Supporting Women’s Health Does Not Necessitate Legalizing Abortion
Safe abortion is almost always equated with legalized abortion, and we are often told that the only way to reduce maternal mortality is to legalize abortion.
This is a common claim, but is quite baseless.
In the first place, it completely ignores that fact that developed nations that have criminalized abortion, like Ireland, Chile, Poland, and Malta, all have extremely low maternal mortality rates, while developing nations that have legalized abortion, like South Africa, Guyana, and India, still have high, and in some cases extremely high, maternal mortality rates. The biggest determinant of whether or not a woman will die from an unsafe abortion is not the legality of abortion in her country but whether or not she lives in a developing (Third World) nation or a developed (First World) nation.
Even the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research institute dedicated to advocating for the legality of abortion worldwide, admits this. “Nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, and nearly all unsafe abortions (98 percent) occur in developing countries. In the developing world, 50 percent of all abortions are unsafe, compared with just 6 percent in the developed world.” Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, only 8 percent of all maternal mortalities worldwide are due to unsafe abortion, with the rest caused largely by unsafe childbirth.
Here in the United States, the threat of the bloody coat hanger is used whenever new abortion restrictions are being debated, but that, too, is a boldfaced lie. Dr. Mary Steichen Calderone, an abortion rights supporter who founded the pro-choice organization SIECUS, and who served as national medical director of Planned Parenthood from 1964 to 1969, exposes this as a myth in her 1960 article in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health, interestingly entitled “Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem.” In it she writes:
“Abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure. This applies not only 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. In New York City in 1921 there were 144 abortion deaths, in 1951 there were only 15; and, while the abortion death was going down so strikingly in that 30-year period, we know what happened to the population and the birth rate. Two corollary factors must be mentioned here: first, chemotherapy and antibiotics have come in, benefiting all surgical procedures as well as abortion. Second, and even more important, the conference estimated that 90 percent 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…. So remember fact number three; abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous, because it is being done well by physicians.”
The conference that Dr. Calderone is referring to was a 1955 Planned Parenthood sponsored national conference on illegal abortion, which was comprised of OB-GYNs, medical examiners, public health researchers, and social workers, all very familiar with illegal abortions. Legalization did not change who performed abortions, but it did enable abortion providing doctors to be much more open about what they did.
Indeed, the case of Chile proves that it is not necessary to legalize abortion in order to reduce maternal mortality and to dramatically improve women’s health. Abortion was completely criminalized in Chile in 1989, but their maternal mortality rate continued to fall, which this peer-reviewed study attributes to increased education, better access to healthcare, lower poverty rates, and better access to contraception. Even Chile’s death rate from unsafe abortion continued to fall after criminalization, which this scientific institute attributed to the same factors mentioned above, as well as increased support for pregnant women at risk for illegal abortion, which increases the likelihood that they will give birth.
Pro-choice ideologues try to win over the soft middle through scare tactics, promising back alleys filled with women dying from botched abortions should abortion ever become illegal. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, founder of NARAL Pro-Choice America, admits this in his 1979 book, Aborting America. He points out that the claims that thousands of women died each year of botched abortions prior to Roe v. Wade were false statistics, peddled by NARAL to get public support for legalizing abortion. “I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the ‘morality’ of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?” It’s time to hang up the bloody coat hanger, and to finally have an honest dialogue on abortion, fetal rights, women’s rights, and women’s health.
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