Fact Check: 3 False Claims about Abortion Law from Utah Doctor

  • Aubrey Wursten
  • 10/28/2020

The discussion about abortion intensifies with every election, and this year has seen an increase in one particular phenomenon: pro-lifers campaigning for unapologetically pro-choice candidates. Much of the reasoning behind these decisions are problematic to me, and today, I want to fact-check a few points in a piece by Dr. Kaitlyn Brower Dressman in the Salt Lake Tribune, who explained why she was voting for Biden/Harris despite being pro-life.

Like Dr. Dressman, I am “an active [multi-generational] member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” Like Dr. Dressman, I am “deeply committed to protecting the lives, rights and health of as many people as possible, both born and unborn.” Like Dr. Dressman, I have “never voted for a Democrat for federal office.” And like Dr. Dressman, I am not on Team Trump. In fact, I’ve probably been “not on Team Trump” since before Dr. Dressman was born. Furthermore, I’m not even a Republican (but don’t tell my parents).

I agonized over my voting decision this year more than I have any other. I have vacillated between candidates numerous times, and I was sorely tempted to write in my Golden Retriever, who has the loyalty, good nature, and intelligence that most politicians lack.

But what vote was never even an option for me? The Biden/Harris ticket.

Dr. Dressman is undoubtedly more educated and well-spoken than I am. I also believe her when she states that she is making what she believes to be the morally correct decision.

However, logical fallacies are logical fallacies, and they need to be addressed.

So prepare for some debunking. 

Fact: The Trump years have seen fewer abortions than the Obama years. 

Mind you, Dr. Dressman did not dispute this claim, and I want to make that fact clear. What she said was that Obama and Biden “saw a significantly greater reduction in the abortion rate [emphasis mine] during their administration than we have seen under President Donald Trump.”

One may easily misunderstand this statistic to imply that there were fewer abortions per capita, per year, under Obama as compared to Trump. But once you understand the wording, you see that the opposite is true.

Dr. Dressman provides a link to Guttmacher Institute, which is the research organization used by Planned Parenthood. The very link she supplies points out:

“In 2017, an estimated 862,320 abortions were provided in clinical settings in the United States, representing a 7% decline since 2014 and the continuation of a long-term trend. The U.S. abortion rate dropped to 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 in 2017, the lowest rate recorded since abortion was legalized in 1973.”

Who was in office in 2014? Obama.

And who was in office in 2017, when we saw a 7% decline? Trump.

In 2017, after Trump took office, we saw the fewest clinical abortions since Roe v. Wade. Those are just statistics, not opinion, and they come straight from Guttmacher itself. 

Fact: No evidence exists that legalizing abortion makes it more rare.

Dr. Dressman maintains that “studies show that legally restricting access to abortion neither effectively nor efficiently reduces the abortion rate.”

This vague claim is problematic for numerous reasons, but one immediately apparent issue is that nobody knows how common abortion was before it was decriminalized. Nobody knows how many crimes are committed, because people rarely willingly report their criminal activity. People who perform studies can guess, but some government studies actually indicate that abortion was significantly more rare before it was legalized, which should not surprise anyone. People sympathetic to the legalized abortion cause have estimated that perhaps 25% of pre-Roe pregnancies ended in abortion, whereas according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2016, 35% of pregnancies in New York—a place with lenient abortion laws—ended in termination. So Dr. Dressman’s claim seems at best highly questionable, and likely outright inaccurate.

Worse—and again, I am in no way accusing Dr. Dressman herself of doing this—in a rhetorical sleight of hand, some people have even taken to comparing the number of abortions during abortion-supportive administrations to the number during abortion-averse administrations, then claiming this is representative of a comparison between abortion-promoting and abortion-outlawing administrations. This is a clear example of a false equivalency.

Another problem with Dr. Dressman’s assertion is that, as I noted, abortion numbers have fallen under the current administration with the increasing abortion restrictions. And Guttmacher itself “blames” the lower numbers on increased abortion restrictions, so Planned Parenthood and its partners are directly contradicting her claim.

Fact: Lack of abortion access does not kill or injure women.

Like many people do, Dr. Dressman claims that lack of abortion access endangers women. However, the claim is almost certainly false, considering the fact that it is a victim of the false dilemma logical fallacy.

The statement implies that the only two choices women have are to procure safe (for the woman) legal abortions, or to procure unsafe illegal abortions. This is akin to saying that we need to make human trafficking legal because the only two choices are safe (for the trafficker) legal trafficking, or unsafe illegal trafficking.

The whole argument is based on the false premise that abortion (or human trafficking) is the only option, and we just have to decide whether or not we will make it safe for the people benefitting from it.

With respect to abortion, the only time this claim could be compelling is when the life of the mother is jeopardized by continuing her pregnancy, but let me be very clear when I say that what the pro-life movement aims to outlaw is elective abortion, not life-saving procedures that unfortunately result in the early removal or death of the unborn child.

Confusion often arises regarding the definition of terms, but according to the pro-life obstetricians and gynecologists responsible for the Dublin Declaration, “...direct abortion – the purposeful destruction of the unborn child – is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman. We uphold that there is a fundamental difference between abortion, and necessary medical treatments that are carried out to save the life of the mother, even if such treatment results in the loss of life of her unborn child.” 

All this aside, we need not depend solely on logic to determine veracity. Contrary to popular belief (and even erroneous claims by former Planned Parenthood head Leana Wen), “thousands of women” did not die every year from abortions before Roe v. Wade. The number is thought to be closer to 200.

Although 200 is still too many, two facts remain: 1) Women still die from legal abortions, especially since abortion facilities often have more lax rules than other medical businesses, and 2) elective abortion is 100% avoidable. The death toll from elective abortion could (and should) be zero, whether the procedure is illegal or not. 

Final thoughts

Although space prevents much further analysis, I want to add one final plea. To return to the human trafficking analogy, we as members of a civilized society surely don’t want to merely lessen the amount of human trafficking through other policies that make people less likely to “rely” on it.

Surely we wouldn’t focus primarily on how to help people financially, so selling humans wasn’t “necessary.” Surely we also shouldn’t justify the abuse and killing of helpless human beings, whether in the womb or in our own property, and whether at fetal, newborn, or teenage stage, just because they might live a life we consider subpar. And surely we shouldn’t do so because allowing them to live would render the lives of their traffickers or parents subpar.

So please, examine this issue with logic and research instead of emotion and catchphrases. It IS a life and death decision we are making. 

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