Bad Abortion Arguments: “Laws Don’t Work”

When pro-aborts aren’t in the mood to defend abortion with indignant sloganeering or bizarre moral theorizing, they’ll instead try to put a more detached, practical face on their position by arguing that, regardless how anyone feels about it, banning abortion simply wouldn’t work anyway. Today, Scott Lemieux at the Lawyers, Gun$ and Money blog claims, “even on its own terms criminalizing abortion does very little to protect fetal life, but is very successful in maiming and killing women.”

His source is a New York Times report on the futility of Morocco’s abortion laws, which only permit “the early termination of pregnancy, with spousal consent, to save the life of the woman or to preserve her physical or mental health”:

A 2008 study, the most recent available, put the number of abortions in Morocco as high as 600 a day.

Last week a leading gynecologist, Chafik Chraibi, put the figure even higher. Dr. Chraibi, a professor of gynecology at Mohammed V University in Rabat, who is an ardent campaigner for legalizing abortion, said the real figure “is probably closer to 900 a day, when you take into account the nonmedical abortions carried out at home.”

“In Morocco, according to the World Health Organization, 13 percent of maternity deaths are from abortions,” he said.

Women coming to him after botched terminations — often carried out in makeshift operating rooms in filthy basements — were frequently “mutilated,” with many suffering from hemorrhaging uteri or perforated abdomens, Dr. Chraibi said.

Let’s tackle the second claim first. While every maternal death by illegal abortion is tragic, the responsibility for such deaths falls squarely on the individuals who make the choice to perform and undergo such dangerous procedures, not those who forbid them. And we shouldn’t be so quick to concede the causal link Lemieux and Chraibi suggest, either—not only does the NYT story neglect to explore what the abortion rates would be without the law, or elaborate on any number of variables about Moroccan society or law enforcement that might account for the law’s ineffectiveness, but we know from our own history that the pre-Roe v. Wade back-alley abortion epidemic didn’t happen:

The claims by abortion advocates that 1,000,000 or more illegal abortions occurred annually and 5,000-10,000 women died are based on inaccurately calculated extrapolations from flawed and erroneous data of the 1920s and the 1930s – the pre-penicillin era.

The number of deaths of childbearing-age women for non-abortion related causes remained relatively constant in the years before Roe v. Wade, showing that deaths from illegal abortion could not have been “hidden” under other causes of death.

Advances in medical technology, not the legalization of abortion, caused a significant drop in the number of maternal deaths from abortion:

  • maternal deaths from illegal abortions were above 1,000 per year only in the pre-penicillin era (1940). The maternal abortion deaths dropped sharply with the advent of antibiotics (penicillin and sulfa) and other medical advances to treat infections.
  • the maternal death rate had declined to 30 maternal deaths from illegal abortions by 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade was decided.

Nor does the idea that banning abortion wouldn’t put a dent in America’s abortion rates hold water. As with back-alley abortions, neither Morocco’s situation nor our own pre-Roe experience supports the claim. In the 2000 edition of Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments, Randy Alcorn notes:

There were abortions in this country before abortion was legal, but the number skyrocketed once it was legalized. There are now fifteen times more abortions annually in this country than there were in the years prior to Roe v. Wade […] In one survey of women who had abortions 72 percent said they would definitely not have sought an abortion if doing so were illegal.

Pro-lifers aren’t utopians; we understand that we’ll never be fully rid of abortion, just as we’ll never be fully rid of murder, theft, rape, or drunk driving. None of us seek or expect a legal regime which will somehow keep the abortion rate at zero for the rest of time; we simply desire laws that express society’s respect for human life and deter as many abortions as practically possible. Abortion has been successfully banned before, and there’s no reason to believe it can’t be done again.

  • Kristiburtonbrown

    This is a great explanation, Calvin!  I love it!

    • http://rightcal.blogspot.com/ Calvin Freiburger

      Thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/KeepIrelandProLife Ailish Hathcock

    “even on its own terms criminalizing abortion does very little to
    protect fetal life, but is very successful in maiming and killing women”

    Mr. Lemieux has obviously never been to Ireland.

    In 2006, ~7.6% of Irish pregnancies ended in Abortion, all involved travelling to England & elsewhere in Europe.

    The same year in the UK, ~21.8% of British pregnancies ended in Abortion.

    In 2011, an Irish woman nearly died after a botched Abortion carried out in ENGLAND.

