With the real possibility that the infamous 1973 U.S. Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision may be overturned in the foreseeable future, the so-called coat hanger argument citing thousands of maternal deaths prior to that date - a ‘statistic’ pivotal in convincing the Supreme Court to legalize abortion on demand - is being resurrected with increasing frequency.

Even as late as October, 2001, Planned Parenthood former executive director Diane Booth, claimed that, "Before the legalization of abortion under Roe v. Wade, one-third of gynecological ward hospital beds in the United States were filled with women who were there because of botched, illegal, back-alley abortions." Dr. Bernard Nathanson, co-founder in the 1960s of the National Abortion Rights Action League (but now a pro-life convert), knowingly fabricated the falsehood that "tens of thousands" of women died each year from abortion. At that time, Nathanson admitted that he and his NARAL colleagues pulled that number "out of thin air. We knew it was a powerful and compelling lie and we used it shamelessly" (Aborting America, 1979).

Abortion proponents insist that strict abortion laws drive women to risk their lives and health in an effort to end unwanted pregnancies. "Keep Abortion Safe, Keep It Legal. Tens of thousands of women died each year when abortion was illegal. Making abortion legal makes it safe." That`s the cry now being voiced in more and more press coverage of abortion. This is pure rubbish! The actual number of deaths of women from illegal abortions was never in the tens of thousands. Abortion was legalized in Canada in January 1970, and, it the United States, in January 1973. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the numbers of deaths of women from illegal abortions in the U.S. during the decades prior to legalization, was as follows:

(Abortion Surveillance, November 1980)

The number of deaths of women from illegal abortions in Canada was as follows:

(Reported Abortion Deaths in Canada, Statistics Canada, 84-203)

The Ottawa-commissioned Bagley Report on the working of the abortion law (1977) carried statistics on the number of women who died from attempts to abort before the new law came in in 1969 - about 12 a year.

So to save 12 Canadian women, we now kill well over 100,000 babies - about 9,000 per woman, a shocking disproportion. In the U.S., to save about 100 women, abortionists kill about 1,300,000 babies.

As can be seen in the above tables, maternal deaths attributed to presumed ‘coat hanger’ and ‘back-street’ abortions were in a steep decline even well before legalization. This can be explained by the emergence of antibiotics (e.g. sulpha and penicillin) in the 1940s and 1950s, and the use in the 1960s of the safer suction curette to rid the womb of the macerated baby. Both combined to make illegal abortions relatively safe for the mother in the decade prior to legalization.

Although legalized, about 30 women each year continue to die in the U.S. and about 2 in Canada. (The number is certainly higher, as abortion related deaths and post abortion complications are frequently not reported by medical staff and institutions as having resulted from an abortion.) That small number of maternal deaths is not attributable to legalization but solely to technology which has made abortion, both illegal and legal, a relatively safe procedure for mothers. Were abortion to be banned tomorrow, the same simple techniques would still be used, not coat hangers, and society would not witness a significant increased in maternal death related to illegal abortions.

What is currently being described as back-alley abortions were in fact nothing more than back-office abortions. They were executed in back offices of doctors. This has been admitted by no less than Mary Calderone, a former president of Planned Parenthood. The July 1960 American Journal of Health quotes her as saying that "90% of all illegal abortions are presently done by physicians." So on the admission itself of the world`s largest private provider of abortions, when abortion became legal, back-office abortions became front-office abortions. It would logically follow, therefore, that legalizing abortion brought no significant improvement in safety for women. ( I can just hear the pro-aborts: "What does logic have to do with anything?")

Abortion advocates fought and won their battle three decades ago on grounds that it would protect women from back-street "butchers." The irony is that the butchers are still working, but today they are the pro-choice movement`s heroes. Henry Morgentaler was a back-street abortionist before he became Canada`s champion of reproductive freedom. (How many women, if they knew it, would entrust their reproductive organs to a man like Morgentaler who, as described in his latest biography, treats his personal problems with primal scream therapy and banging himself round a room with padded walls?)

As I`ve already suggested, logic is not vocal abortion advocates` forte. On the one hand they claim that women are truly capable of performing as well as men in society and that women can handle problems rationally and with common sense - and then assert that should abortion be declared illegal they would resort to coat hangers in a back alley. What hypocrisy! And isn`t RU 486 - a self-administered do-it-yourself abortion concoction - which has already killed one woman in Canada and sent hundreds of U.S. women to hospital with life-threatening complications, not the equivalent of a "chemical coat hanger" abortion? Yet RU 486 pills are being dished out like Smartees by U.S. obstetricians and gynecologists.

The experience of countries, such as Poland, that have imposed strict restrictions is more than conclusive. For some 45 years, Poland was dominated by Russia and abortion was not only legal, it was paid for by the government. Then in 1993, after the Iron Curtain fell, the Polish parliament severely restricted abortion. In a startling social development, the annual abortion rate declined precipitously from 160,000 under Communism to 250 in 1999. Polish pro-abortion groups had argued that without legal abortion, women would have illegal, partial abortions and then go to hospitals to finish their so-called "miscarriage." Nothing of the sort happened. Poland now has fewer gynecological admissions to hospitals than there were when abortion was legal. In addition, there are fewer women dying of gynecological problems.

It is interesting to note that when Poland suspended the restrictions on abortion a few years ago, only 1,200 women opted for abortions that year. This is clear evidence that abortion restrictions has an educational effect on women. The Polish experience also shows that fewer women died as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, and induced abortions performed to save the life and health of the mother became more rare after passage of the restrictive abortion laws.

Lies in the abortion industry have taken a life of their own. Planned Parenthood, which sees truth as its worst enemy, keeps upping the ante in the fictional number of maternal death resulting from illegal abortions. For instance, it alleged in 1992 that 140,000 women die annually in Mexico from illegal abortions. Another of its preposterous claims was its 1991 allegation of 400,000 annual deaths in Brazil resulting from illegal abortions. Consider if you will the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics showing that 41,685 Brazilian women between the ages of 15 and 41 died in 1986 of all causes. Of these, 241 died of complications from both legal and illegal abortions. These are but two examples of the extreme exaggerations which Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry it supports keep spoon-feeding an unsuspecting public. Their sheer magnitude only serves to confirm how intellectually bankrupt abortion defenders are. They prey on the credibility of people, knowing full well that they will seldom question numbers whose origin have some semblance of plausibility.

The abortion industry`s shocking tales of mayhem associated with illegal abortions were immensely successful in legalizing abortion on demand some 30 years ago. We cannot allow it to again raise the false specter of coat hanger and back-alley abortions to put a firewall around this legalized brutal and homicidal procedure.

Thaddée Renault

New Brunswick, Canada

January 15, 2002

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