« Superfluparents in the Church | Main | Alert: Contagious Virus »

January 22, 2004

31 Years of Roe

In Memorial: The Blackmun Wall

Women killed by legal abortion.


Posted by TulipGirl  |  12:08 AM|  TrackBack (0)  |   Words

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


One doesn't hear about "this" sort of thing in the print media. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: dogman at January 22, 2004 01:59 PM

I remember when I heard of Latachie Veal's death in 1991. She was my age and she lived in Texas. The abortionist responsible for her death also worked in my city, and continues to this day killing women (at least 3) and children (over 100,000.)

In case you didn't realize it, you can click on name plaque for details.

Posted by: TulipGirl at January 22, 2004 04:11 PM

What chilling stories. Just think, a few years ago, a minor could not get her ears pierced without parental consent but could have a potentially fatal surgical proceedure performed. I'm thankful for at least that small change but oh, we have so far to go.

Posted by: Barb at January 23, 2004 12:31 AM

Well, in a lot of states a minor still can't get her ears pierced but can get an abortion. Go figure.

Posted by: pentamom at January 23, 2004 02:14 PM

I don't mean to advertise but I want to direct you to today's entry of my blog. I write about a woman who used to work in an abortion clinic.

Posted by: La Shawn Barber at January 23, 2004 05:23 PM

Using the commonly-cited figure of 40 million legal abortions in the US since the Roe v. Wade decision, this works out to 0.8 deaths per 100,000 abortions - which is very close to the Alan Guttmacher Institute's published figure of 0.6 per 100,000 (http://www.agi-usa.org/sections/abortion.html). 347 deaths also approximates their reported total deaths during abortion over that period, so your figures appear to be accurate. It is interesting to view them in context, however.

The death rate during childbirth over the same period has ranged from 6 to over 20 per 100,000 live births, according to the CDC(http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/tables/2003/03hus043.pdf). This is anywhere from 10 to over 30 times the death rate during abortion. Making the conservative assumption of 8 deaths per 100,000 live births on average since the Roe v. Wade decision, there would have been a minimum total of about 3,200 further deaths from complications of pregnancy and childbirth if all women who have had an abortion in that time had been forced to carry to term instead.

In other words, Harry Blackmun's abortion decision not only gave 40 million women control of their bodies and their futures, but it saved a net total of about 3,000 of their lives since then. The 300+ deaths are certainly tragic, but I'm sure we all can agree that they are vastly preferable to the 11-times-greater number that would have resulted without access to legal abortion.

Note also that the death rate during abortion has fallen dramatically over the past 30 years, and now stands at fewer than 10 deaths per year. In contrast, the maternal mortality rate, though much lower now than 20 years ago, has fluctuated widely and has actually gone up significantly in the last few years for which data are available. In 1999 (the most recent figures available), there were exactly 4 reported deaths during abortion (less than 0.5 per 100,000), and almost 400 during childbirth (over 8 per 100,000). Abortion gets safer and safer compared to compulsory pregnancy, and thus saves more and more women's lives - another lucky legacy of Blackmun's decision.

It is frightening to think of the unknown number of women who have died from compulsory pregnancy in recent years, owing to efforts to restrict abortion rights and intimidate abortion providers. With a recent maternal mortality rate of about 9 deaths per 100,000 live births, and a rate of death during abortion of well under 1 per 100,000, every 100,000 abortions prevented equates to the death of 8 or 9 women who would otherwise survive their pregnancies.

I wonder if we'll see a memorial wall thanking Harry Blackmun for his 3,000+ lives saved, or blaming anti-abortion forces for the dozens of lives they have condemned, and the hundreds more they seek to kill by their continued efforts to take away women's choice whether to accept the risks of childbirth.

Posted by: Kevin T. Keith at January 31, 2004 06:17 AM

Hello, Kevin!

It appears that you are a staunch proponent of abortion, so I doubt that anything I saw will sway you. However, you have some false assumptions in your comment, that ought to be addressed.

"347 deaths also approximates their reported total deaths during abortion over that period, so your figures appear to be accurate."

Thanks for the verification.

"It is interesting to view them in context, however."

Yes. These deaths are usually glossed over when talking about "safe, legal abortion."

"The death rate during childbirth over the same period has ranged from 6 to over 20 per 100,000 live births, according to the CDC(http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/tables/2003/03hus043.pdf)."

Actually, according to that table, the "over 20 per 100,000" is pre-Roe and drops dramatically to 9.4 in 1980. Basing part of your analysis on "over 20 per 100,000" for the same period is misleading.

"there would have been a minimum total of about 3,200 further deaths from complications of pregnancy and childbirth if all women who have had an abortion in that time had been forced to carry to term instead."

This is a statistically debateable conclusion.

According to the CDC, "More than half of maternal deaths are caused by bleeding, infection, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and tubal pregnancies -- complications that can be prevented or treated with early diagnosis."

