PolitiFact fact checked a popular pro-abortion Facebook post this week that claims legalized abortion on demand brought about “the end of women dying from abortions” in America.
It is not true and PolitiFact confirmed as much. But the fact checker still rated the post “half true,” writing, Roe v. Wade “was an important factor in reducing deaths from abortions, but not the only one.”
Earlier this month, abortion activists began sharing a post on Facebook claiming that the nation-wide legalization of abortion in 1973 in the U.S. saved women from deadly back alley abortions.
The post showed the image of what appeared to be a yard sign that read “Roe wasn’t the beginning of women having abortions. Roe was the end of women dying from abortions,” according to PolitiFact. The caption on the image stated, “Tens of thousands of American women died while having unsafe back alley abortions before Roe v. Wade. We CAN’T go back.”
These claims have been debunked before, both by pro-life leaders and major news outlets such as the Washington Post. And PolitiFact, like past fact checks, pointed to statistics showing that the number of women’s deaths to abortion already were dropping rapidly in the decades prior to Roe.
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The discovery and popularization of antibiotics helped improve the safety of abortions, according to a 1948 study published in the American Journal of Public Health. That study also mentioned that the increased use of contraceptives had reduced the need for illegal abortions, leading to fewer deaths.
A 1978 American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology study analyzed trends in abortion deaths in the U.S., and determined that from 1940 to 1950 and after 1965, “deaths from abortion declined more rapidly than deaths from other causes associated with pregnancy and childbirth.”
In the years leading up to Roe, pro-abortion groups claimed thousands of women were dying from dangerous back alley abortions. Later, however, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, an abortionist and pro-abortion leader who eventually became pro-life, admitted that those numbers were “totally false.”
As PolitiFact noted:
By the early 1970s, abortion-related deaths had become relatively rare.
In 1972 — the year before Roe was decided and the first year for which data for abortion-related deaths was available — 24 women died from legal abortions, and 39 died from illegal abortions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Today, women still die from supposedly “safe, legal” abortions in the U.S., though it is not clear exactly how many. PolitiFact pointed to CDC reports showing that “from 1979 to 2017, the number of women who died in a year was never higher than two.”
In total, the CDC has documented about 450 women’s deaths to abortion since the late 1970s; however, the agency notes that the number is almost certainly an under-count because eight states do not report their numbers to the CDC.
LifeNews also has documented many cases where women died along with their babies after legal abortions. These include Tonya Reaves, Cree Erwin, Lakisha Wilson, Diana Lopez, Holly Patterson and others.
PolitiFact’s “half true” rating is based on pro-abortion researchers’ claims that Roe also helped to “sharply reduce” women’s abortion deaths. But correlation is not the same as causation, and there was no explanation as to how Roe directly caused a drop in deaths that already was occurring due to modern medical advances.
Even pro-abortion groups have admitted that the notion of women dying in so-called back-alley abortions before Roe is a myth because most abortions done prior to 1973 were done by doctors whose illegal abortion practices became legal after that infamous Supreme Court decision.
In 1960, Dr. Mary Calderone, the medical director of Planned Parenthood, wrote in the American Journal of Public Health:
“… 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.”
Research from other countries also indicates that access to basic health care, not legalized abortions, is what really helps women. For example, in 2018, Michelle Oberman, a Santa Clara University law professor, told the Atlantic that she was surprised when she began doing research on abortion in El Salvador. Abortions are illegal there, and she said she expected to find hospitals full of women dying from botched abortions, but she did not. In her research, Oberman attributed access to basic medical care to the low number of maternal abortion deaths.
It is becoming increasingly clear that legalizing abortion does not save lives. Quite the opposite, Roe v. Wade led to the deaths of nearly 63 million unborn babies and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mothers. Now, as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a major abortion case in December, millions of Americans are calling for the justices to end the deadly precedent and allow states to protect unborn babies and mothers from abortion again.