Many advocates for life are challenged with myths and tough questions posed by abortion supporters. Much of the truth about abortion receives little attention in public discourse, for it exposes what we, as a nation, would rather not see. Following are myths and questions frequently raised by abortion proponents, and facts that will help you with the abortion debate.
Myth: Abortion is only legal through the first trimester.
Reality: Due to the radical scope of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, a right to abortion was effectively established for the entire term of pregnancy for virtually any reason, whether for sake of personal finances, social convenience, or individual lifestyle. Therefore, no significant legal barriers of any kind whatsoever exist in the United States that prevent a woman from obtaining an abortion for any reason during any stage of her pregnancy.
Myth: Women really need abortion for health reasons.
Reality: An Alan Guttmacher Institute survey found that nearly one-half of women obtaining abortions said they used no birth control method during the month they got pregnant. Add to this the fact that, at most, only five percent of all abortions are done for the mother's physical or psychological health. Rape and incest are cited as reasons for less than 1% of all abortions. Nationally, 82% of women obtaining abortions are unmarried. These statistics strongly suggest abortion is used primarily as birth control.
Myth: No one knows when human life begins.
Reality: Biologic human life is defined by examining the scientific facts of human development. This is a field where there is no controversy and no disagreement. Science has confirmed that the beginning of any one human individual's life, biologically speaking, begins at the completion of the union of his father's sperm and his mother's ovum, a process called “conception,” “fertilization” or “fecundation.” This being, from fertilization, is alive, human, sexed, complete and growing. Ultrasound and medical technology have come a long way toward helping the public understand when life begins. The point on which there is disagreement is whether this biological human being is a “person” worthy of rights and protection.
Myth: Abortion is an unfortunate necessity and doesn't happen often.
Reality: At least 1.2 million abortions take place each year in the United States. According to a 1999 study by The Alan Guttmacher Institute, nearly one in four pregnancies ends in abortion.
Myth: Abortion is used mainly as a last resort, mostly for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.
Reality: In a study conducted by The Alan Guttmacher Institute entitled “Why Women Have Abortions,” women were asked to give specific reasons why they had an abortion.
The top three answers were:
Unready for responsibility
Can't afford baby now
Concern about how having a baby would change her life.
The three reasons which came in last place and were tied at 1 percent included:
Was a victim of rape or incest
Husband or partner wanted the abortion
Didn't want others to know she has had sex or is pregnant.
Therefore, abortion is not mainly used as a last resort.
Myth: Abortion is needed to reduce child abuse – unwanted children will be abused children.
Reality: Legalizing abortion was supposed to help reduce child abuse, since it was assumed that most abused children were unwanted at birth. This theory has been disproven by scientific studies as well as by the evidence that child abuse has sharply increased since abortion became legal.
In 1973, when abortion became legal in the United States, there were 167,000 cases of child abuse and neglect reported. Yet in 1980 there were 785,100 cases – an increase of 370% from 1973. Furthermore, in 1987 there were 2,025,200 cases reported, which represents an increase of 1112%.1 While a portion of this increase is due to better reporting, experts agree that these figures reflect a real trend toward ever higher rates of abuse.
Rather than helping stop child abuse, legal abortion has actually contributed to its sharp rise due to the detrimental effects abortion has on women's self-esteem and the ability to deal with stress. Dr. Philip Ney, in a widely read study on the connection between abortion and child abuse, notes:
“… elective abortion is an important cause of child abuse. Recent evidence indicates many women harbor strong guilt feelings long after their abortions. Guilt is one important cause of child battering and infanticide. Abortion lowers women's self-esteem and there are studies reporting a major loss of self-esteem in battering parents….” 2
Myth: The typical abortive woman is a poor, black teen.
Reality: According to the Centers for Disease Control, 33% of women having abortions in 2001 were between the ages of 20 and 24, while only 18% were 19 or younger. According to The Alan Guttmacher Institute, 60% percent of women obtaining abortions are white and 71% have an annual income of over $15,000.