What is needed in over-half the maternal deaths is competent and early diagnosis and treatment. Not abortion.

One study indicated that "Pulmonary embolus and cardiac disease together accounted for 40% of the pregnancy-related deaths." These are not deaths that would be avoided if a woman aborted--neither deos the underlying concern go away if a woman with these problems aborts.

Are you aware of what the risk factors for maternal mortality and morbidity, according to a recent Perinatal Mortality Review in Florida include:

1) history of medical problems; 2) nutrition problems; 3) substance use; 4) lack of or delay in prenatal risk assessment; 5) lack of social support; 6) problems with housing; 7) mental health problems; 8) family violence or neglect; 9) environmental or occupational hazards; and 10) family planning or contraceptive method related concerns. . ."

Looking at maternal morbitiy statistics, what I see is a need for greater attention to overcoming the health care, economic, legal, social and cultural barriers that lead to these deaths. Women need true answers to these health care concerns, not a pat answer of legal-abortion-is-safer.

"In other words, Harry Blackmun's abortion decision not only gave 40 million women control of their bodies and their futures, but it saved a net total of about 3,000 of their lives since then."

Sloppy statement. 40 million abortions does not equal 40 million women. And I could debate the "control of their bodies and their futures" when so many women I know who "chose" abortion did so because they felt they had "no other choice." Whether societal pressures, presonal stress, or heavy influence from a partner or parents, abortion does not give "control" to women who feel they have "no other choice."

"The 300+ deaths are certainly tragic, but I'm sure we all can agree that they are vastly preferable to the 11-times-greater number that would have resulted without access to legal abortion."

Again, jumping to statistical conclusions. Included in maternal mortality statitics are all deaths from induced abortions and ectopic pregnancies.

Having abortion legal does little, if nothing, to reduce the real causes of maternal mortality.

"Abortion gets safer and safer compared to compulsory pregnancy, and thus saves more and more women's lives - another lucky legacy of Blackmun's decision."

Actually, to be accurate, you would need to compare like-to-like. What are the deaths related to abortion in the first trimester vs. pregnancy in the first trimester?

I think it is very crass to say that women are "lucky" that we get to kill our children, instead of having real health and social concerns addressed.

Posted by: TulipGirl at January 31, 2004 01:29 PM

One more thing. . . The "safe, legal" abortions you support often lead to women being in a high-risk category during future pregnancies:

** 24.3% experience complications in future pregnancies. Complications include: excessive bleeding, premature delivery, cervical damage, and sterility.

** Uterine perforations. Uterine perforations can often occur and sometimes may go unrecognized and untreated. (Which can lead to a weaker uterine wall, a potential risk in a future pregnancy.)

** Tubal pregnancy. Abortion appears to contribute to an increase in ectopic pregnancy in younger women when associated with pelvic inflammatory disease. Statistic show a 30% increased risk of ectopic pregnancy after one abortion and a 160% increased risk after two or more abortions.

** Placenta previa - a condition producing extremely severe, life threatening bleeding in future pregnancies. Statistics show a 600% increased risk following abortion.

** Increased bleeding in subsequent pregnancies.

** Retention of placenta - increased in subsequent pregnancies, which can lead to post-partum infection

** Women Under 20 are at 2 times greater risk of medical complications and 150% greater risk of cervical injury

** Women who have had a previous abortion
200% increased risk of miscarriage after two or more abortions and 160% increased risk of tubal pregnancy

** Increased risk of abnormal positioning of the baby in future pregnancies after one or more abortion.

Posted by: TulipGirl at January 31, 2004 01:39 PM

[Me:] "In other words, Harry Blackmun's abortion decision . . . saved a net total of about 3,000 of their lives since then."

[You:] "Sloppy statement. 40 million abortions does not equal 40 million women."

You're correct. I did this wrong.

Working out the right figure is a little complicated, but we can try. The weighted average of the total number of abortions undergone per woman having an abortion in the US is about 1.6 (roughly: 53% have one, 26% have two, 11% have 3, 7% have 4 or more - though the figures vary widely by state).
(http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5212a1.htm - Table 13; year 2000 data)

This has remained roughly consistent over the last 10 years or so - I don't know about previously. Taking it as a rough guide, then, if the 40 million abortions over the past 31 years averaged out to 1.6 abortions per woman, this would mean that 25 million women aborted 40 million unwanted pregnancies between them (most having just one abortion, some having two, a small number having three, and so forth). Each woman faces a risk of death of 0.00008 (i.e., 8 in 100,000) per pregnancy. The calculation can be done exactly, but we are using rough estimates to begin with, so let's do it in rough terms. From the first unwanted pregnancy for each of these 25 million women, a death rate of 8 per 100,000 would lead to 2,000 deaths. If 1/4 of them (6.5 million) had a second pregnancy, that death rate would give more than 500 further deaths. If 10% of them (2.5 million) then had a third unwanted pregnancy, there would be another 200 deaths. The remainder would contribute about 150 deaths or so.

