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Polls show that 80 percent of Americans agree that abortion is killing a human life. However, most also believe abortion should be legally accessible, at least in some cases.

Many of these people accept abortion as an "evil necessity." They buy into the assumption that without "safe and legal" abortions, desperate women will foolishly seek out dangerous and illegal abortions. Since abortion can't be stopped, they argue, why put women's lives at risk?

If pro-lifers want to contain the spread of legalized abortion, much less reverse pro-abortion laws, we must have a solution to the problem of illegal abortions. At the same time, we need to show that the "solution" of legalizing abortion is no solution at all. We must show that legal abortion only increases the pain, suffering and exploitation of women. We must show that the "cure" is far worse than the disease.

Illegal vs. Legal Abortion: The American Experience

In the book Aborted Women, Silent No More, an entire chapter examines what is known about illegal abortions prior to Roe v. Wade and how they compare to the dangers of legal abortion today. While there is not room to reexamine all that material here, a quick review of some of the most important points follows.1

Prior to legalization, 90 percent of illegal abortions were done by physicians. Most of the remainder were done by nurses, midwives or others with at least some medical training.

Pro-abortionists falsely claimed that "five to ten thousand women die from illegal abortions every year." However, even Planned Parenthood's own leading statisticians admitted that the official statistics on deaths resulting from illegal abortion were very accurately reported prior to 1973.

In 1972, there were only 32 maternal deaths related to illegal abortion, not the thousands proclaimed by pro-abortionists. 

Deaths from illegal abortions were already declining or leveling off prior to 1973. After legalization, this trend remained unchanged. Deaths eliminated from the illegal abortion column were replaced by deaths resulting from legal abortion.

The number of women dying from legal abortions is probably several times what it was when abortion was illegal. Independent studies have confirmed that deaths resulting from illegal abortion were accurately reported on death certificates. But ever since 1973, whenever a legal abortion results in a maternal death the underlying cause is often, and perhaps usually, ignored or disguised on death certificates.

In one case, a single researcher examining public records was able to document 50 percent more deaths related to legal abortion than had been reported in the "official" government reports, and says that he probably uncovered only a small fraction of these misclassified abortion related deaths.

Pro-abortionists claimed that there were one million illegal abortions performed each year. This was another made-up number intended to shock the public with the "overwhelming" dimensions of this unstoppable problem.

Scientific estimates based on known deaths and complications related to illegal abortion show that the actual rate of illegal abortions was in the range of 60,000 to 200,000 per year.

Surveys of women who sought illegal abortions at that time confirm this much lower estimate for the overall rate of illegal abortion. These surveys also showed that less than half of women who sought an illegal abortion actually persisted in obtaining one. In addition, among those women who did procure an illegal abortion, the reported rate of physical complications was almost identical to the complication rate related to legal abortions. This last fact is not surprising since most illegal abortions were already performed by physicians.

Surveys of women seeking legal abortions confirm that only 6 to 20 percent would have considered seeking an illegal abortion if it was not legally available. This finding also confirms that legalization of abortion has replaced every illegal abortion that we sought to avoid with between ten and fifteen legal abortions.

Any marginal improvements in the safety of legal abortions, as compared to illegal abortions, are more than offset by the astronomical increase in the number of women exposed to the inherent risks of induced abortion, legal or illegal.

While the percentage of women dying from abortion is lower, the actual number of women dying has increased. The actual number of women suffering physical complications has increased. The actual number of women suffering psychological complications has increased. The suffering of women, men, and families has not been reduced by legalization; it has been increased.

There are also many deaths which are indirectly caused by abortion. Women with a history of abortion are six times more likely to commit suicide. They are also more prone to substance abuse and other forms of risky behavior that may lead to death. They also have increased rates of breast and cervical cancer. In addition, approximately 100,000 women each year will lose a planned baby to spontaneous miscarriage as a direct result of reproductive damage caused by their prior induced abortions.

Before legalization, abortion was primarily a vice of the more educated and affluent, particularly those married women who were "done" having children. Since legalization, women undergoing abortion are more likely to be young, less educated and less affluent. In this regard, legalized abortion has helped population controllers successfully target a greater number of "lower class" babies for destruction.

Before 1973, women could better resist the pressure from others to abort an unplanned pregnancy on the grounds that abortion was illegal, unsafe, and immoral. After legalization, it is easier for families and boyfriends to insist that because abortion is legal it must be "safe," and because it is "socially approved," it must be moral.

Legalization makes it easier to pressure women into unwanted abortions. In my survey of 252 post-abortive women, more than half of the women had felt pressured into the abortion by others. These victims of coerced a

bortion represent a major portion of the increased abortion rate and are also the most likely to suffer the most severe psychological consequences after abortion.

[Part I: The Myth, David C. Reardon; Note: This is Part I of a two-part series on illegal abortions. Part II, "The Cure," will appear in the next issue of the Elliot Institute News. Excerpted from The Post-Abortion Review, Issue 7(4), Winter 1999. Copyright 1999 Elliot Institute]