  • Anonymous

    “pro-aborts”? Definition?

    “While every maternal death by illegal abortion is tragic, the
    responsibility for such deaths falls squarely on the individuals who
    make the choice to perform and undergo such dangerous procedures, not
    those who forbid them.”

    Why does it fall on those individuals? What criteria do you use to assign responsibility?

    “The claims by abortion advocates that 1,000,000 or more illegal
    abortions occurred annually and 5,000-10,000 women died are based on
    inaccurately calculated extrapolations from flawed and erroneous data of
    the 1920s and the 1930s – the pre-penicillin era.”

    That is incorrect. The estimates are based on official reports from the 1950s-1970s*.

    “[W]e understand that we’ll never be fully rid of abortion, just as we’ll
    never be fully rid of murder, theft, rape, or drunk driving.”

    A desire to be rid of murder, theft, rape, and drunk driving is
    understandable. The desire to get rid of safe and effective medical
    procedures, not so much.

    “…we simply desire laws that express society’s respect for human life…”

    Really, you support forced sterilization and forced abortion?

    *http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/tgr/06/1/gr060108.html

    • http://rightcal.blogspot.com/ Calvin Freiburger

      “‘pro-aborts’?
      Definition?”

      Those who favor legal abortion. (See: http://liveaction.org/blog/whats-in-a-name-why-pro-life-is-more-honest-than-pro-choice/)

      “Why does it fall on those individuals? What criteria do you use to assign
      responsibility?”

      Er, maybe because they’re the ones who actually do it? This is not complicated.

      “That is incorrect. The estimates are based on official reports from the
      1950s-1970s.”

      Conveniently, author Ramesh Ponnuru has already addressed your source for me.
      From “The Party of Death,” hardcover p. 74: “The article’s author, Rachel
      Benson Gold, tries to stick to the party line: ‘By making abortion legal
      nationwide, Roe v. Wade has had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being
      of American women. Deaths from abortion have plummeted, and are now a rarity.’
      She refers to a graph that carries the caption ‘The number of deaths from
      abortion has declined dramatically since Roe v. Wade.’ The graph itself,
      however, shows no such thing. Even though the graph starts with 1965—thus missing
      the truly dramatic decline starting in the 1940s—the graph clearly demonstrates
      that the number of maternal deaths from abortion fell far more (and fell
      faster) from 1965 to 1973 than it has since then.”

      “A desire to be rid of murder, theft, rape, and drunk driving is
      understandable. The desire to get rid of safe and effective medical
      procedures, not so much.”

      Oh, it’s perfectly understandable…just not to you, because you’re blinded by
      your ideology.

      “Really, you support forced sterilization and forced abortion?”

       

      And how, pray
      tell, do you come to that conclusion? This oughta be good…

      • Anonymous

        “Those who favor legal abortion.”

        (link doesn’t work)

        “Er, maybe because they’re the ones who actually do it? This is not complicated.”

        Do what? Perform the procedure, consent to it, ban it?

        “Conveniently, author Ramesh Ponnuru….”

        The original claim you quoted was that the estimates were “based on
        inaccurately calculated extrapolations from flawed and erroneous data of
        the 1920s and the 1930s.” The RBG link clearly shows this claim is incorrect (1967 data from North Carolina; 1960s NYC data; and 1970s CDC).

        The Ramesh Ponnuru quote does not address the original claim; it provides no evidence the estimates were based on flawed 1920s and 1930s data.

        “Oh, it’s perfectly understandable…just not to you, because you’re blinded by
        your ideology.”

        Based on the projection in your reply I take it the desire to get rid of safe and effective medical procedures has something to do with your ideology. Opposition to the practice of medicine perhaps?

        “…we simply desire laws that express society’s respect for human life…”

        You desire laws [government control via forced sterilization/abortion] that express society’s respect for human life [protecting women from the morbidity&mortality of pregnancy/carrying to term]. Surprising that you don’t see the problem with your support of coercive government powers.

        • Hovish13

          The link doesn’t work because the closing parenthesis was grouped into the hyperlink.. so, open the page, delete the ending ” ) ” from the address, and you will find the page.

          And I’ve never seen anyone advocate for forced sterilization or abortion on this website.. or ever, in the pro life arena. 

        • Hovish13

          That awkward moment when you accidentally like a post you fundamentally disagree with and can’t retract it -____-”

    • Hovish13

      I highly recommend that you read Mark Crutcher’s “LIME 5″ before you use the terms “safe and effective” in relation to abortion..

