifically maimed in back-alley abortions. They even insist that abortion is safer than childbirth and much less painful. These arguments can be intimidating because they rely, to an extent, upon statistics. No worries! We’ve broken down some basic facts to get you started.

First, let’s look at the claim that thousands of women will die because of unsafe illegal abortions. Did you know that in 1972, a year before abortion on demand was legal, the Center for Disease Control reported only 39 maternal deaths from illegal abortions? While it’s truly sad that these mothers and their children died in such a horrific way, this statistic doesn’t even come close to the thousands of deaths that abortion advocates talk about.

Furthermore, illegal abortion-related deaths were rare because by the 1960s, most abortions were performed by physicians (yes, even though it was illegal) and medical technology had improved enough to prevent or treat many problems that previously would have been deadly—including complications from childbirth and basic illnesses like the flu. In 1960, Dr. Mary Calderone, former director of Planned Parenthood, wrote “Abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous, because it is being done well by physicians.” In other words, so long as women did not attempt self-induced abortions, their risk of death was relatively low, even 13 years before Roe.

But what about that “5,000-10,000 deaths” figure we always hear about? Simply put, it was a fabricated statistic. In his 1979 book Aborting America, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former director of NARAL, wrote “I confess that I knew that the figures were totally false and I suppose that others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the ‘morality’ of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?” As already mentioned, a look at the true figures demonstrates the truth in Dr. Nathanson’s words: relatively few women died from illegal abortions.

Of course, just because thousands of women didn’t die from abortion doesn’t mean abortion is ever “safe.” After all, at the end of every abortion is a dead baby, and many post-abortive mothers suffer from physical, emotional, and psychological complications. We know, too, that even though abortion is widely available and medical technology better than ever before, women still die during abortions, even legal ones. A quick Google search brings up the tragic stories of Tonya Reaves and Jennifer Morbelli, two young women who died after botched legal abortions performed by licensed physicians.

Another point, too, is that many expectant mothers seek abortions because they can. Since abortion is legal, these vulnerable women rationalize that “it’s legal so it must be okay,” even if they know they are taking the life of a child. How many mothers facing unplanned pregnancies opt for abortion just because it’s the fast and “easy” solution to their problem? How many of those mothers would consider abortion if it wasn’t legal and, to an extent, accepted in the United States? Within ten years of Roe, the number of abortions per year shot up from 744,600 (1973) to over 1.5 million. Today, that number has leveled at about 1.2 million abortions per year, but many post-abortive mothers will say that they only had an abortion because it felt like their only choice.

Sometimes abortion advocates will try to make the case that “safe” abortions reduce maternal mortality rates. Fortunately, studies show that it’s not the availability of abortion that saves mothers’ lives, but better access to medicine and healthcare. In fact, countries where abortion is illegal have a lower maternal mortality rate! In the US, the maternal mortality rate actually increased from 10.3 in 1999 to 23.2 in 2009. In Chile, where abortion has been illegal since 1989, the maternal mortality rate dropped 69.2% within 14 years. Chile now has the second lowest maternal mortality rate of all the countries in North and South America. For a fascinating summary of maternal mortality figures around the world, National Right to Life has an excellent handout detailing some of these trends.

Don’t let the numbers scare you! A little research and common sense is all you need to know that abortion doesn’t save lives, it takes them. Although pregnancy and childbirth can be dangerous, they are natural functions of the female body, and with our ever-increasing medical knowledge and availability, there is no reason to believe that abortion is somehow a safety net. 

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