The pro-choice book, “My Body, My Choice,” written for teens, repeats a common lie about illegal abortion deaths before Roe v. Wade. The book claims:
[I]n the 1950s and 1960s hundreds of thousands of illegal abortions took place every year. Thousands of women died or suffered serious medical problems after having illegal “back alley” abortions performed by untrained people working in unsanitary conditions. Many thousands more died or were horribly injured as a result of attempting to end their pregnancies themselves.1
Later, referring to the year 1972, the author falsely claimed, “Thousands of women were still dying every year, and the majority of them were poor women of color.”2
No, “thousands” did not die every year
The actual numbers were only a tiny fraction of “thousands.” Live Action News has documented the true numbers before. In 1965, there were 193 deaths from illegal abortion. In 1966, there were 189. And in 1972, when the book said “thousands” died? The actual number from the CDC was 39.
Were some abortion deaths not reported? Covering up an abortion meant covering up a crime, and doctors could get in serious legal trouble for doing so. This probably minimized the number of abortions that were covered up, as a doctor would have been reluctant to be charged as an accessory.
Most illegal abortions were done by physicians
In a 1960 article in the American Journal of Public Health, Mary S. Calderone, then medical director of Planned Parenthood, said:
Abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure. This applies not just to therapeutic abortions as performed in hospitals but also to so-called illegal abortions as done by physicians. In 1957 there were only 260 deaths in the whole country attributed to abortions of any kind… 90% of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians.
Call them what you will, abortionists or anything else, they are still physicians, trained as such; and many of them are in good standing in their communities. They must do a pretty good job if the death rate is as low as it is… Abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous.3
The conference she was referring to was organized by Planned Parenthood. The consensus at the conference was that illegal abortions were being carried out by doctors and that the fatality rate was low.
At another conference, held before Roe, doctors came to the same conclusion. Abortionist William Archer said:
Although the horrors of backstreet surgery seem to have been greatly exaggerated for propaganda purposes, and it now appears that most illegal abortions have been competently performed by physicians, yet it is an injustice to women confronted by real hardship to compel them to go underground for this kind of medical service.4
Another doctor at the conference, David Mase, said:
[T]he horrors of illegal abortions have been greatly exaggerated for propaganda purposes – most of them were performed by qualified physicians who had very compelling reasons to avoid doing a botched-up job and having a dying woman on their hands.5
Nine out of 10 abortions in the 1960s-70s were done by doctors, and some were even done in hospitals.
One illegal abortionist said in 1967, “I just take the woman into the hospital and do it. I list it as a D&C and make no other comments,” and the hospital looks the other way.”6
Legalizing abortion didn’t reduce abortion deaths
Studies in the late 1970s and early 80s established that legalizing abortion didn’t significantly reduce the number of women dying from botched abortions. It merely replaced illegal abortion deaths with legal ones.
A 1978 study in the prestigious American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found:
There has been no major impact on the number of women dying from abortion in the United States since liberalized abortion was introduced… [L]egal abortion is now the leading cause of abortion-related maternal deaths in the US.7
In another study, in 1981, two researchers determined:
[T]here has been no significant impact on the relative frequency of abortion-related maternal death due to induced abortion in the United States since the legalization of abortion…
While maternal deaths due to criminal abortion appear to be decreasing, they have been replaced, almost one for one, by maternal deaths due to legal abortion.8
The book “My Body, My Choice,” targeted toward teens, misleads them about multiple aspects of abortion and the history of abortion in the United States.
- Robin Stevenson My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights (Orca Book Publishers, 2019) 22
- Ibid., 33
- Mary Calderone, “Illegal Abortions” American Journal of Public HealthJuly 1960, p. 949
- David R Mace Abortion: The Agonizing Decision (New York: Abingdon Press, 1972) 81
- , 113-114
- Jules Saltman and Stanley Zimbering Abortion Today (Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas Publisher, 1973) 106 – 107
- Dennis Cavanaugh “Effect of Liberalized Abortion on Maternal Mortality Rates” American Journal of Obstetrics and GynecologyFebruary 1978, p. 375
- Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. and Dennis O’Hare “Abortion Related Maternal Mortality: An In-Depth Analysis” in New Perspectives on Human Abortion, eds. Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. Dennis J. Horan, and David Mall (Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1981) 84
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