Thus, doing the math more carefully, the 25 million women who had 40 million abortions over the period since Roe v. Wade would collectively, if forced to carry those pregnancies to term against their wills, have suffered something like 2,800 deaths (not the 3,200 I previously claimed). That is a net death total of about 2,500 more than those resulting from the legal abortions these woman chose to have. Even this calculation involves a lot of assumptions, but the overall point is clear (it is clear simply from the gross difference in mortality rates between abortion and childbirth): abortion is safer than childbirth, and forcing women who choose abortion to undergo childbirth against their will would have the effect of killing dozens of such women per year. The net effect on US women's lives of legal abortion since Roe - the point your post explicitly addresses - is to *save* thousands of them.

That number grows hugely if you extend the calculation to the rest of the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 13% of worldwide maternal deaths per year are due to unsafe abortion (almost 80,000 deaths in 1998). Recall that only 1% of maternal deaths in the US were abortion-related in that same year. If abortion in other countries were made as safe relative to childbirth as it is in the US, tens of thousands of lives would be saved every year. (The comparison is not exact, of course, because the ratio of abortions to births varies between countries, as does the overall maternal death rate. The general point remains, however.) That is the difference between safe, legal abortion and unsafe (usually illegal) abortion. Making abortion legal and safe saves women's lives, and the degree of the impact is greatest where the overall quality of the healthcare system is lowest.


The rest of your two posts, I think, are off-target. You seem to suggest that the death rate during pregnancy is not really very high because most deaths are accompanied by complications such as heart disease and so forth. I think you are mis-interpreting the statistics on maternal mortality. Deaths are reported in this category when the pregnancy was a contributing factor in the death. A pregnant woman who simply happens to have a heart attack is not reported as a maternal death unless it is apparent that the pregnancy contributed to the hear attack or made it more difficult to survive. Thus, though you are certainly correct that we want to provide the best healthcare possible and that some of these deaths might be avoided with better care, it is not correct that these deaths are either unrelated to pregnancy or are not risks of pregnancy. Beyond this, the need for better treatment is irrelevant to the question whether abortion or childbirth are relatively safer. Given the level of technology and care that are actually available today, pregnancy is much more risky than abortion overall, and vastly more risky during the first 20 weeks in which 98% of abortions are performed. Deaths from conditions caused or exacerbated by pregnancy and childbirth do occur, they occur at much higher rates than deaths during or caused by abortion procedures, and that is simply the way it is (under current and historical conditions, at least). Pointing out that maternal deaths could be lower is not a response to the fact that they are higher than abortion deaths.

Similar comments apply about possible medical implications of abortion. No doubt abortions and their possible complications can affect the future health or fertility of women who undergo the procedure. (Note that the statistics you quote tend to be from the highest reported ranges for the various phenomena, but never mind that.) This is (a) not related to the question of death from abortion, and (b) not an argument against freedom of choice about abortion. This is information women deciding about abortion - and the specific techniques used in an abortion - should take into account. This is no different from making any other healthcare choice.

In both these cases, you imply that the safety benefits of abortion are irrelevant because, either, they are not perfect or they could be minimized if we greatly improved healthcare for pregnant women. The first claim hardly makes sense, and the latter works only if you adopt a very selective focuse. You say that we should "hav[e] real health and social concerns addressed" instead of promoting abortion rights - but, obviously, we could also improve the health benefits from abortion by further research to make it even safer. In fact, we already can do much to make abortion safer, thereby further increasing its relative safety compared to childbirth, if we wanted to: the health risks of abortion are incredibly low in the earliest stages of pregnancy (about 1 death in *500,000* abortions before 8 weeks, and remaining well below maternal mortality until about the 20th week); medical abortion is safer than surgical abortion; "morning-after" pills are safer than either form of abortion. Also, opposition by others and lack of available providers are cited by 1/3 and 1/2 (respectively) of women seeking riskier late-term abortions as reasons why they had not acted sooner. To reduce deaths among pregnant women, then, our best policies are very clear: we must make abortion as widely available as possible, remove restrictions and barriers to women seeking abortion, encourage earliest possible abortions for women choosing to terminate their pregnancies, and provide widespread access to "morning-after" and medical abortion technologies. Yet these are all policies that are opposed by anti-choice advocates - who are, that is, actively promoting policies that not only force women to continue pregnancies against their wills (running higher risk of death than by having abortions), but are forcing many women to have riskier abortions than they would otherwise. And this seems to be the thrust of your conclusions also. In discussing the relative risk of abortion and childbirth, you consistently minimize data on the latter, and suggest policies to reduce that risk further, but you overlook data on the former and ignore obvious ways to make abortion even more safe - in absolute and relative terms - than it already is. This is a very selective use of data and arguments.

