Guttmacher Wrong: Legalizing Abortions Yields More, Doesn’t Make Them Safer

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 15, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Guttmacher Wrong: Legalizing Abortions Yields More, Doesn’t Make Them Safer

by Anna Franzonello
October 15, 2009 Note: Anna Franzonello is a staff attorney for Americans United for Life, a national pro-life organization. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame School of Law.

The Guttmacher Institute released a survey Tuesday concluding the “key difference” between nations where abortion is legal and those where it is restricted was not abortion rates, but a “high rate of deaths and medical complications from unsafe clandestine abortions in restrictive countries.”

Their solution: remove abortion restrictions in these countries. This suggestion is ideologically driven by the Guttmacher Institute’s abortion-promoting agenda. Their own research contradicts the conclusion.

Abortion restrictions and the incidence of abortion

Sharon Camp, president of the Guttmacher Institute said, “Legal restrictions do not stop abortion from happening. They just make the procedure dangerous.” But the Institute’s own research refutes this claim. The data shows that restrictions on the legal status of abortion have made a real impact on the incidence of abortion.

We know from history that legalizing abortion leads to more abortions. A prime example is the United States. Between 1973, when the Supreme Court overturned state laws restricting abortion in Roe v. Wade, and 1980 the number of abortions more than doubled.1

But where abortion has been restricted, abortion rates have decreased. Since the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey acknowledging a State’s right to enact some abortion restrictions, the number of abortions in the United States has been steadily and significantly declining.2

Social Scientist Dr. Michael New’s research utilizing data from both the Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control shows a correlation between reductions in the incidence of abortion and the enactment of informed consent laws, public-funding restrictions, and parental-involvement laws.3 Dr. New points to studies appearing in the Guttmacher Institute’s own Family Planning Perspectives that provide evidence that pro-life legislation at the state level reduces the incidence of abortion.

A 2004 study that appeared in The Journal of Law and Economics analyzed how changes in abortion policies in post-communist Eastern Europe affected the incidence of abortion. The authors concluded that modest restrictions on abortion reduced abortion rates by around 25 percent.

Poland is one of the few countries to have significantly tightened restrictions on abortion. With a rejection of communist rule came a rejection of their liberally interpreted abortion law. In 1993 a new Act “on family planning, human fetus protection and conditions of permissibility of pregnancy termination” restricted abortion to cases where the life or health of the mother was threatened, where the child was disabled, or in cases of rape.

Even these grounds for abortion have been strictly governed. A pregnancy threatening a mother’s life or one in which genetic defects have been identified can only be terminated in a hospital. A physician other than the one performing the abortion must certify the health risk exists. In the case of rape, it must have been reported to the authorities.

The number of abortions in Poland has drastically decreased. Simultaneously, still births and infant mortality rates have been on the constant decline. Health services in Poland are comparatively poor to those of the United States, but according to the U.N. Population Division “World Mortality Report 2005” less women die per 100,000 labors in Poland than in the U.S.

The experience in Poland and the United States show legal restrictions do keep abortion from happening, and women are not dying as a result.

“Safe” and “legal” are not synonymous

In 1998 a young woman bled to death in an Arizona clinic from a two-inch laceration in her uterus.4 An emergency room was less than five minutes down the street, but her doctor, who was eating lunch in the break room, refused requests to check on her condition.

Abortion advocates have long argued that legal abortion is safe abortion. However, there is abundant evidence, like the example above, to show permitting the procedure by law has not resulted in making abortion safe. Abortions in sanctioned clinics produce the same horror stories of seriously injured women, unsterile conditions, and brutal treatment that we were assured would end when abortion was legalized.

The fact reported by the Guttmacher Institute that women unnecessarily injured and dying is a problem. The solution, however, does not require the liberalization of abortion laws.

Women need to be presented with alternatives to abortion, not forced into feeling like it is their only option. The poverty level and poor quality of health care in the developing countries where the Guttmacher Institute notes these “high rate of deaths and medical complications” is a significant factor that cannot be ignored. Improved prenatal care and financial support for women and families will do more to reduce abortion related injuries and deaths than sanctioning the procedure.

The facts show liberalizing abortion laws can only promise to increase the incidence of abortion, not the safety.

[1] See chart at

[2] See chart at

[3] Michael New, “Analyzing the Effect of State Legislation on the Incidence of Abortion Among Minors,” Heritage Foundation, Feb. 2007

[4] Denise M. Burke, “Abortion Clinic Regulations: Combating the “True Back-Alley,” Defending Life (2009) available at“true-back-alley”

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