For decades, supporters of abortion on demand have insisted on two completely unproven assertions concerning what would happen if abortion were made generally illegal in this country. First, they have asserted, somewhat counter-intuitively and again without any proof, that such a law would not work, and women would continue to get abortions. Second, based on the first unfounded assertion, they insist that therefore women would be forced into “back alley abortions” which would presumably always be performed with a dirty coat-hanger, thus leading to massive maternal mortality. These two pronouncements have been peddled uncritically with all the fervor (and factual backing) of a particularly obnoxious street corner preacher wearing a “THE END IS NEAR” sandwich sign by virtually everyone who supports abortion on demand. Now, for the first time, a scientific study published in a peer-review journal has scientifically disproven both assertions.
Of course, these assertions have been from day one based on fabrications generated by the abortion industry. As Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of NARAL, admitted:
We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the U.S. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public. The number of women dying from illegal abortions was around 200-250 annually. The figure we constantly fed to the media was 10,000. These false figures took root in the consciousness of Americans convincing many that we needed to crack the abortion law.
“Another myth we fed to the public through the media was that legalizing abortion would only mean that the abortions taking place illegally would then be done legally. In fact, of course, abortion is now being used as a primary method of birth control in the U.S. and the annual number of abortions has increased by 1500% since legalization.
Of course, the revelation that these facts were made up out of thin air has not in the least dissuaded the abortion industry from insisting that they nonetheless conveyed a true story – “fake, but accurate” did not originate with Dan Rather. Problematically, no one had conducted a scientific study to evaluate the evidence one way or another, so these lies took root in the public’s mind and the burden fell on opponents of abortion to disprove an assertion that had never been founded in fact in the first place.
Enter Dr. Elard Koch, an epidemiologist from the Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine at the University of Chile. Chile provides a somewhat unique opportunity to study the issue of the effects of making abortion illegal. In recent history (in particular since a number of advances that have overall reduced maternal mortality worldwide), most countries that have changed their abortion laws have made abortion more widely accessible, not less. Chile, on the other hand, has moved in the opposite direction. Before 1989 in Chile, abortion was largely legal, but in 1989, Chile banned all “therapeutic” abortions, thus providing an actual laboratory in which we might study the question, “What happens when abortion is made illegal?”
The study by Dr. Koch and his team is vitally important and should be read in its entirety. Most importantly, the study conclusively showed that a) outlawing abortion is remarkably effective at reducing the number of abortions that take place in a country, including clandestine ones, and b) there is absolutely no link between making abortion illegal and an increase in the number of deaths from clandestine abortions. In Koch’s own words about the conclusions of his study:
In Chile, therapeutic abortion was prohibited in 1989 since it was considered unnecessary for protecting the life of the mother and her baby. From the perspective of the Chilean medical practice, the exceptional cases in which the life of the mother is at risk are regarded as a medical ethics problem to be solved by applying the principle of double effect and the concept of indirect abortion.
Thus, in Chile, exceptional problems that require medical intervention to save the life of the mother are considered a decision of medical ethics and not a legal issue. Therefore, any kind of directly provoked abortion was prohibited in 1989, in agreement with Article 19 of the Chilean Constitution which protects the life of the unborn.
The second question — does it save lives? — is very complex and important. We can address this important issue from different perspectives.
First, from a public health view, restrictive laws are hypothesized to cause a dissuasive effect on the population, similar to restrictions on tobacco or alcohol consumption. We observed that reduction of maternal mortality in Chile was paralleled by the number of hospitalizations attributable to complications of clandestine abortions. While over 50% of all abortion-related hospitalizations were attributable to complications of clandestine abortions during the 1960s, this proportion decreased rapidly in the following decades.
Indeed, only 12-19% of all hospitalization from abortion can be attributable to clandestine abortions between 2001 and 2008. These data suggest that over time, restrictive laws may have a restraining effect on the practice of abortion and promote its decrease. In fact, Chile exhibits today one of the lowest abortion-related maternal deaths in the world, with a 92.3% decrease since 1989 and a 99.1% accumulated decrease over 50 years.
Second, from the perspective of human life, especially if a developing country is looking to simultaneously protect the life of the mother and the unborn child, a plausible hypothesis after the Chilean study is that abortion restriction may be effective when is combined with adequately-implemented public policies to increase educational levels of women and to improve access to maternal health facilities. A restrictive law may discourage practice, which is suggested by the decrease of hospitalizations due to clandestine abortions estimated in Chile.
Third, from the perspective of protecting human life from the very beginning, obviously, abortion restriction saves many lives, in contrast to countries where elective — on demand — abortion is allowed, because in these countries all the unborn lose their lives.
Finally, it is necessary to remark that our study confirms that abortion prohibition is not related to overall rates of maternal mortality. In other words, making abortion illegal does not increase maternal deaths: it is a matter of scientific fact in our study.
Read, as they say, the whole thing.
Not, mind you, that anything as pedantic as scientific evidence is expected to have any impact on the rhetoric of the same charming people who manufactured and sold “coathanger pendants” a couple years ago. The abortion industry has never been about truth, facts or logic. But to the extent that people in the middle remain persuadable by objectivity, a major arrow in the quiver of the merchants of death has been irretrievably destroyed.