Rolling Stone recently published a piece by Lauren Rankin supposedly “debunking” the “seven most common lies about abortion.” If the rhetoric throughout her article wasn’t enough assurance of Ms. Rankin’s commitment to abortion, a quick Google search will land you on another of her pieces, in which she proclaimed that “being pro-choice is not enough,” and encouraged her readers to join her and “say it loud, say it proud — I support abortion.”
Ms. Rankin’s analysis of what she styles the “blatant lies” of the pro-life movement is not only biased; it is rife with non sequiturs and misinformation. Here are seven errors in her piece:
1. Abortion being “incredibly common” should raise concern about its risks, not a reason to dismiss their possibility.
Abortion advocates often cite the fact that abortion is common as somehow de facto proof that abortion is benign.
Lots of things that are common are unhealthy, dangerous, and have a more-than-trivial impact – for example, smoking, binge drinking, over-eating. Gossip, divorce, and crime are also common. Merely pointing out its prevalence does not prove something is good, good for you, or good for society.
The fact that abortion is common should have us concerned about even the modest increases in risks that it carries. As Dr. John M. Thorp of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine wrote on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, “harms or benefits associated with such a commonly used procedure, even if rather modest, would ripple through a population and have a large impact.”
2. ”Legal” and “safe” are not synonymous.
Throughout her piece, Ms. Rankin writes as if the words “safe” and “legal” are interchangeable, i.e., legal abortion is safe abortion. History disagrees.
Deaths from legal abortion include that of Tonya Reaves, a young mother who died in July 2012 after her legal abortion in a Planned Parenthood clinic. Jennifer Moribelli’s death in February 2013 was the result of a legal abortion performed by Leroy Carhart, (in)famous for his late-term abortion practice. Holly Patterson died three weeks after her 18th birthday in 2003 after a chemical-abortion pill was given to her legally, though with off-label instructions for its use, by Planned Parenthood.
Holly was not the only victim of Planned Parenthood’s dangerous – but legal – chemical-abortion practice. It took multiple deaths and more than the “expected” rates of serious infection, for Planned Parenthood to stop instructing patients such as Holly to use the abortion drug vaginally. According to a 2009 study produced by Planned Parenthood: “Prompted by the deaths that occurred after medical abortion and internal data that show a higher-than-expected rate of serious infection, [Planned Parenthood Federation of America] changed its medical abortion protocol at the end of March 2006.”
While death from abortion is certainly noteworthy, abortion – whether accomplished by an invasive surgical procedure or by taking a combination of potent drugs – carries many other inherent physical risks of harm for women.
Numerous, well-documented studies in peer-reviewed international medical journals have found increased risks after abortion. Even Planned Parenthood’s website acknowledges undisputed risks of immediate complications from abortion, including blood clots, hemorrhage, incomplete abortions, infection, and injury to the cervix and other organs. Abortion can also cause missed ectopic pregnancy, cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, renal failure, metabolic disorder, or shock. Immediate complications affect approximately ten percent of women undergoing abortions.
History shows that unregulated abortion or unenforced abortion regulations allow substandard clinic conditions to compound these risks.
3.“Abortion is safer than childbirth” is a myth.
Ms. Rankin also tries to dismiss abortion’s health risks by claiming that abortion is “far safer than having a baby.” It goes without saying that is not true for the baby. But the facts don’t support her blanket statement when it comes to the mother’s safety, either.
First, U.S. abortion data is incomplete and unreliable. Unlike abortion-related deaths, pregnancy-related deaths are systemically sought, identified, and investigated. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has cautioned medical professionals not to make comparative statements based on CDC data. And while Ms. Rankin assures readers that the Guttmacher Institute is “nonpartisan,” it is Guttmacher’s affiliation with the abortion industry, not a political party, that makes its conclusions – based on estimates, not complete data – concerning.
Poor quality of abortion reporting and, more specifically, abortion-complication reporting is not the only problem.
The comparison is misleading because abortion-related and pregnancy-related deaths are simply not counted the same way. Consider the following: A woman who undergoes a first-trimester abortion, experiences profound depression, and four weeks later commits suicide would not be counted as an abortion-related death. However, because any death that occurs during or six weeks after a pregnancy is considered pregnancy-related, a woman who carries a pregnancy to term, similarly suffers depression, and then commits suicide would be considered a pregnancy-related death.
Abortion complications are known to be under-reported for other reasons.
Susan Schewel, the executive director of the Women’s Medical Fund in Philadelphia – a pro-abortion group — described her experience trying to work with women to file complaints with the Pennsylvania Department of Health: “The women found the complaint process so onerous and the telling of their stories so personally difficult that they failed to complete the paperwork and abandoned the effort.”
According to a “whistleblower” lawsuit filed against Planned Parenthood, former employee Sue Thayer recalls that, lacking the ability to care for these women at their own facilities, Planned Parenthood’s “telemed” chemical abortion patients who later experienced significant bleeding were told “to go to an emergency room and report that they were experiencing a spontaneous miscarriage.”