Myth: If abortion were made illegal, women would die in “back-alley abortions.”
Reality: One of the most common arguments abortion advocates make in defense of legal abortion is that making abortion illegal will cause women to go to the “back alleys” and obtain unsafe abortions. They cite how thousands of women died as a result of unsafe abortions before abortion was legalized through the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
First, it is worth noting that legal abortions are not even safe – they harm women physically and emotionally.
Regarding the myth of “back-alley abortions,” Dr. Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League, admits that his group lied about the number of women who died from illegal abortions when testifying before the Supreme Court in 1972. “We spoke of 5,000 – 10,000 deaths a year…. I confess that I knew the figures were totally false … it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?”
Furthermore, the claim that thousands of maternal deaths occurred due to illegal abortion doesn't measure up when compared with other statistics. About 50,000 women of child-bearing age die each year – from all causes combined. To suggest that 10,000 of these deaths were from illegal abortion would make that the cause of one out of every five deaths, or twenty percent. This would have made illegal abortion the leading cause of death among women in that age group.
According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the legalization of abortion was not responsible for reducing abortion-related deaths. The discovery of antibiotics in the 1940's actually reduced all deaths by providing effective treatment for infections. The National Center for Heath Statistics reveals that before 1941, there were over 1,400 abortion-related deaths. Yet, after Penicillin became available to control infections, the number of deaths was reduced in the 1950's to approximately 250 per year. By 1966, with abortion still illegal in all states, the number of deaths had dropped steadily to 120. New and better antibiotics, better surgery and the establishment of intensive care units in hospitals all led to such a decrease, even in the face of a rising population.
Between 1967 and 1970 sixteen states legalized abortion. In most it was limited, only for rape, incest, severe fetal handicaps or deformities, and when the pregnancy jeopardized the life of the mother (all of which constitute only 5% of the abortion cases today). There were two notable exceptions – California in 1967 and New York in 1970 legalized abortion on demand.
Legalizing abortion should have eliminated some deaths related to illegal abortions, but that is not the case. In the years from 1963-1969, there were an average of approximately 55 deaths per year due to illegal abortions. In 1970, after this initial wave of laws legalizing abortions, there were 109. Deaths from illegal abortions actually increased.
By the year before the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision allowing legal abortion on demand in all fifty states, the death rate for illegal abortions had fallen to 24 in 1972 (with 25 additional deaths as a result of legal abortions). In 1973, there should have been a sharp drop in abortion-related deaths with abortion legal in all fifty states and “back-alley abortions” eliminated with their alleged total of maternal deaths. Yet abortion-related deaths increased again with 25 deaths resulting from legal abortion in 1973, 26 in 1974 and 29 in 1975.
Some have claimed that the number of illegal abortion-related deaths were not reported accurately or were underreported. Yet, when a woman was seriously injured by an abortion, she went to another doctor for care. The abortion practitioner was rarely involved at that point and the new doctor in many cases had to attempt to save the mother's life. In cases of maternal death, this new doctor was required to report, and falsification of the death certificate was a felony. Therefore, prior to legalization of abortion, it's safe to say that deaths from illegal abortions were rarely covered up.
Yet, even if the case can be made that deaths resulting from illegal abortions were underreported, it is equally safe to say that deaths resulting from legal abortions are underreported. In Maryland in 1991, there were four women who died from legal abortions that year. None of the four were reported to the Federal Centers for Disease Control for its statistics. Whereas prior to the legalization of abortion a second doctor, with little or no reason to cover up a death for which he or she was not responsible, was involved in an attempt to save the mother's life; with legalized abortion the abortion practitioner is usually the one attempting to save the mother's life when the abortion threatens her life.
Other specific instances help us see how reporting for the number of deaths related to legal abortions may be low. In 1977, an Ohio doctor noted that while the official statistics showed no abortion-related deaths in Ohio that year, he personally knew of two. If one doctor knew of two cases, how many were there really?
