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If Abortion Is Made Illegal, Will U.S. Women Return to the Back Alley?

Abortion supporters claim that making abortion illegal will not deter the 1.6 million [currently about 1.3 million] women who now get legal abortions from resorting to back alleys. This claim is doubtful, to say the least.

Edward Pohlman, in a Planned Parenthood-financed study, noted, "Induced abortion requires overt action and a decision that is somewhat daring. In cultures which provide sanctions against abortion, it is impossible to believe that all of the parents who want abortions have them…

"There are psychological as well as legal and practical differences between…seriously considering an abortion, and actually going through with one, to be sure" (emphasis added)(1)

Willard Cates of the Federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated there were 130,000 illegal abortions in 1972, 63,000 in 1973 (year of Roe v. Wade) and 17,000 in 1974.(2) These numbers are based on a mortality ratio of 30 deaths per 100,000 illegal (most deaths from non-physician, although physicians performed many illegal) abortions. Planned Parenthood tabulated 745,440 legal abortions in 1973, but claimed there was actually a need for 1,258,000 to 1,745,000 abortions in 1973 and 1974.

Thus, according to Planned Parenthood's figures, 512,000 to 1,023,000 women were in "need" of an abortion in 1974 because of an "unwanted" or mistimed pregnancy but only 17,000 actually had an illegal abortion because a legal one was not available for whatever reason (lack of money, proximity of an abortionist, etc.)(3)

But when these authoritative CDC and PP estimates are matched they show a precipitous drop in the numbers of women who will likely have an abortion when it is illegal. If 17,000 illegal abortions occur for every 1,023,000 unwanted pregnancies, then 1.6% of women with an unwanted pregnancy will get an illegal abortion; or, if there were 63,000 illegal abortions occurring among 512,000 women with unwanted pregnancies, then at most 13.1% of such women will obtain illegal abortions.

Thus, using figures and conclusions of abortion proponents, there would be 25,600 to 209,600 illegal abortions (their worst-case projections) yearly if all states were to outlaw abortion — still too many, but not the present 1.6 million [currently, about 1.3 million]. And numbers would probably be less today because of the assistance available from thousands of Pregnancy Resource Centers and pregnancy helplines.

Lastly, there is the question of the number of women who alledgedly died from illegal abortions. Former abortion leader Dr. Bernard Nathanson said that he and his National Association for Reform of Abortion Laws (NARAL) spoke of "5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year".

He later admitted, "I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the 'morality' of our revolution it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?…In 1967…the federal government listed only 160 deaths from illegal abortion. In…1972, the total was only 39 deaths…this is hardly an overwhelming rate."(4)

Sources: (1)Edward Pohlman, The Psychology of Birth Planning, Schenkman Publishing Company, Cambridge, MA, 1967, 220- see pp. 30-36 ("Based on Research done under grants from the Social Science Committee, Planned Parenthood Federation of America");

(2) Willard Cates & Roger Rochat, "Illegal Abortion Deaths in the United States:1972-74," Family Planning Perspectives, Vol.8, No.2 OMarch-April 1976):86-88,91-92;

(3) Christopher Tietze, et al, "How Much of the Need Was Met in 1973" in Provisioonal Estimates of Abortion Need and Services in the Year Following the 1973 Supreme Court Decision, United States, Each State and Metropolitan Area, a report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, PPFA, 31-36;

(4) Bernard Nathanson, Aborting America, Doubleday and Co., Garden City, NY, 1979, 193.

[Honorable Robert G. Marshall, Director, Government Affairs, American Life League, Inc.]