Perhaps you’ve seen the coat-hanger pins worn by abortion activists, communicating that if abortion were to become illegal, there would be a dramatic increase in unsafe, back-alley abortions. But is this really the case? What will happen when abortion becomes illegal?
Many abortion activists would have us all believe that the result would be terrifying. Take, for example, the alarmist picture painted by Time:
Once that wave of 19th century abortion bans went into effect, police and prosecutors threatened, arrested, interrogated, investigated and occasionally prosecuted women for the crime of abortion. Police and doctors routinely questioned women who miscarried to determine if they’d had an abortion. If the patient refused to answer, the doctor might refuse lifesaving treatment for the complications that can follow abortions when the procedure is poorly performed.
Similarly, former president of Planned Parenthood Leana Wen claimed in May that thousands of women died every year from illegal abortions prior to Roe v. Wade. Washington Post responded to this claim, giving it four “Pinocchio’s” in their fact check and pointing out, “These numbers were debunked in 1969 — 50 years ago — by a statistician celebrated by Planned Parenthood. There’s no reason to use them today.”
Olivia Gans and Mary Spaulding Balch have pointed out that the year before Roe v. Wade, the number of maternal deaths from illegal abortions reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) was 39. “Those 39 mothers and their 39 children were very real tragedies that should have been prevented by providing support and care for the mother and her unborn child,” they write. “The number 39 however is a far cry from those exaggerated figures of thousands, even tens of thousands, used by abortion advocates in their cause.”
If current legislative efforts are any indicator of what a national ban would look like, then any reasonable person will see that Time’s picture of women arrested, interrogated, and denied care looks in the wrong places to try and piece together what a post-abortion America would look like. Claims of a dystopia in which women are thrown in prison for life simply are not accurate and do not reflect real pro-life laws that have recently passed throughout the United States. A more intellectually honest approach would have looked at recent pro-life legislation, rather than worst-case scenarios from the 1800s.
Another popular claim from abortion advocates is that banning abortion will not lead to a decrease in abortions, it will only make them less safe.
The evidence indicates that this claim is also dubious. In Chile, abortion was completely banned from 1989 to 2017. Although abortions did continue to take place during that time, 2014 research indicated a decrease in illegal abortion.
Looking to the United States for examples, Missouri has seen a consistent decline in abortions. The state has passed 50 pro-life laws since Roe v. Wade and only has one remaining abortion facility. And this trend is not isolated. States with only one remaining abortion facility generally have lower abortion rates than other states. Or take Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio, states that have been pro-actively pro-life, which have seen abortion rates drop by 30%, 11%, and 33% respectively in the past twelve years.
On the flip side, Ireland has seen an increase in abortion since it was legalized. If the claims that abortion rates will stay the same if made illegal are valid, then we should expect relatively consistent numbers where legal status has recently changed. This is not the case.
At the same time, we do need to recognize that once banned, abortion will not be fully eradicated. An illegal industry will likely exist, as will industries encouraging women to travel in order to undergo abortions.
The needs of women in crisis pregnancy situations will also continue to exist. This is where the church has an opportunity to step up and love our neighbors. The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony Institute, found that crisis pregnancy centers had served 2 million women in 2017. That is wonderful news, As the need increases, our ability and willingness to meet that need must also increase.