Abortion-Related Deaths

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Pro-abortion groups frequently say that before abortion was legalized, thousands of women died every year from "dangerous back-alley abortions". In the 60's, the National Association to Reform Abortion Laws (now the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) routinely claimed that "5,000 to 10,000" women died every year from illegal abortions.

That claim is a little hard to believe. About 50,000 women of child-bearing age die each year -- from all causes combined. To suggest that 10,000 of these deaths were from illegal abortion would make that the cause of one out of every five deaths, or 20%! This would have made illegal abortion the leading cause of death among women in that age group.

The pro-abortionists will then point to government statistics that show very few women dying from abortion after it was legalized -- dozens per year. This is an an argument for "safe, legal abortion". (Safe for the mother, of course; abortion is never safe for the baby.)

But even a casual look at the numbers shows that the same statistics they use to prove that abortion is safe today, also prove that it was just about as safe before legalization. There has been a slight downward trend for decades, and legalization in 1973 barely caused a blip in that trend. (Improved medical tecniques probably account for this steady fall.)

When this is pointed out, the pro-abortionists reply that the statistics are inaccurate, that the number of abortion-related deaths before 1973 was grossly under-reported. But if they doubt the statistics for abortion deaths for years before 1973, how can they then triumphantly embrace the statistics after 1973? They were collected by the same people using essentially the same methods. There is no reason to believe they suddenly became dramatically more accurate in 1973. This theory is especially implausible when you note that the numbers for 1972 and 1973 are extremely close to each other. It defies probability to say that a wildly inaccurate number in 1972 would just happen to differ by only 19 cases from a precisely correct number in 1973.

In fact, they are probably correct when they say that abortion-related deaths were under-reported before 1973. It is just that they were still under-reported after 1973. Abortion deaths may be erroneously reported as being due to some other cause for a variety of reasons. If the abortionist is also the doctor who fills out the death certificate, he has a strong incentive not to blame it on a botched operation performed by himself. As one government statistician put it, "That's like turning yourself in for a tax audit." Or whether it is the abortionist or someone else, he may shade the truth to avoid embarrassing the dead woman's family.

This is just speculation, but there is reason to believe it is true.

In 1977 an Ohio doctor noted that while the official statistics showed no abortion-related deaths in Ohio that year, he personally knew of two. If one doctor knew of two cases, how many were there really?

Abortion was legalized in California in 1967. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times in 1972, official records showed just four abortion-related deaths from 1967 to 1972. Yet a reporter for that paper uncovered three deaths in Los Angeles in just one month in 1972.

A reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times uncovered 12 abortion-related deaths in that city in 1978. The government statistics show only 16 deaths for the entire country in that year.

These disjointed incidents can't tell us what the real numbers are, but they do tell us that the "official" numbers are low.

How many women really die from "safe, legal abortions"? No one knows.

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Posted 9 Sep 2000.

Copyright 1996 by Ohio Right to Life.
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