Misconception Monday: Back-Alley Abortions

  • Ryan Phillips
  • 04/12/2021

Misconception: It's better to keep abortion legal and safe than illegal and unsafe.

Pro-abortion advocates frequently contend that tighter restrictions on abortions will inevitably lead to an increase in dangerous and illegal back-alley abortions, resulting in many women dying. Pictures of coat hangers have come to symbolize this idea and are commonplace at pro-choice rallies.

One prominent abortion doctor repeatedly claimed that thousands of women were dying each year pre-Roe v. Wade in back alley abortions, and his claim became widely accepted—even though he ultimately admitted before his death that his statistics were a complete fabrication.

The entire premise of this faulty argument rests on the idea that women do not have any choice but to abort, regardless of the circumstances. There is no allowance for other choices, such as keeping the baby or placing it for adoption. This is an interesting contradiction for those who call themselves “pro-choice.” It exposes the reality that they are only pro-choice if that choice is to abort. If they supported the choices of motherhood and adoption with equal fervor, there would not be any back-alley abortion argument.

But putting this fallacy aside, the idea of thousands of women dying due to unsafe abortions prior to Roe vs. Wade is simply not supported by the actual data. In 1972, the year prior to the decision, 36 women in America died due to illegal abortions, while 24 died during legal abortions.

The overall mortality rate during abortions is greatly reduced today due to the widespread use of antibiotics and improved medical technology, but the idea that expanding legal access to abortions saved many lives is simply not true. It is quite the opposite. The tragic irony is that over 60 million children have lost their lives to abortion due to increased legal access after Roe vs. Wade.

The other fallacy of this argument is that having legal access to abortion has no effect on whether women choose to abort. This is demonstrably false. A report by the CDC linked the drastic increase in abortions to the changed legal landscape after the Roe vs. Wade decision. 

Convenience, funding and legality all play a role. Multiple studies have shown that women who live in close proximity to an abortion clinic are twice as likely to have an abortion, that women are three times more likely to have an abortion when it is publicly funded, and that requiring a second trip to the abortion clinic reduces abortions by 15%. There are many factors which may influence the decision to abort, but the idea that women are simply going to abort regardless of legality or potentially dangerous circumstances is simply false. 



2. http://nrlc.org/uploads/factsheets/FS01AbortionintheUS.pdf

3. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5103a1.htm

Pro-Life Utah is committed to both spreading accurate information regarding the abortion issue and taking action. We fight to reduce abortion by helping women in crisis pregnancies, supporting families healing after an abortion, and promoting a cultural and legislative landscape that promotes life. Find out how you can get involved by volunteering or making a tax-deductible donation.

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