Kamala Harris stirred up unfounded fears about abortion over the weekend, claiming “women will die” if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or even weakens Roe v. Wade.
It’s a claim abortion activists frequently make to stoke fears and garner support for legalized abortion on demand, but it has little basis in the truth.
Speaking with the San Francisco Chronicle, Harris discussed the possibility that the Supreme Court may overturn its 1973 abortion ruling through a Mississippi case that it heard Dec. 1. The justices likely will not issue a ruling until sometime next year, but already many are speculating about the outcome.
“I’m very concerned about it,” Harris told the newspaper. “I don’t mean to sound alarmist, I mean this: Women will die.”
She repeated the same claim again later in the interview, calling it a “fact.”
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“Women will die,” Harris said. “In particular, women who don’t have economic resources and can’t then travel to places or somehow have access to safe reproductive health care, including abortion. And it is not an extreme statement, it is a fact.”
Actually, it is not a fact. First, pro-life laws always allow exceptions for the very rare cases when the mother’s life is at risk. The pro-life movement values the lives of both the mother and her baby and recognizes that there are rare, tragic circumstances, such as an ectopic pregnancy, where only the mother’s life can be saved. In such cases, however, the purpose is to save lives, not to kill them.
Second, pro-life advocates have been pointing out for years that few women died from abortions in the decade prior to Roe, and a rise in the use of antibiotics appears to be the biggest factor in the drop in maternal deaths, not legalized abortions. Even a Planned Parenthood leader and a fact checker at the left-leaning Washington Post have confirmed this.
According to the 2019 fact check, thousands of women were dying every year in the 1920s and ’30s, but those numbers included miscarriages as well as elective abortions. After antibiotics grew widely available, however, the number of maternal deaths dropped rapidly, the fact checker noted.
In 1959 in the “American Journal of Public Health,” Planned Parenthood medical director Dr. Mary Steichen Calderone explained that “abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure” because of antibiotics. She said almost all illegal abortions were done by trained physicians, not back alley abortionists.
In 2019, Stanley Henshaw, a researcher with the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, told the Washington Post that he agreed with this assessment.
“In my opinion, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, women would turn to relatively safe medications that can be purchased over the internet,” Henshaw said. “There would be some deaths but probably not as many as there were in the 1960s.”
There already are some deaths. Legal abortions claim the lives of mothers as well as their unborn babies every year in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 450 women died from legal abortions between 1973 and 2018. However, several states do not report their abortion numbers to the CDC, so the total likely is higher.
Research from other countries also indicates that women are not dying from illegal abortions at the massive rates that abortion activists’ claim. Speaking with The Atlantic in 2018, a professor at Santa Clara University said her research in El Salvador surprised her; abortions are illegal there, but the hospitals were not full of women dying from botched abortions. Instead, she found that better access to basic medical care is a key factor in preventing maternal abortion deaths.
In the same piece, Abigail Aiken, a professor of health policy at the University of Texas, noted that women were not dying of abortions in Ireland either when abortions were illegal there. In fact, a 2013 study found that Ireland’s maternal mortality rates were significantly lower than neighboring countries where abortions were legal and widely available.
Even more evidence confirms that most women do not get abortions when they are banned; instead, they have their babies. This dispels the back-alley abortion myth that women will resort to dangerous methods if they cannot get legal abortions.
Overturning Roe will not destroy lives, as abortion activists claim. It will save them by preventing hundreds of thousands of unborn babies from being slaughtered and their mothers from the pain and regret of aborting a child.