Prior to the legalization of abortion, those who sought to legally end the lives of preborn children falsely marketed their position by claiming that women were dying by the thousands (and even millions) from illegal abortions. However, there is absolutely no evidence to back up those figures.
Despite this, those figures continue to be repeated by abortion advocates any time they sense that the so-called “right” to abortion is potentially in jeopardy.
A pro-abortion professor, testifying under oath before Congress, unfortunately used these disputed and highly suspect statistics regarding the number of women who died from illegal abortions in an effort to oppose the federal pro-life Heartbeat bill, HR490, which proposes to stop abortions at a point when it can be documented that the preborn child’s heartbeat can be detected:
Women have been obtaining abortions since the beginning of time, before Roe when abortions were illegal… An estimated 1.2 million women each year still resorted to illegal abortion in the US. As many as 5000 of these women — already born – living, breathing, lungs working, hearts beating, women, many with children at home who depended on them — 5,000 of them died each year as a result of illegal abortions and many more were severely injured. This is the world we would return to if HR490 went into effect….
But the facts don’t agree with Smith’s claims. A 1975 report by National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, entitled, “Legalized Abortion and the Public Health: Report of a Study,” disputes these statistics (emphasis added):
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.
The 5,000 figure originates from a piecemeal of several sources based largely on assumptions, and comes straight from the largest abortion lobby group in the nation: National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL.) NARAL’s footnote quotes from a source that allegedly “discussed Dr. Christopher Tietze’s estimate of nearly 8,000 deaths from illegal abortion annually in the United States.” The truth is that Tietze disputed the 5,000 to 10,000 number, as did records of maternal deaths reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the years just prior to national legalization.
In fact, in Lawrence Lader’s book “Abortion,” also sourced, he clearly states, “Tietze places the figure nearer 1,000.” But, as Dr. John C. Willke explains in the video below, that trend decreased over time:
Tietze was a senior consultant to the Center for Policy Studies of the Population Council, a radical organization founded by John D. Rockefeller III. That organization’s second president was Frederic Osborn, a founding member of the American Eugenics Society who signed Margaret Sanger’s “Citizens Committee for Planned Parenthood,” published in her review in April of 1938. (Osborn may have coined Planned Parenthood’s “Every Child a Wanted Child” slogan, and once wrote, “Eugenic goals are most likely attained under a name other than eugenics.”)
In 1967, Dr. Tietze, who was speaking at a conference on abortion sponsored by the Harvard Divinity School and Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, called the 5,000 illegal abortion deaths, “unmitigated nonsense,” according to a September 13, 1967 article in the Berkshire Eagle. The paper went on to give substantially fewer numbers by Tietze, writing, “The known deaths attributed to abortion in 1964 were 247 and he thinks it is fairly safe to estimate that the real figure may be double that, even a little more, but certainly no more than a thousand.” Note that Dr. Tietze was no pro-lifer: In 1973, he was awarded Planned Parenthood’s infamous Margaret Sanger Award, named after a eugenicist who gave at least one speech to the Ku Klux Klan.
The Kingsport News reported on that same conference, pointing out that Tietze disputed the reported illegal abortion totals, which some claimed ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million annually. The paper quotes Tietze as saying, “we have no real basis for guessing which extreme is closer to the truth.”
Tietze, who favored abortion on demand, also opined that legalizing abortion would “not have a big impact on mortality.”
The Register, a Virginia paper, notes in its article entitled, “Supporters of Liberal Abortion Laws use Inflated Statistics, Expert says,” that Tietze suggested that the larger numbers (5,000 to 10,000) 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.”
Tietze was right.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the early founders of NARAL (then known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws), revealed that he and his colleagues fabricated the large numbers of deaths from illegal abortion in an attempt to sway public opinion toward making abortion legal.
In his book, “The Abortion Papers,” Dr. Nathanson admitted that the 5,000 to 10,000 figure which was fed “to the public and the media in the late 1960’s,” was fabricated because it was a “nice, round, shocking figure.” And, just like they do today, the media — willingly and with no documentation — repeated that figure with no demand for proof.
However, there was data available, and it didn’t support those fabricated figures.
On October 19, 1959, Mary S. Calderone, a medical director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, presented a paper before the Maternal and Child Health Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA) at the Eighty-Seventh Annual Meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she also gave far fewer numbers than Professor Smith:
In 1957 there were only 260 deaths in the whole country attributed to abortions of any kind. In New York City in 1921 there were 144 abortion deaths, in 1951 there were only 15; and, while the abortion death rate was going down so strikingly in that 30-year period, we know what happened to the population and the birth rate.
In 1967, New York Assemblyman, Albert Blumenthal, who sponsored a law to legalize abortion that year, was quoted by the media as claiming that between 35 and 60 deaths from illegal abortions were reported in New York City annually. That same year, an Illinois Health Director by the name of Dr. Herbert Ratner called the 5,000 to 10,000 figure “outlandish,” noting, “This hardly leaves room for deaths from other causes.”
Dr. Ratner also correctly warned that the liberalization of abortion, which he called “exterminative medicine,” would start a dangerous trend in medicine — a prophetic insight America has sadly seen come true.
By 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. At that time, five states had passed abortion legislation and 24 others had bills under review. According to this same CDC report, in 1966, the National Center for Health Statistics reported 189 maternal deaths from abortion complications. And, while no one would diminish those numbers, they are a far cry from the 5,000 touted by Professor Smith.
By 1970, the CDC reported that in just a six month period (July to December), out of sixteen reported abortions in New York City, eight women — yes, HALF — had died from legal (not illegal) abortions. In total, the 1970 report states that 25 women died in New York City (where abortion had been liberalized), and eleven of those were from illegal abortions. The report also noted that Black and Puerto Rican women suffered higher legal abortion mortality rates.
According to that CDC document, “although there was substitution of legal for illegal abortion deaths, no significant decrease in total abortion mortality occurred following institution of the new law….”
In 1972, the year prior to national legalization, CDC reports revealed that deaths from illegal abortion were nothing close to Professor Smith’s 5,000 figure. In this table from the CDC report (shown below), just 39 women died from illegal abortion in 1972 while 24 died from legal abortion.
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