Safety First

It is not too often that I can report good news coming from the Guttmacher Institute who just recently reported the stark increase in the number of State laws restricting abortion on demand, but I’ll take this news where ever I can get it.  To those on the pro-life side of the debate this comes as great news.  But to abortion advocates this is no time to rejoice.  It is painted as a war against women, and they predict a return to back alley abortions.  Is there any merit to this complaint that laws restricting unfettered access to abortion creates a danger to women?  What if it does have merit, should it cause pro-life legislators to protect abortion and limit restrictions?

First, the statistics do not support the idea that fewer restrictions do not motivate women to have abortions, or that restrictions inhibit women obtaining abortions.  Each year a number of laws restricting access to abortion are passed, which means every year access to abortion requires a few more steps.  Since 1981 there has been a steady decline in the number of women who have a legal abortion.  Conversely, from 1973–the year of Roe v Wade–to 1981 (less than 10 years!) the number of women who have abortions nearly doubled.  Apparently legalizing abortion had been a strong motivator to have one.

Second, the number of deaths due to illegal abortions was on a sharp decline even before Roe.  Even as far back as 1960, Mary Calderon, the former director of Planned Parenthood wrote in a July 1960 article for the American Journal of Public Health that nearly all illegal abortions (90%) were performed by physicians:

Abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure.  This applies not just to therapeutic abortions as performed in hospitals but also to so-called illegal abortions as done by physicians.  In 1957 there were only 260 deaths in the whole country attributed to abortions of any kind.  In New York City in 1921 there were 144 abortion deaths, In 1951 there were only 15; and , while the abortion death rate was going down so strikingly in that 30-year period, we know what happened to the population and the birth rate.  Two corollary factors must be mentioned here: first, chemotherapy and antibiotics have come in, benefiting all surgical procedures as well as abortion.  Second, and even more important, the conference estimated that 90 percent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians.  Call them what you will, abortionists or anything else, they are still physicians, trained as such; and many of them are in good standing in their communities.  They must do a pretty good job if the death rate is as low as it is…abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous.

The statistics to not justify the ‘sky is falling’ claims of abortion advocates who claim 1) restrictions do not inhibit abortion (or that fewer motivate), and 2) that the number of “back-alley” abortions is (will be) on the rise with the imposition of stronger restrictions, even if anecdotal evidence can be offered.

But for the sake of argument let’s say that more restrictions translates to more illegal abortion and increased health risks associated with it.  Should that be cause enough to reconsider restricting legal abortions?

I have never found this line of argumentation to be compelling.  If there are sound moral reasons why elective abortion should be illegal–as I have argued elsewhere–then whether a mother could be harmed while attempting to obtain an illegal abortion is irrelevant.  It makes no sense to protect abortion because someone may be injured in the process if it were made illegal.  If abortion were made illegal, then we should have as much compassion for a mother attempting to take the life of her child as we do for an armed robber attempting to take the life of his victim.  It would be absurd to suggest that we should enact laws making it safer to rob people.

Moreover, even if women would be harmed in the process, it does not speak to the morality of elective abortion.  It is not a valid defense to keep abortion legal.  The issue at hand is not the safety of the mother while she is attempting to take the life of her child, rather, it is whether she should be taking the life of her child in the first place.  This is a diversion from the real issue.

This complaint against stiffer limits on elective abortion is activist alarmism propaganda.  Though every death is a tragedy, the number of injuries and death due to illegal abortions is statistically irrelevant.  No one is being forced into alleys, nor would they even if elective abortion were made illegal.  Like times prior to Roe, there will be plenty of physicians willing to break laws for an ideology (and a paycheck); and plenty of women who will go to any length necessary to exercise their “right” to “choose“.


  1. are you sure you want women to have access to babies after they are born? these women people sure don’t seem trustworthy, after all, if they aren’t allowed to have control over their own bodies, they sure shouldn’t have control of a helpless baby.

  2. I’d like to preface this by saying that I am no fan of abortion. I am begrudgingly pro-choice, based entirely on my libertarian belief that women deserve ultimate control over their own bodies. I am a father to four (and almost a half) wonderful children, each one as special as the last. My wife and I would never consider abortion a viable option, and I wish this were the case for more people.

