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Back Alley Abortion Death Rates
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The Straight Dope has a very interesting column on the claim that 10,000 women a year died from illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade.

It's refreshing to read someone who approaches the subject with a certain amount of detached clarity, who's not screaming at the top of their lungs, and who at least seems objective and fair.

The verdict?


None of this argues for or against abortion, but the claim that legalization has prevented the deaths of thousands upon thousands of women doesn't hold up. Roe v. Wade saved some lives, but the numbers were small reported deaths due to illegal abortion declined from 39 in 1972 to 5 in 1974. The biggest factor in reducing abortion mortality was undoubtedly the overall improvement in prenatal and obstetrical care after World War II. The rate of pregnancy-related deaths from causes other than abortion dropped at roughly the same pace as the abortion death rate from 1940 through 1974 (though abortion-related deaths did decline faster after 1965, which Cates attributes largely to advances in contraception and the state-by-state relaxation or repeal of abortion laws). Self-induced and back-alley abortions were becoming a thing of the past long before Roe: sex researcher Alfred Kinsey estimated in the 1950s that around 85 percent of illegal abortions were performed by physicians, even if the physicians weren't all in good standing. The fact is that prior to legalization abortion had become relatively safe and easy to obtain for those who could afford it. Studies done at the time show that the risks were borne disproportionately by those who couldn't, mostly minorities. Were abortion to be recriminalized, that would likely be the case again.


But I suggest reading the whole column. Interesting to note that more likely than not, the number of deaths from illegal abortions would be extremely small were it to become outlawed. But fear and hyperbole are almost always employed by the extreme elements of divisive issues.

Back in college, I wrote an editorial for the school newspaper about a group of women who were preparing to sell home abortion kits (this was 1991, and they were sure that Roe v. Wade was going to be overturned any second). These kits included a customized detachable head for your vacuum cleaner (a bit like a gruesome, fetus-sucking Flobee). The whole thing was absurd. They weren't going to really sell them...it was propaganda.

Wouldn't it be nice if proponents of choice, of which I am one, could generally appeal to reason and notions of human rights, rather than fear?


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