True or false? Banning abortion does not decrease abortion rates

Questions (licenses from Dreamstime)

This is a pretty easy one to figure out.

The young face of the pro-life movement

You may have already heard of Libby Anne’s article-gone-wild, “How I Lost Faith in the Pro-Life Movement.” Unfortunately, Libby Anne’s column smacks more of the musings of someone who’s lost faith in everything she once believed, not someone who legitimately has an issue with the pro-life movement.

For example, Libby Anne claims she was once an evangelical but is now an atheist and a self-proclaimed humanist.  She previously believed in purity before marriage, but she now believes that multiple partners before marriage is just fine. Once upon a time, Libby Anne defended the right to life of all human beings, but she now subscribes to the theory that the birth canal is the magical channel that gives humans their right to life. I’m not even touching on all the beliefs this woman once held and now opposes. The point is that “pro-life” is just one more “system” that she is throwing off, and this shows from her lack of logic, facts, and research on many of the issues she brings up.

Let’s take one. (Check back on Live Action News and go here for some excellent rebuttals to Libby Anne’s claims.) Does banning abortion decrease abortion rates?

Libby Anne says:

The first thing I learned from that New York Times article shocked me: it turns out that banning abortion does not actually affect the abortion rate. … I was shocked to find that the countries with the lowest abortion rates are the ones where abortion is most legal and available, and the countries with the highest abortion rates are generally the ones where the practice is illegal. …

Banning abortion does not actually affect abortion rates. I was could not have been more shocked. I learned that all banning abortion does is make abortion illegal – and unsafe. I found that almost 50,000 women worldwide die each year from unsafe abortions, and that many more experience serious injury or infertility. These deaths happen almost entirely in countries where abortion is illegal – and thus clandestine. In fact, when abortion was made legal in South Africa, the number of abortion related deaths fell by over 90%.

Overturning Roe, I realized, would not make women stop having abortions. Instead, it would simply punish women who have abortions by requiring them to risk their health to do so. This is all well and good if the goal is to punish women for seeking abortions, but if the goal is to keep unborn babies from being murdered, this is extremely ineffective.

As with most sub-issues in the abortion debate, it’s really not as cut and dry as Libby Anne would like her readers to believe. We need to cover at least three things: 1) the comparison of countries, 2) the decline of abortions, and 3) the false stats.

The Comparison of Countries

A major issue (that Libby Anne tries to inch away from in her later column responding to people’s objections) is that she’s not really comparing apples to oranges. It’s all well and good to point to the numbers of unsafe abortions in the world, and it is important to note how many women die from abortions. (Though how any medical procedure that intentionally kills a human being is ever deemed “safe” is beyond me.) But it cannot be stressed enough that we need to compare similar countries and not just look at broad numbers.

Even the Guttmacher Institute – Planned Parenthood’s research arm – has realized this. Sort of. Okay, maybe not, but even their research points to the fact that the “safe” vs. “unsafe” factor of abortions is due more to the development of the nation than to the legalization of abortion:

Nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, and nearly all unsafe abortions (98%) occur in developing countries. In the developing world, 56% of all abortions are unsafe, compared with just 6% in the developed world.

In many developing nations, death rates are higher in general because of the lack of advanced medical care.

Sadly, there is just plain out more sickness, infection, and death in the developing world than in the developed world. Here’s a list of the vast differences in life expectancies in third-world countries vs. first-world countries. Here’s a list of the infant mortality rates throughout the world – note that nearly 100% of all the countries with a higher mortality rate than the world average are third-world and/or developing countries. Even Libby Anne’s highly praised South Africa has dismal numbers on both of these lists. Check out world sickness and health information from the World Health Organization. It’s clear from just a cursory look that the developing world lags far behind the developed world in mortality rates from tuberculosis, malaria, and cholera – to name just a few.

When good medical care is still such a major issue in Africa, South America, and many other developing countries, it’s not logical to blame the illegalization of abortion for women’s death. Until it’s actually proven otherwise, logic would tell us that it’s the lack of quality medical care in developing nations that causes these women to die or be injured from abortions – 98% of them!

The Decline of Abortions

Contrary to Libby Anne’s claims, it’s demonstrably false that countries that ban abortion do not see a decline in the abortion rates. Take Poland – a developed nation – for example. This nation saw approximately 130,000 abortions per year before the 1980s, when abortion was first made illegal. That number dropped incredibly, down to 635 a year, on average, from 1993-2004. Sources estimate that 5-15,000 abortions are performed out of the country for Polish women. Clearly, there are illegal abortions occurring in Poland, and the number would be nearly impossible to accurately pinpoint.

However, when the cost of an illegal surgical abortion in Poland is higher than the average citizen’s income, it’s hard to believe that over 100,000 illegal abortions are being performed yearly. Estimates of illegal abortions are guesswork and speculation – even by those who claim that the business is flourishing – and it’s patently unfair for Libby Anne to pretend to be so certain that illegalizing abortion does not, in fact, drop the rates.

Ireland could also be discussed here. Official numbers show that just over 4,400 women traveled to Great Britain to get abortions, since abortion is generally illegal in Ireland (some exceptional circumstances lift the ban). But the number of abortions performed in Ireland itself is hardly worth mentioning, it’s so small. Of course, Irish abortion supporters cry out that illegal abortions are still happening, and certainly they are. Yet Ireland has held the world’s record for lowest maternal deaths while also banning abortions. Clearly, abortion can be limited and women can be kept safe at the same time – at least in developing nations.

Numbers placed on illegal abortions are guesswork at best and lies at worst, as my final point demonstrates.

The False Statistics

One of the original strategies used by abortion supporters in making abortion legal in the United States was to fraudulently create numbers of women dying from illegal abortions. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, founder of NARAL:

This is the tactic of the self-fulfilling lie. Few people care to be in the minority. 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.

National Center for Health Statistics: decrease in abortion deaths after the use of sulfa and penicillin

It is also quite clear from the National Center for Health Statistics that the number of women who died from abortions dropped dramatically once penicillin started being used to treat infections. Again, it’s often the lack of advanced medical care that causes women to die – not the state of the law on abortion. We saw evidence of this in our own nation from the 1940s to the 1970s.


In the end, it’s false that banning abortion does not decrease abortion rates. Of course, when we look at undeveloped or developing nations, we will see a high death rate for women after illegal abortions. But we see high death rates in those nations for many things. And it’s clear from the examples of Poland and Ireland that abortion rates can indeed decline when abortion is made illegal.

Common sense tells us that women who admittedly use abortion as birth control, simply because it’s legal, would stop using abortion as a last resort if it were banned. Such women would take more responsibility for their own health, actual contraceptives, and pregnancies and would hopefully require the men around them to be more responsible, too.

Finally, it’s just bad logic to use numbers that can’t be proven – the supposed numbers of illegal abortions – to claim that abortion rates aren’t decreasing in nations where abortion is illegal. Guesswork too often turns into lies when profit-minded abortion supporters get involved, as history shows us.

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