      • Anonymous

        I’m not familiar with the book but, according to the Amazon reviewers (granted, secondary sources), it looks like it’s a collection of anecdotes*. The safety and efficacy of medical procedures is not determined based on anecdotes.

        *”the author’s forthright admission that the it [information on abortion injuries and deaths] is anecdotal”

        • Hovish13

          While it may not be a ‘scientific’ study of each situation that it refers to, it does include about 700 footnotes, if you would be interested in looking up the situations for yourself to ensure their legitimacy. I’m not saying every abortion is like the ones that were documented in the book, I think that it is definitely a cause to wonder exactly how safe and effective that an abortion really is, as well as what other problems the industry has. Because honestly, there were some scary things noted in that book, and if you or anyone else truly cared about women and what goes on in an abortion clinic, I think it needs to be read and questioned.. even if you are completely fine with abortion itself, you should have a problem with sexual harassment and rape, incomplete abortions, and purposeful misinformation to women getting an abortion.
          Despite what you read about its ‘anecdotal’ accounts, I very much encourage you to read it. :)

    • Anonymous

      WHen did anyone say they support forced abortion or sterilization?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/RachelElessar Rachel Ford

    ” the responsibility for such deaths falls squarely on the individuals
    who make the choice to perform and undergo such dangerous procedures,
    not those who forbid them”

    And what consideration do you make for circumstance? None. What about mothers who will be in danger for being pregnant, either from parents, spouse, etc.? “Too bad, so sad,” right?

    But…you’re “pro-life” — as long as we’re talking about fetus’.

    • Anonymous

      If mothers are in danger then the law and the civil authorities should protect that women. I don’t think there is any disagreement there. That is a given.

      Pro-life means protecting EVERY life from violence…born and unborn.

    • Hovish13

      If the mother is in danger from her parents, spouse, etc, for simply being pregnant, I think it’s safe to say that she is living in an unhealthy situation already, and that instead of getting her an abortion and putting her back into the situation (which sounds borderline abusive) that we should perhaps find an alternative living situation for her. 

      The situation you bring up makes it seem as though this woman is being pressured into an abortion for whatever reason.. meaning that it was not entirely her choice and that she was negatively influenced into it by her situation.. But then, doesn’t abortion have everything to do with “choice?” By promoting abortion in this situation, you’re implying that her “choice” is being manipulated and that you’re okay with that. 
      Well, that’s thought provoking..

      • http://www.facebook.com/RachelElessar Rachel Ford

        Umm…where did I say I favored abortion as the solution here? He was saying that when a woman dies because of a botched abortion it is her fault; I was pointing out where such an assertion is not true.
        You, my friend, are the one assuming that I am supporting abortion as the preferable solution in such cases (where she is either forced into it, or forced to conceal and terminate her pregnancy); I made no such statement. I was simply stating that it’s far too simplistic to say, “well, she got what she deserved” (no matter how politely it’s phrased).

        • Hovish13

          Ahh, I see. I took your statement as the usual emotional appeal against illegalization (which, apparently, is not a word, as indicated by the squiggly red line I see beneath it. Hrm). I will respond correctly now:

           I don’t think he intended to say that a woman who is forced into an abortion is at fault at all for anything in the situation. He stated, “the responsibility for such deaths falls squarely on the individuals 
          who make the choice to perform and undergo such dangerous procedures, not those who forbid them” which, implies states the woman’s choice in the matter, which would not be the case for someone forced into an abortion, correct?
          And, while it is terrible to think of women being injured or dying because of an illegal abortion that she had no choice in, I think it is probably safe to assume that a vast majority of illegal abortions wouldn’t be forced upon the woman.. And I can imagine

          Further, I could turn your point around–
          Your stance (I think)  in a nutshell, is: We can’t make abortion illegal because some women would -possibly- be forced into it and harmed/killed.
          But I could respond: We should make abortion illegal because some women are forced into it now and -are- harmed/killed.

