Radio Transcript

LIFE ISSUES NO. 2259

DEATHS FROM ILLEGAL ABORTIONS

How many women died from illegal abortions? We do have records in the U.S. of how many women died from abortions (spontaneous, legal and illegal), and the U.S. is one of the few nations that separate the deaths into these three categories. And these numbers are readily available from the U.S. Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Remember now, prior to legalization of abortion, the proponents of abortion claimed that deaths from illegal abortions were between 5,000 and 10,000 women a year. That many women died from illegal abortions annually in the U.S.

Let's look at the actual numbers. We find that we must go back before the era of penicillin to find the year when there were more than 1,000 women dying. Remember they claimed 5,000 or 10,000? With penicillin, the number of deaths quickly dropped to under 300 a year, and after that there was a continuing, steady decline as medical technology improved.

So let's jump to 1967. That's the year when our first state legalized abortion. How many women died in the U.S. that year from abortions? A total of 160. Let's go to 1972. By then 17 states had legalized abortion, but all of these were very restrictive laws, except New York and California. How many mothers died in 1972, the year before Roe vs. Wade? Thirty-nine. Did you hear that? Only 39 women in all 50 states in a full year.

Only 39 mothers died. That's less than one per state per year. I think it's of interest that 25 more died that year from legal abortions.

Well, 1973 was the year the Supreme Court legalized abortion in all 50 states. After that, there shouldn't have been any more back-alley abortions, at least you wouldn't think so. If that were true, then there wouldn't be many women, or any, dying from that reason anymore. You couldn't tell it from looking at maternal death statistics. The slowly descending line on the graph didn't even waver.

It continued its steady, slow descent at the same rate as previously – a decline in deaths clearly due to better and better medical and surgical care, antibiotics, etc. By 1982, maternal deaths had dropped to 21 women dying each year, and since then it has fluctuated between 10 and 20 per year.

It is strikingly clear that legalizing abortion did not have any noticeable effect in reducing the number of women dying from abortions, for that number continued its slow, steady decline which obviously was due to better and better medical care.

Almost certainly, then, legalization of abortion did not save any women's lives. Today legal abortion is claiming as many lives every year as would probably have been lost if abortion were still illegal.

[03/02/00]