Given the content of the article and the almost indecipherable headline, the authors’ intent seems to be not only to smear Republican presidential candidates, but to hint broadly that, if abortion were to be made illegal in the United States once again, thousands of women would die of botched abortions every year not only in Latin America, but in this country as well.
It is remarkable how impervious such claims are to contrary evidence. The unsubstantiated “Illegal abortion harms women” charge was famously refuted by the late former abortionist and co-founder of NARAL, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who said in his 1979 book Aborting America that:
In NARAL, we generally emphasized the frame of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always `5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.’ I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it.
Of course, to abortion advocates, no refutation is famous enough, so we should also consider published statistics. The actual number of women who died in the United States each year of illegal abortion before it was legalized in 1973 by Roe v. Wade was about 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While this is still too many, the number of deaths should not be radically and falsely increased for political purposes.
In turning to Latin America, Krause-Jackson and Alexander ignore the latest scientific evidence showing that pro-life laws, combined with improvements in maternal care that we should all be able to agree upon, actually promote better maternal health than unrestricted abortion. Their argument is most noteworthy for its frequent omission of critical facts.
To begin with, in support of their argument, the authors actually use abortion advocate Marta Maria Blandón’s evidence-free dismissal of a peer-reviewed 2010 Chilean study that contradicts the authors’ thesis. Readers can decide if this is acceptable argumentative form, but the authors should have at least disclosed that Ms. Blandón works for IPAS, an abortion advocacy organization that, as a purveyor of “abortion technologies,” has a financial stake in expanding access to abortion in Latin America.
The authors also neglect to mention the comprehensive and groundbreaking study of worldwide maternal mortality rates (MMRs) published in The Lancet in April 2010. This study, which covered 181 nations, showed that the status of abortion laws in Latin America has little to do with maternal mortality rates. In fact, one of the nations that Krause-Jackson and Alexander mention as having a no-exceptions abortion law — Chile — has the lowest MMR in Latin America at 21.1 deaths per 100,000 live births.
According to the study, the highest MMRs in Latin America are, in fact, in nations with abortion on demand or a loose health exceptions, with Guyana at 143.1 deaths per 100,000 live births and Bolivia at 180.2. In fact, the two nations (Panama and Guyana) with abortion on demand have an average MMR of 93.6, which is 28 percent higher than the eleven Latin American nations with pro-life laws, which average 73.2.
The authors also quote a baseless assertion made by abortion advocates all over the world: “The only thing the legality of abortion affects is whether it’s safe.” But should one not ask the obvious question: Who will perform abortions in these countries once it is legalized? The answer historically has been that the same people who break the law to do clandestine abortions also do them after it is legalized. Legalization does not improve their skills or make them better doctors; it just guarantees that there will be many more abortions, which history shows almost without exception, and which contradicts the authors’ simplistic assertion.
Krause-Jackson and Alexander also quote several dubious statistics. For example, they allege, without reference to relevant research, that 160,000 illegal abortions are committed in Chile each year among a population of only 16 million people. The authors apparently expect us to believe that the illegal abortion rate in Chile is two and a half times higher than the rate of legal abortion in the United States; a ridiculous assertion even given cultural differences. Yet, even though they admit in their article that estimating the number of illegal abortions and deaths in Latin America is “difficult to gauge” and “almost impossible to know,” they proceed to quote precise numbers anyway, adding that “real” numbers “may be higher.”
The authors also have an interesting take on the results of the May 2011 Gallup poll on abortion. They say that “fewer than one in four Americans support a no-exceptions [abortion] policy.” What the authors conveniently omit is the critical fact that the same Gallup poll found that only 27 percent of Americans want abortion legal for all reasons, and a whopping 50 percent would ban it for all reasons except to save the life of the mother, rape or incest – exceptions which represent about three percent of all abortions.
In other words, based on the Gallup poll that the authors cite, if a referendum on abortion were held in the United States tomorrow, 73 percent of Americans would vote to ban 97 percent of all abortions.
As pro-life advocates, we are accustomed to abortion advocates cherry-picking statistics and using anecdotes to make the statistically unsupportable case that fully legalizing abortion is actually good for women’s health. Yet, it never fails to surprise how much contrary evidence is omitted in such arguments. And since we were named in the article, we felt we had to respond.
While we do not support a particular political party, the irresponsible and tired implications that Republicans don’t care about women’s health really need to end, and political arguments should have at least some connection to scientific fact if they are attempting to make a scientific case. For those who consider the latest evidence objectively, it appears that pro-life laws and investments in medical and infrastructural improvements are the best way to reduce maternal mortality in the US and in the developing world.