    That said, I am amazed and appalled at the sheer volume of abortions in the United States. The numbers are staggering. I wonder, though, how anyone can claim that government funding of abortions or unrestricted access to abortions is the driving force behind the abortion rate. In Canada, we have had legal abortion available since 1969. It has been paid for by our healthcare system from inception, and has been entirely unfettered since 1988.
    At no point in this entire period has Canada’s abortion rate been higher than our southern neighbors. If you pay attention to the historical statistics for abortion in Canada, you see the trend rise in years subsequent to 1988, then decline steadily every year since 1997, as well as the number of abortions per 100 live births since 2002.
    All this is to say that if abortions are funded by the state, there seems to be no trend for abortion rates to rise dramatically, and though decreased regulation has a short term effect in increasing the frequency of abortions, it does not seem to hold or increase in the long term. The question also needs to be asked whether abortion numbers increasing subsequent to the 1988 ruling reflect an actual increase in abortions or an increase in the reports of abortions.
    Why should Canada have such a staggeringly lower abortion rate than America- where it is unarguably harder and more expensive to receive the procedure? I have some solid guesses, but since I am no expert in the field, I will only offer some likely factors- and let John and others cry foul and scream fallacy.
    -Canada has a Universal healthcare system, as well as a strong and supportive social welfare system. This makes prospective mothers more comfortable with the financial burdens of caring for an unexpected child.
    -Canada, as a result of our social welfare system, has lower rates of poverty and disparity in income. This helps dissipate the spike in abortion rates seen in America as reflected in the minority abortion rate statistics.
    -Canada has a progressive education policy targeting children as young as 11 years of age- teaching our youth about sexuality, responsibility, and safety. This carries on all through high school, and the focus is always on making mature decisions and practicing safe sex as opposed to “abstinence education”. Condoms are readily available through high school guidance departments at no charge, and always available free through local Health Units. The birth control pill is prescribed in Canada to any girl who requests it over the age of 14, without parental notification or consent necessary.

    There are other reasons that I won’t address for the reason that they are more controversial and would be patently insulting to many of your readers, John, but certainly any person arguing that the problem of abortion is an issue of regulation of the procedure or state funding of the procedure must take a serious look at why this does not wash in respect to other countries. The best way to tackle the scourge of abortion is a strong dose of sexual education, promotion of free or easily accessible birth control alternatives, social policies that make raising a child more viable, and the fight against poverty.

    It is the greatest of ironies that most conservatives spend countless resources and time fighting the very policies that would lower the abortion rate and relieve the motivation for choosing an abortion.

    • George, sadly, I think Americans are a quite bit more narcissistic than Canadians generally speaking. I mean, there’s a reason a movie like Canadian Bacon can be made, ya know. America has turned into a “me first” nation. Even according to the Guttmacher institute, the reasons women give for why they had an abortion I would consider matters of personal convenience, and a baby would be really inconvenient, and frankly, I find the reasons to be abhorrent. 1% or less were for heath reasons.

      So I don’t think it can be compared with Canada, even though there are similarities, I would view Canada as being a quite different culture. The last 2 visits, it was obvious I was not in the U.S. anymore, and that was just from my interaction with people.

      • John,
        The problem I see with blaming the culture in America is that the strong Libertarian “don’t tread on me” attitude that causes people to be narcissistic and self-centered is precisely the logos instituo of the conservative movement.
        You essentially support a philosophy that is centered around the primacy of individual rights to the detriment of communal responsibility, then turn around and decry the horrors that result from it. Poverty, inner city violence, abortion, drug use, and countless other social ills are the direct result of a culture that wants to say on the one hand “I want to be free to do as I please” when talking about their own rights and “I want you to be free to do as I please” when talking about others rights.
        I am not saying that people have a right to be violent, or to kill people, or abuse drugs, but I am saying that the extension of your philosophy into the greater culture creates a “false justification” for a host of social ills.

        I want abortion to end as badly as you do, but you seem to want to treat the symptoms and ignore the disease.

        • But I think the (incorrect) underlying presumption is that abortion doesn’t hurt anyone, and that the decision to have an abortion results in only an effect on the mother. It basically assumes that the child being aborted does not exist or is worthy of protection. So one’s personal liberty ends at the harm (or destruction) of another. Abortion takes the life of an innocent human being, which is a medical fact. So when someone defends abortion based on autonomy, it ignores that there are two individuals involved.

  3. if you really think that women have abortions that lightly or just to avoid the inconvenience, then why would you allow them to have care and control of a baby?

    it is a dubious claim to say legal abortion increases the number of abortion, it only increases the legal ones because people stop having illegal ones or traveling to other places where it’s legal.

