The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case regarding Mississippi’s 15-week abortion limit. Considered by both sides of the issue as the case that will define a generation, this case could directly lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. These cases landmark cases, respectively, made abortion a constitutional right and set “viability” as the standard for when abortion can and cannot be restricted. Unsurprisingly, this has led abortion activists to claim that countless women will die if Roe does fall. A related claim, repeatedly and soundly debunked, is that thousands of women died every year from illegal abortions before Roe — inaccurately implying that if Roe is overturned, thousands would die again.
Sarah Wildman, an opinion writer for the New York Times, wrote an op-ed about women who died, ostensibly from “abortion bans.” The first example she noted was Savita Halappanavar, who the abortion industry has turned into a martyr for their cause. Their claim is that Halappanavar repeatedly requested an abortion due to a miscarriage in progress, but because her preborn baby was still alive, the abortion was denied. At the time, abortion was still illegal in Ireland, and Halappanavar tragically died. According to abortion activists like Wildman, Halappanavar would have survived if she had only been given an abortion.
This, however, is not reality. The truth is that Halappanavar died because her care was grossly mismanaged. Abortion would not have saved her life; some medical experts believe it would even have caused her to die more quickly.
An Irish inquest found that she had only requested abortion once, not three times as is often claimed, and her obstetrician said there was no medical need to induce labor at that point. Dr. Susan Knowles, a microbiologist with the Irish National Maternity Hospital, testified that this was the correct diagnosis at that point; however, when chorioamnionitis (infection of the membrane) was suspected, labor should have been induced. Instead, the signs of infection and sepsis were missed, and this delay is what led to Halappanavar’s death. In addition to not treating the infection, medical staff did not check her vital signs every four hours as required, and blood tests confirming the infection were not passed on promptly.
Committing an abortion on Savita Halappanavar when she was septic would have only been more dangerous. She died because of medical neglect, not due to a failure to commit an abortion.
Wildman, in the rest of her op-ed, insisted that pro-life laws and restrictions on abortion will only lead to women needlessly dying in back-alley abortions. “What will happen then? Will we know her name? Will she become a rallying cry?” she wrote. “Or will she and other women with tragic stories fade into obscurity, their families fearful of coming forward? No one wants to see this happen, but what are we doing to prevent it?”
As previously stated, the notion of countless women dying from illegal abortions is frequently mentioned by the abortion industry, and has just as frequently been debunked, including by the Washington Post.
According to researcher Christopher Tietze, deaths from abortions had already been declining for years before Roe v. Wade, and this was not due to greater access to abortion but due to the advent of penicillin and improvements in medical procedures, a fact echoed by former Planned Parenthood medical director Mary Steichen Calderone. “She attributed the decline in the mortality rate to antibiotics and the fact that 90 percent of illegal abortions were done by trained physicians,” the Post said. Calderone further claimed that only a tiny minority of women were undergoing abortions at the hands of non-physicians; the overwhelming majority of abortions, even before Roe, were committed by doctors.
In 1972, according to the Washington Post, the number of deaths in the United States from legal abortions was 24, with only 39 deaths from illegal abortions.
Abortion does nothing to save women’s lives, especially considering how shockingly unregulated abortion facilities are. The abortion industry continues to fight against any regulations or restrictions, even minor ones that are applied to businesses like tanning salons. The concern of abortion advocates is not truly over women’s lives. Women weren’t dying by the thousands before Roe v. Wade, and they won’t be after it, either. Their real concern is protecting abortion access at all costs.
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