"The controversy at the present time regarding ... abortion can be explosive and emotional. ... Because both lay and medical literature are being bombarded with the repitious figures that 1 to 1 1/2 million criminal abortions are being performed in the United States annually, resulting in 5,000 to 10,000 deaths annually, it was decided to test the reality of these figures as they pertain to Minnesota, from the experience of the Minnesota Maternal Mortality Study."
Thus Dr. Alex Barno opened his presentation to the 34th Annual Meeting of the Central Association of Obstretricians and Gynecologists in October of 1966.
The Minnesota Maternal Mortality study began in 1950. "At the onset of the [study] all the physicians, hospital administrators and coroners were notified by letter about the the details of the study." Frequent lectures and reports kept awareness of the study high. In an age where women would be exhumed for autopsy if an anonomous tipster reported that the death might have been abortion-related, it is likely that most criminal abortion deaths came to the attention of the authorities. To fail to report such a death was in itself a crime.
Barno did some calculations. "[Since] Minnesota contributes one fiftieth of the birth rate annually, it should also contribute one fiftieth of the criminal abortion deaths annually. Thus one fiftieth of 5,000 is 100 and one fiftieth of 10,000 is 200." In other words, if Taussig was right and 5,000 to 10,000 American women were dying anually from criminal abortions, between 100 and 200 of those deaths should be in Minnesota.
Of course, Barno could only estimate what percentage of abortions were done in Minnesota based on what percentage of births (and therefore, one would assume, pregnancies) were in Minnesota. However, we can also look at what percentage of reported legal abortions are done in Minnesota annually, and figure that a similar percentage would be having criminal abortions before legalization. This might be more accurate, since different regions of the country have different abortion ratios, depending on cultural factors.
The 1993 CDC Annual Abortion Surveillance Summary reported that of 1,330,414 reported legal abortions, 14,350 (1%) took place in Minnesota. For Taussig's figures to be correct one would expect to find 50 to 100 criminal abortion deaths in Minnesota. Because this is the more conservative estimate, we'll use this.
How many women actually did die of criminal abortions in Minnesota from 1950 to 1965 (the period studied by Barno)? Twenty-one criminal abortion deaths were identified during that 16-year-period, or 1.3 deaths per year. Remember -- before legalization, an abortion death was a homicide, not mere medical malpractice. Are we really to believe that all the best efforts of medicine and law enforcement were finding only 1.3% to 2.6% of criminal abortion deaths per year?
If Taussig Was Right
If Minnesota Was Right
Related Links at About.com
Abortion Practice Before Legalization
Changing Face of Abortion in the 20th Century
Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics
Who To Thank For Public Health Miracles
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