The National Abortion Federation argues that in the U.S. prior to Roe v. Wade, there were as many as 1.2 million abortions per year—the same number as today. Is that correct? Most pro-lifers say no; in 1973, the first year abortion was legal nationwide, the CDC reports that only 615,831 legal abortions occurred, some 585,000 fewer than the 1.2 million that supposedly took place the year before. Within just nine years of Roe v. Wade, the number of abortions increased by 111% to 1,303,980.
A study by the pro-life Storer Foundation estimated that the annual number of illegal abortions prior to Roe v. Wade was 98,000, or 8.3% (about 1/12) of the current number of legal abortions. Complete accuracy is inherently impossible here, but the Storer Foundation's estimate makes sense in the context of the solid
numbers we do have from 1973 onward. The pro-choice numbers require a sudden drop after legalization followed by an 110% increase; if they've offered an explanation for that, I haven't seen it.
For the best evidence, though, we need to look outside of U.S. borders. In 1989, Chile banned abortion; since then, Chile has enjoyed low maternal mortality rates. In a 2012 study, researchers examined the "natural experiment" in Chile and concluded that the abortion ban had indeed reduced the number of clandestine abortions occurring there:
We observed that reduction of maternal mortality in Chile was paralleled by the number of hospitalizations attributable to complications of clandestine abortions. While over 50% of all abortion-related hospitalizations were attributable to complications of clandestine abortions during the 1960s, this proportion decreased rapidly in the following decades.
Indeed, only 12-19% of all hospitalization from abortion can be attributable to clandestine abortions between 2001 and 2008. These data suggest that over time, restrictive laws may have a restraining effect on the practice of abortion and promote its decrease… Since most European countries allow elective abortion, it may be easier for women from Malta, Ireland, and Poland to travel for an abortion and this may be acting as a confounder which is difficult to control. In contrast, due to abortion prohibitions in most Latin American countries, it is unlikely that a significant number of abortions can be performed by Chilean women abroad.Chile apparently experienced between a 60 and 75% reduction in abortion as a result of restoring the right to life in its law. Of course, every country is different. Legality is not the sole factor at play, and cultural forces play a significant role. It is difficult to predict with certainty how many abortions will be prevented by a legal ban. But using the best data available, it clearly appears that banning abortion has a deterrent effect that will save a significant number of lives.
Tomorrow, I will examine the contraception aspect of the life equation.