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Abortion: The Public Health Miracle?

In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control released "Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Healthier Mothers and Babies." This report is a study in what public health efforts can achieve, but also serves as a great example of how statistics can be misused to further the pro-abortion agenda.

The good news is that in the 20th century, maternal and infant mortality has fallen over 90%. Aseptic techniques of delivery, antibiotics, vaccinations, sanitation, and other progress in medicine and public health deserve due credit for this. It's stunning to reflect on how risky pregnancy was for mothers 100 years ago -- or even 50 years ago. It's doubly stunning to reflect on how the simplest things -- like placing babies on their backs instead of their stomachs to sleep -- can make such a profound difference in saving lives.

The bad news is that our public health officials are so enamored of abortion that they attempt to attiribute better public health to legalization of their favored activity:

    "The legalization of induced abortion beginning in the 1960s
    contributed to an 89% decline in deaths from septic illegal
    abortions (15) during 1950-1973."

It's disengenuous, to say the least, to credit a few states loosening abortion restrictions starting in 1968 with the huge decline in septic illegal abortion deaths during the nearly twenty year period preceeding the change. Abortion guru Christopher Tietze attributed the decline in abortion deaths during that period to improved abortion techniques (especially the development of vacuum aspiration), improved emergency care (including improved antibiotic and blood transfusion therapy), and a contraceptive-driven drop in unwanted pregnancies. If someone with Tietze's enthusiasm for abortion hesitated to lay this public health achievement on abortion's doorstep, one must wonder what is going on inside the heads of those folks at the CDC.

Of all the public health accomplishments from 1950 to 1973 -- improved neonatal intensive care, improved antibiotics, improved access to blood products, broader access to adequate prenatal care, and improvements in environmental health, to name a few -- our public health employees at the CDC single out limited legalization of abortion as responsible for reducing maternal mortality. Watch for pro choice groups claiming that abortion alone is responsible -- or at least primarily responsible -- for virtually the entire drop in maternal and neonatal mortality in the 20th century.

And now that we're on the topic of maternal mortality, let's address that old line, as familiar as, "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" Let's address the familiar abortion advocates' claim that criminal abortions were killing 5,000 - 10,000 American women a year prior to legalization, and the accompanying claim that legalization has all but abolished maternal mortality from abortion.

Let's take a peek at the CDC's chart on maternal mortality in the 20th century. Consider that the first state legalized abortion under limited circumstances in 1966. Straggling states followed suit in 1968. The first laws allowing abortion on demand went into effect in 1970. Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision wiping out virtually every US law against abortion, was in 1973. Go back and peek at that chart again.

Do you see any dramatic drop in maternal deaths during that period? Do you see a shred of evidence that 5,000 to 10,000 pregnant women were dying a year before 1970? And remember, abortion deaths are only a subset of maternal deaths. How can you have a group of 5,000 to 10,000 contained inside a set of fewer than 1,000?

To find more than 1,000 women dying a year from abortions (and this includes miscarriages and legal abortions performed on moribund women in attempts to save their lives), you have to go back to WWII - before antibiotics were available to treat abortion-related infection. Sanitation, improved nutrition, aseptic procedures, and so on, were already lowering maternal mortality. The advent of antibiotics sent abortion deaths in particular plummeting toward an irreducable minimum. (Given that all surgery has risks, some women will die no matter how careful and skilled the doctors are, so abortion deaths can only be eliminated by eliminating abortion.)

So, legalization of abortion wasn't a public health miracle preventing 5,000 to 10,000 maternal deaths a year. It did prevent SOME deaths, right? Guess again. The CDC's intensive abortion mortality surveillance in the early 1970's showed a reversal in the downward trend. The reduction in illegal abortion deaths was being more than offset by an increase in legal abortion deaths. The prochoice response was not to address the problem. Instead, the CDC dismantled their aggressive mortality surveillance and instead just counted deaths that were voluntarily reported to them. It's no great surprise that the number of reported deaths went down -- they were no longer looking for deaths to report.

We don't know how many women die now from legal abortions. The last reliable information we got was in the early 1970's, and it showed deaths rising annually. Since then we've seen nothing but trash statistics. However, one researcher did his best to replicate the old CDC abortion mortality surveillance. Kevin Sherlock did a search for abortion deaths during the 1980's, and found that indeed, there are a lot of deaths the CDC's abortion mortality surveillance was missing. How many? We don't know.

Related Links:
How Many Women Die?
What the CDC Found and What They Missed

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