          And, we must ask ourselves the question, if abortion had not been legalized and made widespread and thus made a frequent, convenient, and feasible option for most American women first, would we see as many forced illegal abortion injuries/deaths of women in the future? Perhaps, by the very legalization of the act, we have given it the status of being a quick way to take care of “a problem” … and that is the same mindset the people who would force a woman to have an abortion would take, I assume…

          I don’t think any person in their right mind could say “Make it illegal, forget about those who will be forced into it.”
          No.. that’s terrible, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone.. If we ignored those poor victims.. it would not be the correct or moral thing to do.I believe that there are tragic casualties with every law- for example, seat belt laws.. In a few cases, people have been in accidents where they would have survived if they had not been wearing one, but because they wore them they were killed- and while these casualties should certainly not be taken lightly or written off, I believe that we could certainly minimize their occurrence with time, effort, and compassion.. as well as enforcement of the law.

          • Hovish13

            Oh, and as well I think we can agree that anyone who forces a woman to have an abortion is a scumbag and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.. regardless of whether or not abortion is legal or illegal, and whether or not harm or death is a result.

    • Anonymous

      IF a woman is in danger from parents, spouse etc. The proper solution is to find her alternative housing and counselling to stop the abuse! Not give her an abortion to appease her abuser and send her back!!

      You honestly think by appearing her abuser you’re helping her? That’s ridiculous.

      • http://www.facebook.com/RachelElessar Rachel Ford

        That is ridiculous, and why I didn’t say (or imply) it. My issue was with the “well, she brought it upon herself” tone in the original post that was so utterly blind to any circumstances where the mother had no other choice… all the while claiming to be “pro-life” opinion while dismissing the mother’s death as her own fault.
        Read what I wrote, but without injecting your own biases into my words. I do not think that giving abusers power to force women to abort (or not) is a solution to anything, nor did I say anything of the sort; I simply take issue with the utter lack of consideration for anything that might have forced the woman into that situation, while laying the blame “squarely” on the one who underwent the abortion. Which, really, is pretty interesting, considering how often I see people on this and other pro-life sites speculating on the supposed frequency with which women are forced to undergo abortions.

    • http://twitter.com/LadyAnnalyn Annalyn

      You’re right on one point: we need to care for the women in the circumstances. While that doesn’t make the choice of abortion right in any scenario (unless, of course, it’s a matter of medically saving the mother’s life, it which case it is may be necessary, no matter how tragic). 

      We need to always be conscious of women and mothers in dangerous situations, and ready to help them before, during, and after pregnancy. I don’t think Mr. Freiburger needed to focus on this point during this particular post, but I hope it’s always at the front of our minds.

  • Anonymous

    Many places limit late-term abortion and those are enforced just fine. With proper enforcement and education, illegal abortionists can be made quite uncommon. If the women can find abortions so can the police and they can shut them down. Often illegal abortion flourishes because governments do not enforce the laws that they have and then the pro-aborts blame the laws instead of looking at the enforcement and education.

  • John Platts

    There are limits to what a woman can do with her body under our current laws. For example, a woman cannot legally choose to abuse controlled substances. In addition, a woman also cannot choose to kill herself by removing a vital organ in a manner that will clearly result in her death. There are also additional limitations under the current laws on what minor girls can do with their bodies. It is also illegal for a person under the age of 21 to abuse alcoholic beverages.         

    Why are pro-choice politicians willing to keep abortion legal and keep abortion easily accessible to minors, but are not necessarily willing to legalize illegal drugs, lower the legal drinking age, abolish age restrictions on alcohol consumption, or abolish other restrictions on what people can do with their own bodies?

    Here are verses from Sacred Scripture that show that people do not have the right to do whatever they want with their own bodies:
    “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13).
    “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
    “For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17).

    It is very clear that a person does not have a right to do whatever he or she wants with her body under God’s law.

  • Andrew Karl

    Moralists did so well with prohibition and the drug war why not quit while you are behind?  BTW- Rate of abortion is highest in countries where practice is banned
    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/rate-of-abortion-is-highest-in-countries-where-practice-is-banned-6292070.html  

    • Guest

      Your analogy doesn’t hold.  Substance abuse isn’t a violent human rights
      violation.  Outlawing it may or may not be a good idea, for other
      social and health related reasons.

      Comparing abortion rates in
      third world countries (where abortion is generally illegal) with
      abortion rates in developed countries (where abortion is generally
      legal) is honestly laughable.  That, and the over-the-top headline on a
      major news site, told me Planned Parenthood’s de facto research arm was
      behind the study before I even read the article.

      Try comparing the rates in a developed country before and after a change in abortion laws.  Look at it relative to nearby, similar nations.  Read these studies.  You’ll get a different picture.