  4. We have to be honest to ourselves about the subject of abortion. There are many facts and figures you can find to support or crush any position, and the view of the topic is often skewed by emotion, experience and religion.

    John is correct when he says that Americans are narcissistic – quite an understatement, actually. It’s all about “me” and it’s all about the money. Like a parent who’s willing to concede that their child is in fact ugly, I believe this county I love has many shortcomings. We want everything, but we don’t want to pay for it. We love violence, but don’t you dare show a nipple. Education here is deteriorating and embarrassing. Instead of promoting education regarding sex, the culture here is deeply rooted in dogma and ignorance. People often cry that sex is something that should be taught in the household and not the classroom. That doesn’t seem to be working out too well, does it?

    As for your comparison to Canada, George, conservatives here demonize any form of universal healthcare or social welfare and many folks buy into it. While the political right seems to do everything to protect the unborn, they appear to not be able to care less about those already born. It doesn’t make money.

    Most of the arguments made by the pro-lifers, like this blog, are irrelevant to the big picture. It’s not about the excuses people have about having an abortion, it’s about the choice to have one. While I can respect anyone’s opinion that abortion may be wrong, that’s no reason to deny the choice. Just like your right to free speech, John – I may not agree with what you say, but I respect the fact you have a right to say it.

    • So, ZQXT, abortion takes the life of an innocent human being, and women should have the choice to do that? It always makes me shake my head to hear someone acknowledge what abortion actually does (not that you did here) and then defend the right to do it.

      • This simply exposes the religious belief that a fertilized egg is automatically a human being. I can fully understand the rationale of those that think that we are created at that moment and deserve special treatment unlike any other creature that undergoes the same reproductive development, but I respectfully disagree with it. You simply call that a human being and I don’t, yet you impose your belief on others so that they subscribe to yours and adhere to your definition.

        So, following your ideology, would you prosecute a pregnant woman who knowingly exposed the human being inside them to any harm or potential danger, say through unhealthy foods, alcoholic beverage, physical trauma or inhalation of dangerous substances like cigarettes? Sure, we might consider them irresponsible, but where would you draw the line?

        • Z, you’re wrong, it is a medical fact that a fertilized egg is a human being, it is a medical fact that it is alive and genetically unique from its mother and father.

          It is my religious belief that all innocent human beings are valuable and worthy of protection.

      • John, the issue of innocent is emotionally loaded, subjective and not relevant – expecially if you are any flavour of Christian, which at least has the babe tainted by original sin, so not innocent

        abortion is the termination of a pregnancy, plain, simple and not emotionally loaded – no one is pretending that it is not.

        the unborn do not have secular rights – and even if they did, it is up to the parent to make decisions for said offspring until the age of adulthood – so it is still the woman’s choice no matter how you define it

        if a woman doesn’t have the right to have soveriegnty over her body, you may as well take away her right to vote and participate in society, too -because that is basically what you are saying when you say the woman shouldn’t have the right to chose

        • Innocent is not an emotional term, it accurately describes the state of the child, as in not warranting death. Not all killing is unjust.

          Additionally, it sounds like you’re advocating that a parent can do whatever they want to their children until they turn 18? It sounds like you are justifying killing of children based on parental authority. Highly disturbing.

  5. So, based on your reply, you would personally endorse the prosecution of any pregnant woman who willfully exposed the human being inside them to harm or potential danger as previously described?

    As far as your definition as medical fact, I guess that differs from the scientific viewpoint.

    I believe your emotionally charged, self-important religious dogmas interfere with rational thought.

    • Spare me the PZ Meyers citation.

      And yes, I am for prosecuting women who willfully harm or kill their children.

      • so the only life that matters is the unborn and death to women?

        the criminal code already establishes punishment for any woman or man who harms or kills children

        the problem you are having is that the unborn are not legally children – and there is no way to allow them to be, without criminalizing abortion – which has already been established in law as not a criminal action

        and religious interfereance with that has not met with support at the Supreme Court, no matter how conservatively it’s stacked

        the unborn do not have legal rights that supercede the rights of the living

        • You work from the presumption that what is legal is moral and should be legal. So then on your view when slavery was legal it was ok to enslave people. Gocha.

          Also, you keep referencing the unborn in contrast with the living. The child in the womb is a live human being.

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