The U.S. Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade was supposed to stop women from dying in “unsafe” abortions. But it didn’t.
And another major news outlet confirmed the fact this week.
USA Today rated the popular claim that “Roe was the end of women dying from abortion” as “false” in a new fact check. Though maternal abortion deaths have declined, the fact check found that they already were dropping prior to Roe in 1973, and some women still die from abortions every year in the U.S.
The news outlet pointed to data from the Centers for Disease Control, which shows hundreds of maternal abortion deaths since Roe. Notably, this number is an under-count; the CDC abortion report notes that several states do not report their abortion data to the federal government.
“From 2011 to 2018, the CDC reported two to six deaths per year in legal abortions and one total death in an illegal abortion,” according to the report. “In terms of rate, the latest data showed 0.41 deaths per 100,000 abortions from 2013 to 2018.”
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The fact check pointed out that, according to the CDC data, maternal abortion deaths occurred in lower numbers after Roe. It quoted professors from several different universities who argued that an increase in contraception use and the legalization of abortion contributed to the drop.
“Experts told USA TODAY abortion-related deaths still occurred after Roe v. Wade was decided, though such outcomes are rare,” the news outlet wrote. “This declining trend in abortion mortality began before the 1970s, but the Roe decision was a key contributor to that trend.”
However, USA Today did not explain exactly how Roe itself led to fewer women’s abortion deaths – what specifically about legalizing abortion makes it safer for women.
Mary Faith Marshall, director of biomedical ethics at the University of Virginia, offered one possible explanation, telling the news outlet: “Abortion became part of care provided under an accredited health care system with safety standards. Clinicians had to be trained to perform abortion procedures in a formal way.”
But this contradicts other evidence. Abortion facilities since Roe have had very few safety regulations, and only one state requires abortionists to be certified OB-GYNs, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Some abortionists are not doctors at all.
What’s more, Dr. Mary Calderone, a former medical director of Planned Parenthood, said almost all abortions in the decades leading up to Roe were done by medical doctors, not back alley abortionists.
Calderone wrote in the American Journal of Public Health in 1960:
“… about 90 percent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians…Whatever trouble arises usually arises from self-induced abortions, which comprise approximately 8 percent, or with the very small percentage that go to some kind of non-medical abortionist…So remember…abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous, because it is being done well by physicians.”
Pro-life advocates and many experts believe the real reason for the drop in maternal abortion deaths was advances in modern medicine, especially antibiotics. USA Today acknowledged this as a factor in its fact check, writing:
Abortion mortality decreased when antibiotics such as penicillin became widely available in 1945, which increased the safety of the procedure, Dr. Lisa Harris, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan, told USA TODAY in an email.
A fact check by the Washington Post in 2019 reached a similar conclusion about antibiotics and maternal abortion deaths. It also found that abortion activists often exaggerate the number of women who died from abortions prior to 1973.
Abortions are never safe. Their purpose is to kill an unborn baby, and sometimes they kill mothers, too. For decades, pro-life advocates have said that legalizing abortion leads to more deaths, not fewer. Since Roe, more than 63 million unborn babies and hundreds of mothers have died in supposedly “safe, legal” abortions.
These fact checks and mountains of other evidence show that the pro-life movement’s goals are legitimate and effective. It is certain that overturning Roe, as many hope will happen this summer, will save many, many lives.
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