By Editorial Staff
Published September 1992
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Laws preventing abortion will not only dramatically reduce the total number of abortions, but also the number of women and babies killed by either legal or illegal abortion, according to a report released by the Horatio R. Storer Foundation.
“This report carefully and clearly debunks the myth that women will die if abortion is no longer available,” said Cynthia McKnight, author of the report and a specialist in state legislative issues at the Storer Foundation. “Medical progress in treating complications, not legalization of abortion, accounts for the enormous drop in maternal abortion deaths from the 1940s to the 1970s.”
The report, Life Without Roe: Making Predictions About Illegal Abortions, was released Wednesday, July 1, by the Storer Foundation, an educational foundation dedicated to examining issues related to life and death and affiliated with the National Right to Life Committee.
The report, both historical and forward-looking in its scope, examines previous studies and statistics on the number of illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade and the number of maternal deaths (deaths of mothers) from legal and illegal abortion to provide a scientific framework for predicting “life without Roe.”
The report provides the basis for estimates that there were a mean of less than 100,000 illegal abortions annually in the years before Roe v. Wade, far fewer than the 1 million repeatedly claimed by abortion advocates.
“Today, there are 1.6 million abortions each year – 16 times as many as in the years before legalization,” McKnight noted. “Even assuming an increased risk from illegal abortions, that means that the total number of women dying and being hurt by abortion would be less in a post-Roe America with protective laws than it is today.”
- Before Roe v. Wade, there were approximately 100,000 illegal abortions per year, a number far lower than the 1 million claimed by abortion advocates.
- The largest reasonably possible number of illegal abortions in any one year before Roe v. Wade was approximately 210,000 in 1961; the lowest was about 39,000 in 1950. The mean was 98,000 per year.
- The data demonstrates an exponential increase in the number of abortions since legalization. There are roughly 16 times as many abortions now each year as there were in an average year before Roe v. Wade.
- The claims by abortion advocates that 1,000,000 or more illegal abortions occurred annually and 5,000-10,000 women died are based on inaccurately calculated extrapolations from flawed and erroneous data of the 1920s and the 1930s – the pre-penicillin era.
- The number of deaths of childbearing-age women for non-abortion related causes remained relatively constant in the years before Roe v. Wade, showing that deaths from illegal abortion could not have been “hidden” under other causes of death.
- Advances in medical technology, not the legalization of abortion, caused a significant drop in the number of maternal deaths from abortion:
– maternal deaths from illegal abortions were above 1,000 per year only in the pre-penicillin era (1940). The maternal abortion deaths dropped sharply with the advent of antibiotics (penicillin and sulfa) and other medical advances to treat infections.
– the maternal death rate had declined to 30 maternal deaths from illegal abortions by 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade was decided.
- If maternal abortion deaths were significantly under-reported in the official statistics, there would be an over-reporting of other causes of death. But multiple forms of analysis demonstrate this did not occur.
- The small numbers of maternal deaths demonstrate that there were a comparatively small number of illegal abortions pre-Roe, suggesting that the total number of abortions would drop substantially if protective laws were again in effect.
“As America looks forward to life without Roe, the debate on the legality of abortion must move beyond unsubstantiated claims and toward a realistic approach sensitive to the lives of both women and unborn children,” the report concludes.