Abortion was legalized in California in 1967. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times in 1972, official records showed four legal abortion-related deaths in the entire country from 1967 to 1972. Yet, a reporter for that paper uncovered three deaths in Los Angeles in just one month in 1972.
A reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times uncovered 12 legal abortion-related deaths in that city in 1978. The government statistics show only 16 deaths for the entire country in that year.
Another important point is that many of the abortion practitioners performing abortions after Roe v. Wade were the same people performing illegal abortions. In the July 1960 edition of the American Journal of Public Health, an article by Dr. Mary Calderon, then medical director of Planned Parenthood, stated:
“90% of illegal abortions are being done by physicians. Call them what you will, abortionists, or anything else, they are still physicians, trained as such… They must do a pretty good job if the death rate is as low as it is… Abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous, because it is being done well by physicians.”
Here is a candid admission that not only are illegal abortions not being done by quack doctors, but that the death rate from illegal abortions was “low.” This flies in the face of claims of several thousand women losing their lives to illegal abortions and the claim that illegal abortions were performed by quack doctors and not by physicians.
In conclusion, there were not several thousand women losing their lives due to illegal abortions performed by quack doctors. Effective medical treatments helped reduce abortion related deaths and the legalization of abortion never played a significant role (and never will) in affecting the numbers of women who died from legal or illegal abortion-related deaths. That women continue to die from so-called “safe, legal” abortions (perhaps in greater numbers than we know) is a clear indication that abortion is unsafe and hurts women – legal or otherwise.
Myth: Having an abortion will help our relationship by removing the stress of a pregnancy.
Reality: Researcher Emily Milling studied over 400 couples with women who had made a decision to have an abortion. Her research confirmed that 70% of their relationships ended within one month of the abortion. Sociologist Arthur Shostak found that three out of four male respondents had persistent day and night dreams about “the child that never was.” Linda Bird Franke wrote “In my research, almost every relationship between single people broke up either before or after the abortion.” 3
Myth: Abortions are not mentally or emotionally harmful to women.
Reality: Dr. Anne Speckhard, in a 1985 University of Minnesota study, researched “long-term manifestations of abortion” (5-10 years), and found that 81% of mothers reported preoccupation with their aborted child, 54% had nightmares, 35% had perceived visitations with their child, and 96% felt their abortion had taken a human life.
Immediately after an abortion, many women report a feeling of relief, but guilt and depression frequently follow. A national poll found that at least 56% of women experience a sense of guilt over their decision, though the pollster himself acknowledged that many women will not even admit having had an abortion.4 In fact, a five-year study shows that 25% of women who have had abortions sought out psychiatric care, versus just 3% of women who have not had abortions.5 Further, numerous studies reveal that women who have had an abortion experience a high incidence of depression, stress, low self-esteem, suicidal feelings and substance abuse.6
National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 1994. Hyattsville, Maryland: Public Health Service, 1995. Abortion Surveillance 1985, Center for Disease Control, Table #18. Induced Abortion: World Review 1983, by Christopher Tietze, The Population Council, p 103. Maternal Mortality Surveillance 1979-1986, Centers for Disease Control, M&M Weekly report July 1991, Vol. 40, No. SS-1.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center of Child Abuse and Neglect; National Analysis of Official Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting.
P. Ney, M.D. “Relationship between Abortion and Child Abuse.” Canada Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 24, pp. 610-620.
Linda Bird Francke, The Ambivalence of Abortion. New York: Random House, 1978, 47-48.
George Skelton, “Many in Survey Who Had Abortion Cite Guilt Feelings,” Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1989, p. 28.
“Report on the Committee on the Operation of the Abortion Law,” p. 321. Ottawa, 1977.
Vincent M. Rue, “The Psychological Realities of Induced Abortion,” Post-Abortion aftermath: A Comprehensive Consideration, Michael T. Mannion, Editor, Sheed & Ward, 1994, p. 543.