When Abortion is Illegal in America

When Abortion is Illegal in America April 29, 2016

Illegal abortion pro-life pro-choiceThis is a continuation of our analysis of the question, “Does Pro-life Logic Mean Women Who Get Abortions Should Be Punished?” addressed by Greg Koukl of the Stand to Reason podcast. (Start with part 1 here.)

A future America with abortion illegal

Koukl has a simple—some might say childish—attitude toward abortion.

Pro-lifers would like to see abortion abolished, but the only way to really abolish abortion ultimately is to make it illegal, and then the incidence of abortion would shrink to virtually nothing. (@4:05)

With abortion being such an important topic to Koukl’s ministry, you’d think that he would be more educated about it. He’s completely wrong. Making abortions illegal simply means that abortions will be done, just illegally.

We know because America has already tried the experiment. From the Guttmacher Institute:

Before the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, data on abortion in the United States were scarce. In 1955, experts had estimated, on the basis of qualitative assumptions, that 200,000–1,200,000 illegal abortions were performed each year. Despite its wide range, this estimate remained the most reliable indicator of the magnitude of induced abortion for many years. In 1967, researchers confirmed this estimate by extrapolating data from a randomized-response survey conducted in North Carolina: They concluded that a total of 800,000 induced (mostly illegal) abortions were performed nationally each year.

Compare this with the abortion rate of 700,000 per year in the U.S. today, with twice the population of 1955.

A future America where abortion was illegal could simply switch to the simple medical (drug-induced) abortion in many cases. This is already the predominant procedure in many European countries.

We also have examples worldwide showing that making abortion illegal does little to reduce the rate. From CBS News:

Abortion rates are highest where the procedure is illegal, according to a new study. The study also found nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, with the vast majority of unsafe abortions occurring in developing countries.

The Guttmacher Institute says, “Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates” and notes that in Africa and Latin America, where “abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries,” the rate per capita is more than twice that in the U.S. and Western Europe.

Unsurprisingly, poorer safety correlates with abortion being illegal. The New York Times reported on a World Health Organization study: “About 20 million abortions that would be considered unsafe are performed each year [and] 67,000 women die as a result of complications from those abortions, most in countries where abortion is illegal.” That’s a mortality rate of 1 for every 300. By comparison, the mortality rate in the U.S., with legal abortion, is 1 for every 170,000 (the mortality rate for women giving birth is 15 times worse).

Abortion providers are basically vultures, right?

Koukl next attacks the ethics of the abortion providers.

Without the [abortion] doctors, who are exploiting people’s difficult circumstances for money, you probably aren’t going to have the abortions. (@19:16)

I didn’t realize that abortion providers exploit people’s hardships. Is that true for other specialties? I suppose the greedy oncologist rubs his hands and smiles when he sees new names in his appointment calendar. The predatory geriatrician twists his mustache and cackles when another old man hobbles in. The rapacious pediatrician sees a crying kid with a broken arm and thinks, “There’s a month’s payment on Daddy’s Bentley!”

Apparently, I have my ignorance to thank for being able to look at doctors and see hard-working professionals who view their patients as more than piles of cash.

In contrast to Koukl’s contempt for abortion providers and his lack of concern for women with unwanted pregnancies, consider Dr. Willie Parker, who travels from his home in Chicago to Mississippi twice a month to be one of only two doctors providing abortions at Mississippi’s last abortion clinic. Women desperately need a medical procedure, and Dr. Parker provides it. He said, “I do abortions because I am a Christian.”

Remember Kermit Gosnell’s filthy abortion clinic? Pro-lifers were horrified, and yet those conditions are what they’re pushing for. Making abortion illegal doesn’t eliminate abortion, it just drives it underground to clinics that aren’t inspected. When organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide safe abortions are squeezed out by nuisance regulations or other regulatory hurdles, illegal operations will fill the vacuum. Similarly, when noisy abortion protesters create a gauntlet at safe clinics, women will be driven to ones that cut corners. One of Gosnell’s patients said about the closest Planned Parenthood clinic, “The picketers out there, they just scared me half to death.”

Coat hangers

Three years ago, I attended a celebration of the forty-year anniversary of the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that made abortion legal in the United States. Sarah Weddington was the lawyer on the winning side, and she spoke of her experience on a plane trip. She was wearing a button showing a coat hanger with a red “not” line through it (like this) as a symbol of the pre-Roe days that she was determined America would not revisit.

