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Planned Parenthood’s Lie about Maternal Deaths Makes the Post’s Pinocchios of the Year

Pro-choice activists assemble in downtown Memphis during a “Stop Abortion Bans Day of Action” rally hosted by the Tennessee chapter of Planned Parenthood in Tennessee, U.S., May 21, 2019. (Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters)

At the Washington Post today, fact-checker Glenn Kessler has a roundup of the biggest Pinocchios of 2019, collecting the top 13 falsehoods that he fact-checked over the past year. Though Donald Trump dominates the list, one item is dedicated to Leana Wen, the former president of Planned Parenthood.

Shortly before Planned Parenthood’s board ousted her — displeased with her desire to focus more on expanding the group’s health-care services than on pro-abortion political activism — Wen was the feature of a Kessler fact-check and received four Pinocchios for her repeated claims that thousands of women died from botched abortions prior to 1973’s Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Kessler rightly corrected the record, noting Centers for Disease Control data showing that, in 1972, the number of deaths in the U.S. from legal abortion was 24 and from illegal abortions 39. Those statistics could be somewhat of an undercount, but they easily disprove Wen’s claim.

And it isn’t just Wen who peddles this fiction. One of the foremost arguments wielded against abortion restrictions is the claim that limiting the procedure wouldn’t stop abortion from happening; it would merely give rise to “back-alley” abortions and “send us back” to the dangerous pre-Roe days when, we are given to believe, countless women died in “unsafe” abortions. Elizabeth Warren particularly loves this rhetoric, speaking often of how she lived before Roe and remembers a world that, as she describes it, was something akin to a hellscape for pregnant women.

But as Kessler demonstrates, the country before Roe was hardly suffering from a maternal-mortality crisis related to abortion procedures. This myth is one of the various ways that supporters of unlimited abortion keep uninformed observers in the dark about what would really happen if Roe were overturned and voters once again had some control over our abortion policy.

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