This brings us back to the overall thrust of the argument: what are the implications of certain facts or statistics about abortion for our general understanding of abortion or abortion policy? Throughout this, although you have many statistics and (unlike most abortion debaters) your statistics are generally correct, it seems to me your use of them suffers from two flaws: (1) it exhibits the "pile higher and deeper" approach that many users of statistics employ, and (2) you do not use them consistently with respect to the points you are trying to make. I do not mean those comments as insults - but I do do think you are not using the numbers right.

First, regarding piling it up: you cite number after number reflecting any negative aspect of abortion you can think of, but none of this means very much, or at least not what you think it means. All you have shown is that there are risks associated with abortion. No one would imagine otherwise - there are risks associated with any medical or surgical procedure. Merely citing risks tells us nothing about what our policy should be, or even whether the procedure is "safe" in any realistic sense. As far as overall policy goes, a bare statistic by itself means nothing - you have to articulate some basis for your policy, and, practically speaking, public policies are virtually never set on the grounds of bare safety rates alone. (If we took your implication - that abortion should be prohibited because it is unsafe - seriously, we would also have to ban childbirth, because the rates of death, and at least some forms of health impairment from childbirth are much higher than from abortion. But we don't do this. Why? Because our policy is based on a complicated balancing of many competing values, not on just one number.) You are certainly right in your general point that abortion has risks. You do not mention, as I have repeatedly pointed out, that its relative risk is much lower than for childbirth. It is lso much lower than the risks from many other activities we do not regard as controversial. (The Alan Guttmacher site I referenced previously has a slide showing death rates from motorcycling (160+ times higher than from having an abortion), driving a car (20 - 30 times higher), or playing football (5+ times higher).) The statistics you cite give us reason to think about relative risk in making personal decisions, but they tell us nothing about our overall policy; at best, they tell us that, on safetly grounds, legal abortion is a very unobjectionable policy compared to many things we feel are perfectly fine.

Regarding the overall focus of your argument, recall where you started with this: you cited a "memorial wall" blaming Harry Blackmun for the deaths of 347 women who died during legal abortions following the court decision he authored (but was hardly solely responsible for). You claim that he is responsible for those deaths - a very serious charge. But your evidence for that charge is not only weak, it is very misleading. Note first that 300-some deaths in *40 million* procedures is an incredibly low rate. Abortion truly is, as abortion-rights proponents point out, one of the safest surgical procedures available, and it is also, as abundant statistics show, much safer than the alternative of carrying a pregnancy to term. But you never mention this. Logically, on your own terms of argument, if you are going to charge Blackmun with the deaths of women having abortions, you must also credit him with the lives saved, among women who had abortions, that would have been lost otherwise. However you slice it, as I have shown, that number is in the thousands, and far outstrips the number who died. *Abortion has a net effect of saving lives among women who would otherwise be forced to carry to term* - the conclusion is incontrovertible. But you focus on only one side of the equation, which is a completely impermissible way of using the data. When the true implications of your data are pointed out, you then shift the grounds of the debate by piling on more and more data about completely other subjects, as if, by simply saying enough bad things about abortion (without in any instance considering the whole case), you could prove that abortion is bad.

This was the general point of my original post. Your charge against Blackmun was very unfair, because it mentions only one side of a two-sided issue and because the other side is very obvious and well known. When I pointed it out, your response was to add further negative charges against abortion generally, but again without putting any of them in context, considering the whole question about any of the points you make, or considering the broader question about how we should make abortion policy in general. On your own terms of debate - how many die? - your argument works *in favor* of abortion rights. On the broader questions of what are the real risks and benefits of abortion, and what do they tell us about proper public policy, you are consistently one-sided. And, the intelligence of your debating and your obvious facility with the statistics makes it clear that this is not (or should not be) a mere accident in your case. I think you have used your statistics wrongly, and I think that you (unlike some of your co-advocates) know better.

I also think you owe Harry Blackmun an apology.

Posted by: Kevin T. Keith at January 31, 2004 11:49 PM

Mr. Keith's comments about the number of women who would have died had they carried their babies to full term is a fallacious argument. Perhaps 3,000 more women might have lived, potentially. But one must compare that to the 40 million babies that definitely did die from the barbaric practice of abortion. That is a certain statistic.

Posted by: JAY STANDISH at June 18, 2004 02:43 AM

You know the real kicker, TulipGirl? The guy who killed Latachie Veal discussed her death at an event attended by two CDC staffers -- including the very woman whose job it was to notice such things -- and they didn't even count her.

Posted by: Christina Dunigan at October 11, 2007 09:16 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)

In My Garden
Recently Written
Book Blogging
Friends and Fans
Good Stuff
Blog Goodies