A female flight attendant walked past her several times until she finally said, “I’ve just got to ask you: what have you got against coat hangers?”

Weddington’s point was that this young woman had lived her entire life with abortion as a right. She didn’t know of a time before that right when coat hangers were the abortion method of last resort. More importantly, she didn’t realize how tenuous that right is. Millions of conservatives would make abortion illegal in an instant if they could. Complacency is not an option.

Continue to part 4: “Arguing the Pro-Life Case (Such as It Is)

“Explain to me how making abortion illegal
wouldn’t lower abortion rates.”
Explain to me how making drugs illegal
didn’t lower drug use rates.
— commenter adam

Image credit: Pēteris, flickr, CC

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  • lady_black

    I came up, partly during the time when abortion was illegal, and partly when it was legal. I can tell you that when abortion was illegal, it was by no means “rare.” This guy is dreaming.
    The thing is, that when women who need abortions seek safe medical assistance, and abortion is illegal, women get harmed. I nearly lost my mother to a wanted pregnancy gone terribly wrong. There was never going to be any “baby” from this pregnancy, but she could have died of exsanguination. Then there STILL wouldn’t be any baby. Meanwhile, women with unwanted pregnancies could still go see a certain licensed doctor who was known to help girls in trouble.
    Two things changed after Roe, but neither of them were “women having more abortions. ” Women’s lives were no longer put in jeopardy for wanted pregnancies, and doctors who helped women with unwanted pregnancies were no longer criminals.

    • Until I did the research for this post, I didn’t realize just how completely 180-degrees off was this common pro-life position.

      I’ve sent a link to this post to Koukl. There’s a chance that he might adjust his thinking.

      • lady_black

        If you mean your post, good. If you mean my post, he’ll just come up with some nonsense about how OF COURSE women whose lives are endangered should be “permitted” to have an abortion. But in practice, it doesn’t work that way. It means my mother had to be at death’s door before an abortion was finally done.
        She should have been able to have an abortion because she asked for one. Not let her get to the point of death.

        • “This post” means my blog post above.

          Abortion up to the point where it’s legally forbidden should be available without excuse or apology.

        • Rudy R

          Christian apologists understand that they have to argue against abortion using secular pro-life arguments, because they can’t turn to the Bible for their source. And their arguments usually fail because they feel compelled to blend religious dogmas with secular pro-life arguments, which are weak to being with. So if the Bible doesn’t condemn abortion and the secular argument is a failure, why does the majority of Christians still insist on continuing with the anti-choice position?

        • Because it’s convenient for their leaders (political and religious) to have them tilting at windmills. Without the sky falling, why would the flock turn to them for safety?

        • Rudy R

          Good explanation. Sort of akin to the Conservative’s response to the LGBT movement. Hypocrisy still abounds in the Conservative party, though, in that Ted Cruz is afraid of female Transgenders occupying a bathroom with his daughters while Tom Delay is OK with male pedophiles (Dennis Hastert).

        • Scooter

          How did you miss the 6th Commandment?

        • Rudy R

          Same reason I missed all the genocides.

        • Greg G.

          How did you miss Genesis 2:7?

          Genesis 2:77 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being

          According to the Bible, it is not a living being until it inhales air.

        • Snooterpoot

          Because it’s really about sex. In particular it’s about controlling women and punishing us for enjoying sex.

        • Snooterpoot

          I’ll add “easily available” to that, Bob.

        • Agreed.

          The paradox is that by making abortion difficult, pro-lifers are making abortion later. I don’t think that’s really what they want.

  • RichardSRussell

    Re: the quotation at the end about making drugs illegal, as it happens, we ran that experiment as well. It was called Prohibition, and the criminal underworld never had it so good. They had a ready-made market handed to them on a silver platter, and they knew exactly what to do with it.

    • And there, too, didn’t consumption go up?

    • wtfwjtd

      Indeed, there are plenty of experts who feel that Prohibition actually fueled the rise of organized crime in the United States. Gangsters and small-time crime bosses suddenly found themselves with huge “business” opportunity, and the massive influx of cash that liquor and its associated trappings brought into their coffers allowed them to expand their “business” exponentially. Talk about validating the law of unintended consequences…organized crime went from small time business in larger cities, to HUGE business covering vast swaths of the country. Thank you, Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

      • Yes, because, after all, brewers didn’t fight about distributing alcohol before Prohibition, or murder each other. It was completely legal for them, and thus violence didn’t exist.

