Pro-Abortion Memo Reveals Focus on Illegal Abortion Death Myths

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 15, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pro-Abortion Memo Reveals Focus on Illegal Abortion Death Myths

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 15, 2003

New York, NY ( — When abortion advocates in the United States sought to engender emotional support for overturning laws against abortion, they began citing bogus statistics claiming thousands of women were dying annually as a result of illegal abortions. While it has been proven those numbers were fabricated, that hasn’t stopped pro-abortion groups from falsifying illegal abortion death statistics worldwide.

In the internal strategy document obtained by the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute earlier this month, the Center for Reproductive Rights argues that focusing on the number of deaths from illegal abortions could help secure a worldwide right to abortion.

"There is no binding norm that recognizes women’s right to terminate a pregnancy," the pro-abortion law firm acknowledges. "To argue that such a right exists, we have focused on … rights to life and health."

"[T]he ascertation with the widest international acceptance is that a women’s right to be free from unsafe abortion is grounded in her rights to life and health," the document continues. "Because unsafe abortion is responsible for 78,000 deaths each year and hundreds of thousands of disabilities, criminalization of abortion clearly harms women’s life and health."

However, Dr. Randy O’Bannon, Education Director for National Right to Life says this figure is likely inflated and takes away the argument that illegal abortion deaths should necessitate making abortion legal worldwide.

CRR’s figure of 78,000 illegal abortion deaths comes from estimates made in 1998 by the World Health Organization and the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood.

"The precision implied in such numbers is highly misleading," O’Bannon says.

Figures given for developing countries and regions, where researchers report the vast majority of "unsafe" abortions and abortion-related deaths, "are based on meager data and a lot of assumption-laden extrapolations," said O’Bannon. "Many of these countries do not maintain detailed birth or mortality records, much less abortion statistics, making even the roughest of estimates problematic."

WHO also relies on what is calls "public source data" to provide illegal abortion death guesses. Typically, a "public source" is a journal article, report, or unpublished document, often from a pro-abortion organization, raising questions about its objectivity.

O’Bannon says these sources of information are unreliable.

In Uruguay, for example, the WHO relies on studies with samples sizes of 5, 14, and 23 individuals to extrapolate the number of deaths due to illegal abortions for the entire country. In addition, the studies were done in the 1970s and 1980s and are not current.

The data may provide anecdotal evidence of abortion-related deaths but does not validate the claims of thousands of such deaths, O’Bannon concludes.

Despite the illegitimacy of the numbers, that hasn’t stopped CRR from encouraging other countries and UN policy groups from adopting them as fact.

"The international community has recognized the dangers of unsafe abortion," the CRR document says. "Statements to that effect were adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (1994) and the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women (1995), as well as the recent 5-year reviews of these conferences."

Yet, CRR acknowledges this line of argument hasn’t produced a worldwide abortion right in part because those conferences also adopted a statement "affirming that under no circumstances should abortion be considered a method of family planning."

David Reardon, Ph.D., director of the Elliot Institute and one of the leading researchers into physical and emotional damage caused by abortions, says CRR fails to acknowledge that legalizing abortion doesn’t make it safer.

"I absolutely support the international goal of protecting women from unsafe abortions. This is why we must work diligently to prevent legalization of abortion because that only increases the number of women exposed to unsafe abortions. Legal abortion is inherently unsafe," Reardon explains.

Reardon says abortion is known to be linked to higher rates of maternal death, reproductive problems including subsequent premature deliveries and related handicaps among newborns, depression, suicide, substance abuse, and a host of other negative problems impacting women and their families.

"If the international community is serious about protecting women from unsafe abortions, it will work diligently to reverse the trend toward legalized abortion," Reardon concludes.

Relatd web sites:
The Myth of Mass Back-Alley Abortion Deaths –

Deaths by Year From Legal Abortions –