Countless other negative health stories go unreported because they go unconnected to the abortion that caused them. Jayne Mitchell-Werbrich, a nurse who left Planned Parenthood of Delaware because of its “meat market type assembly line care,” not because of any change-of-heart on abortion, testified before the Delaware Senate last year that “the sad thing is that these women may not even realize the fact that Planned Parenthood could be at fault for these medical tragedies even years after they had their abortions at Planned Parenthood.”
4. Regulating abortion is not dangerous for women.
Claiming that the result of regulation is that “unsafe, illegal [clinics] abound” is nonsensical. It is the failure to enforce health and safety regulations that has allowed the back-alley abortion industry to operate openly on Main Street. While Ms. Rankin claims that regulations “serve only to shutter otherwise functional abortion providers,” it may be wise to remember that Kermit Gosnell was a “functional abortion provider.” The world is better off with his functional clinic shuttered, and his clinic is not an aberration.
Ms. Rankin closes her pieces with a bold accusation that “those who are trying to end [legal abortion]” are the danger to women’s health and lives. But studies have shown the opposite. Where abortion is restricted, maternal-mortality rates have decreased.
For example, a May 2012 study out of Chile that examined trends in maternal death both when abortion was legal in Chile and after abortion was prohibited found that death rates did not increase after abortion was made illegal. While abortion was the leading cause of death for a pregnant woman between 1957 and 1989 — the time period in which abortion was legal – maternal mortality decreased from 41.3 deaths per 100,000 live births when abortion was legal, to just 12.7 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births after abortion was made illegal. Today, Chile has a lower maternal-mortality rate than the United States and it has the lowest maternal-mortality rate in all of Latin America.
Another study that compared maternal-mortality rates in Ireland (where abortion is illegal) to England and Scotland (where abortion is legal) found that maternal-mortality rates were much lower in Ireland than in England or Scotland. Specifically, in Ireland, there are one to two maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, whereas in England/Wales there are ten deaths per 100,000 live births, and in Scotland there are ten to twelve deaths per 100,000 live births.
5. Denying abortion’s potential emotional and psychological harm demeans many women’s experience with abortion.
In her attacks against information on abortion’s mental-health risks, Ms. Rankin is guilty of exactly what she accuses pro-lifers of: being reductive and not allowing for nuanced personal experiences. Ms. Rankin wants to exclude the possibility that most women may have regrets from their abortion by citing one study finding they did not cite regret as their main emotion. Feeling short-term relief from circumstances and feeling regret from abortion are not mutually exclusive.
Decades of medical evidence reveals that abortion carries significant psychological risks including increased risks of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Meta-analysis of the data surrounding abortion and the increased risk of mental-health problems demonstrates an association between abortion and an increased risk of mental-health problems.
In any other context besides abortion, society openly accepts that the psychological consequences of killing are real and can be lasting. If you’ve seen it, you remember the commercial of the young man who accidentally killed a family while texting and driving: “There’s never a day that I wake up that I don’t think about it.” But it is not just accidents. Veterans, policemen, and others who have felt that duty demanded such action can be nonetheless impacted.
Ms. Rankin does acknowledge that some women regret their abortions. Her article was, after all, accompanied by a picture of a woman carrying a sign with that simple, poignant message: “I regret my abortion.”
6. Withholding information from women is never justified even if most may still choose abortion.
All women should be afforded the opportunity to view an ultrasound (and it is is part of sound medical practice to perform one before an abortion) even if only some women will decide not to have the abortion. The purpose of ultrasound laws are not to “stop” all women from having an abortion, but to mitigate complications and ensure that there is informed consent. Unfortunately, not all abortion providers have followed the medical standard and pregnant women have experienced complications from abortion procedures due to the abortion provider’s failure to perform a timely ultrasound.
7. Presenting women with research is not “fear-mongering.”
As up to 75 percent of women who have an induced abortion will become pregnant again, the impact on her reproductive future and the health of subsequently born children is vital information to a woman considering abortion.
The link between having an induced abortion and subsequent pre-term birth has been recognized in over 120 peer-reviewed scientific studies, as well as being listed as an “immutable medical risk factor” by the Institute of Medicine. One major concern with pre-term birth is very low birth weight, which can have serious health consequences, including cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, and chronic health issues. Preterm birth is also the leading cause of infant death, both globally and in the United States.
Studies have also shown that induced abortion is a risk factor for a woman developing placenta previa in future pregnancies — which can cause severe bleeding before or during delivery, and can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby.
It is scientifically undisputed that a woman’s first full-term pregnancy reduces her risk of breast cancer. Aborting a first pregnancy before 32 weeks eliminates that protective effect. It is also undisputed that the earlier a woman has a first full-term pregnancy, the lower her risk of breast cancer becomes.
The association between having an induced abortion and a subsequent increased risk of breast cancer has been examined in numerous studies. Of these studies, 33 showed a positive association between having an abortion and developing breast cancer, 19 of which were statistically significant. None of the studies showing a negative association were statistically significant.
The proven health risks of abortion are often met with hostility because they undermine the false narrative pushed by Big Abortion, namely that the debate surrounding abortion requires choosing sides between mothers and their unborn children. The truth is that abortion harms both mothers and children — even their children from future pregnancies.
– Anna Franzonello is staff counsel at Americans United for Life.