  • Michael Neville

    Many anti-abortion people are willing to have women who were raped or victims of incest have abortions. One interpretation of this stance is the forced-birthers allow abortions if the woman did not enjoy the sex but are against abortion if sex was consensual.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      which is *seriously* twisted, IMHO

    • wtfwjtd

      With the possible exception of Donald Trump, all of the current GOP presidential hopefuls want all abortion procedures banned, period, NO exceptions, consequences be damned.
      This is tangential to your note about sex–idiots like failed MO senator candidate Todd Akin(R) expressed the belief that if a woman is raped, she can’t get pregnant unless she enjoyed it. Talk about stupid… and it’s Congressmen who think like this that are assigned to the Congressional Science and Technology committee. Pretty sad, huh?

      • Greg G.

        That is the “Life Begins at Rape” crowd.

        • Snooterpoot

          Or, “the baby didn’t do anything wrong” crowd.

      • Wouldn’t it be nice if something besides seniority were a requirement for being on this committee?

  • Pofarmer

    “Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates” and notes that in Africa and Latin America, where “abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries,” the rate per capita is more than twice that in the U.S. and Western”

    I don’t suppose that would have anything to do with those countries being largely Catholic and some of them going to the point of making birth control illegal?

    • A tangential observation on that: in the countries where the Zika virus is now invading, the advice is for women to hold off pregnancies for a couple of years. Zika sweeping through an adult population probably won’t do much damage. Once there’s herd immunity, women can make babies again.

      But that will require contraception, and the church is (yet again) demanding a meaningless standard while health suffers.

      • Pofarmer

        Oh, it’s not a meaningless standard. It has lot’s of negative consequences.

  • Otto

    The best way to cut down on abortions is proper sex-ed. Until the anti-choice people embrace that they should not be taken seriously and that fact should be thrown in their face at every opportunity. Their stance seems to me to be far more about punishing unapproved sex than anything else.

    • MNb

      Seems? Just read what Paulus wrote about sex, eg 1 Cor. 7:5.
      Jesus wasn’t too enthusiastic either. See eg Marcus 12:25.

  • Cygnus

    Bob, throwing abortion into discussion, it’s a best way to get a lot of discussion 🙂

    Christians are against abortion because if Jesus was aborted, their religion wouldn’t exist. Imagine the angel of the Lord saying to Mary: “Mary, don’t bother to abort the Roman bastard, we need it for a crucifixion and whatever we can get for a new religion. That religion will be called “Christianity”, the Roman bastard will be the son of Yahweh because of, well… you know… the Jewish matrilineality, but don’t worry, God will create a Roman-Catholic religion that will brush off the Jewish manure of Yahweh tasteless Jewish joke, and God will be… metaphysical, philosophy of religion, the almighty God. I know that because, finally, God told me. Goddammit, I am the angel of the Lord!”

  • The best way to lower the number of abortions is to provide cheap-to-free contraceptives and teach comprehensive sexual education in elementary school.

    • Len

      I never understood why this was such a difficult thing for evangelicals to understand.

      • MNb

        Because it enables the joy of sex without consequences and according to Paulus enjoying sex is bad.

      • They understand it, but that’s not the point of anti-abortion. Anti-abortion is anti-sex. If women can have sex without worry of having a child, then they will start to have sex with anyone, even those they aren’t married to. If you teach teenagers how to have sex safely, they’ll have sex with other teenagers, and maybe start experimenting with homosexuality or bisexuality if they’re provided information on how to do those kinds of sexual relationships safely.

        • Snooterpoot

          Upvote 500 times. It’s really pro-birth, not pro-life. They don’t give a damn about the infants after they pass through the birth canal.

          It’s really about punishing women for enjoying sex. How often do you hear them tell men to keep their pants zipped? I know I often hear these disgusting people tell women to keep our legs closed.

        • Have you heard of Garfunkel & Oates? Here’s an R-rated video about the challenge of good Christian women to keep their honor.


  • TheNuszAbides

    with a red “not” line through it (like this)

    you mean the red circly-slashy thing? i was raised to believe that’s called a ‘ban[ning] sign/symbol’.