One of the great factual frauds that Justice Harry Blackmun and six other Justices propounded in deciding Roe v. Wade is the claim that abortion generally are safer than childbirth. Justice Blackmun, for the majority, declared:
“Appellants and various amici refer to medical data indicating that abortion in early pregnancy, that is, prior to the end of the first trimester, although not without its risk, is now relatively safe. Mortality rates for women undergoing early abortions, where the procedure is legal, appear to be as low as or lower than the rates for normal childbirth. Consequently, any interest of the State in protecting the woman from an inherently hazardous procedure, except when it would be equally dangerous for her to forgo it, has largely disappeared.”
410 U.S. 113, 149-150.
Of course, that claim disregards entirely the effect of abortion upon the other living human being involved directly in the abortion procedure – the embryo, fetus, or unborn child in utero (however labelled) who is brutally, horribly killed. It dismisses completely the inescapable and deeply disturbing moral consequence of the abortion act – deliberately causing the death of a living, innocent human being.
But putting that “minor” point aside for the purposes of this discussion, the claim about the comparative benefit of abortion over childbirth for maternal health is a common claim that is worth examining very carefully.
The Roe majority justices have not been alone in relying upon the “abortion-is-safer-for-pregnant-women-than-childbirth” claim. That “safer” claim has been asserted by advocates of abortion-on-demand for decades, and it still is trotted out regularly.
For example, Carole Joffe recently asserted that: “From a public health standpoint, legal abortion has unquestionably benefited women and their families. Thousands of American women who sought abortions used to die before Roe, and now such women don’t.” Carole Joffe, Roe v. Wade and Beyond: Forty Years of Legal Abortion in the United States, Dissent Magazine (Winter 2013), available at http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/roe-v-wade-and-beyond-forty-years-of-legal-abortion-in-the-united-states (seen 150302)
The claim that “thousands of women” in America have been saved from death because abortion has been legalized and made available upon demand through at least the first three or six months of pregnancy is a feeble and misleading exaggeration of the truth.
For example, in 2012 two researchers published in a very reputable medical journal their study linking death certificates with medical records for all Danish women born between 1962 and 1991 who were alive in 1980. Mortality rates were calculated based upon the first pregnancy outcomes (delivery, miscarriage, abortion, and later-term abortion). Mortality rates (from one to ten years later) associated with both early abortions (in the first 12 weeks) and late abortions (after 12 weeks) were higher than mortality rates associated with birth. David C. Reardon and Priscilla K. Coleman, Short and long term mortality rates associated with first pregnancy outcome: Population register based study for Denmark 1980-2004, 18(9) Med. Sci. Monitor PH 71-76 (2012), available at http://www.medscimonit.com/abstract/index/idArt/883338 (seen 150303).
An earlier study based on data from Finland analyzed by Finnish health experts revealed that total deaths of women who had abortions were nearly four times higher than for women who gave birth. M. Gessler, et al, Pregnancy-associated deaths in Finland 1987-1994 – definition problems and benefits of record linkage, 76 Acta Obsetricia et Gynecolgica Scandinavica 651 (1997), cited in Elliot Institute, AfterAbortion.org, available at http://afterabortion.org/2000/abortion-four-times-deadlier-than-childbirth/ (seen 150303). Likewise, the rate of death by suicide was seven times higher, while the rate of deaths by homicide was over eight times higher. Id. While the data is not complete or indisputable, and there are some studies that support alternative conclusions, there is good reason to be very concerned about the detrimental effects of abortion upon maternal morbidity and mortality.
Additionally, these maternal health arguments for abortion ignore and avoid considering the consequences of abortion for women’s mental health and psychological well-being. Surely some people seem to be unfazed by causing the death of another human being, but many people are not. Many women who have abortions have difficulty reconciling their action with their self-image as a caring, loving human being. They later struggle with the realization of the moral magnitude of what they have done – especially since abortion providers and supporters try to euthanize their moral concerns with abstract rhetoric about how abortion empowers women.
While all of the relevant scientific questions have not been fully answered yet, there already is substantial evidence that abortion poses significant potential harms and risks for maternal life and health. It behooves responsible pro-life scholars, students, and professionals, to make that evidence known and to respond – carefully, appropriately and immediately — when the dubious claim that abortion is safer than childbirth for maternal mortality and morbidity is made.
-Posted 3 March 2015 by Lynn D. Wardle, Bruce C. Hafen Professor of Law, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University