When abortion bans are in the news, the usual scare tactic claimed by abortion supporters is that when abortion is illegal, thousands of women die. They typically point to entirely fabricated numbers of women who died from illegal abortions just prior to Roe v. Wade, citing a debunked statistic of between 5,000 and 10,000 annually. A more recently cited number claiming “thousands of women [are] dying from abortion every year,” dates all the way back to the 1940’s — before antibiotics were invented. These inflated numbers were created intentionally to garner sympathy for decriminalizing abortion.
1. Hundreds of thousands of women did not die from illegal abortions annually
- Former NARAL founder Bernard Nathanson admitted that the 5,000 to 10,000 death figure fed to the public and media in the late 1960’s was fabricated.
- American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), found: ‘The frequently quoted figure of 5,000 – 10,000 deaths from abortion annually appears unrealistic….”
- 1975 report by National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine noted: “It is difficult to find credible estimates of the number of deaths associated with illegal abortion. One estimate, which has been frequently quoted, is between 5,000 and 10,000 deaths per year. That is hardly plausible, considering that the total number of deaths of women aged 15-44 from all causes in the United States is approximately 50,000 annually, and the total number of deaths due to abortion reported by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) has been below 500 since 1958 and below 100 since 1971.”
- Others (see below) including abortion proponents, reveal illegal abortion death numbers drastically lower than what is regularly cited.
2. Abortion death numbers were purposely inflated to scare politicians and manipulate the public
- Dr. Christopher Tietze, an abortion advocate once awarded Planned Parenthood’s infamous Margaret Sanger Award, suggested in 1967 that the inflated illegal abortion death numbers were made up to scare politicians into legalizing abortion. “The higher estimates are made by people who feel in order to raise sympathy for liberalized abortion laws they have to make people afraid,” he said.
3. The year Roe was decided, legal abortion killed more women than illegal abortion
- By 1973, abortion had already been legalized in several states. CDC reports, which can be found in this table, reveal that in 1973, the year the Supreme Court ruled in favor of abortion, more women died from “legal” abortion than “illegal” abortions. (25 v. 19)
Live Action News previously documented that while legalizing abortion resulted in a drastic increase in abortions, it did not necessarily equate to safer abortions, especially in the first few years after Roe was decided. Even today, women are injured and killed after seeking legal abortions.
4. No one knew exact illegal abortion death numbers, but acknowledged that numbers were inflated
- In 1967, statistician Christopher Tietze called the inflated numbers “unmitigated nonsense,” adding, “we have no real basis for guessing which extreme is closer to the truth.” He then suggested that merely liberalizing abortion “probably would not have a big impact on mortality.”
- In 1969, the very first abortion surveillance report was published by the Centers for Disease Control, noting a “lack of accurate incidence, prevalence, morbidity and mortality data” on abortion. According to this same CDC report, in 1966, the National Center for Health Statistics reported 189 maternal deaths from abortion complications.
Today, although the CDC reports legal abortion deaths, many believe they could be under-reported. Years ago, I was personally told by a medical examiner “off the record” that abortion deaths are “covered up regularly.”
5. Antibiotics decreased the number of Illegal abortion deaths
The Guttmacher Institute writes that by 1950, “just over 300” women died from illegal abortion, adding that it was most likely “because of the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, which permitted more effective treatment of the infections that frequently developed after illegal abortion.”
6. Small percentage of women went to non-medical personal for illegal abortions
Mary S. Calderone, medical director of Planned Parenthood, 1959: “Whatever trouble arises usually comes after self-induced abortions, which comprise approximately 8 per cent, or with the very small percentage that go to some kind of nonmedical abortionist.”
7. Physicians referred patients to colleagues for illegal abortions
Mary S. Calderone, medical director of Planned Parenthood, 1959: “Another corollary fact: physicians of impeccable standing are referring their patients for these illegal abortions to the colleagues whom they know are willing to perform them…”
8. Physicians committed the majority of illegal abortions
- Former Planned Parenthood president Alan Guttmacher, Harvard Crimson December 5, 1967: “Seventy per cent of the illegal abortions in the country are performed by reputable physicians, each thinking himself a knight in white armor.”
- Mary S. Calderone, medical director of Planned Parenthood, 1959: Called abortion “no longer a dangerous procedure,” because it was being committed by physicians, saying “…90 per cent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians.”
9. Illegal abortions were often classified as “therapeutic” (to save a woman’s life) so they could be done by doctors:
Mary S. Calderone, medical director of Planned Parenthood, 1959: “What we have to admit is, as was repeatedly emphasized, that most therapeutic abortions are in the strictest sense of the law actually illegal.”
For more, visit:
Read Part One of this “Don’t be fooled” series here.
Editor’s Note: Abortion deaths graph updated 7/2/19.
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