Anti-abortion advocates often suggest that many women die each year at abortion clinics, giving them yet another bullet point for their “fact sheet” outlining their reasons for opposing abortion.   I don’t know where they get their “facts,” but let’s discuss this issue for a minute.

It is well documented that hundreds and maybe thousands of women died of illegal or self-induced abortions in the years before abortion became legal in this country.  Whether abortion is legal or not, it is axiomatic that women at times feel it is absolutely necessary to abort and, in the days before Roe v. Wade, they would resort to some outrageous methods of terminating their pregnancy.  The woman would first do some very quiet research, looking for a doctor who was willing to perform the illegal abortion.  Oftentimes, if they found one, that doctor would not be reputable yet many women still had the so-called “back alley abortion.”  The emergency rooms were filled with women who were seriously harmed by these fly by nighters.  Many of those women never made it to the emergency room.

To digress for a moment, I always wondered why the pro-choice movement did not resort to more graphic arguments by showing pictures of women lying in pools of blood after an illegal abortion?  Pictures are indeed worth a thousand words and I fear that the younger generations are losing the perspective of the days of illegal abortions.

If the woman could not find a doctor, there were some women out there who would perform abortions.  While they were better intentioned and certainly more sensitive to the woman’s needs, they were not trained medical personnel so they had their share of botched abortions.

If the women could find no one to do it, they may have actually performed an abortion on themselves.  One of the everlasting political symbols of the pro-choice movement is the coat hanger, a device that many women used to abort their pregnancy.  Or, they would concoct some solution and drink it, thinking it would kill the fetus.  The horror stories are well documented, although many pro-lifers suggest that they’re made up.

Today, when a woman dies of an abortion it makes headlines in the local papers.  I guess that really is the good news, i.e., that it is so rare that it becomes a story for the press.  I haven’t looked at the statistics lately, but when I was involved in the movement there were maybe 2 deaths a year.  And, for the most part, the deaths were not related to the actual abortion procedure but to something ancillary, like the anesthesia.   But when there is a death, it casts a pall on the entire field of abortion providers.

One morning in June, 1996, I got a call from a clinic director who was in tears.  When she finally gained her composure, she told me that a patient at her clinic had died on the surgery table early that morning.  She had died of an embolism, something that no one could have predicted.  Later investigations determined that the clinic and doctor were not responsible.  But to this day, I’ll never forget the mass depression that spread throughout the universe of abortion providers.  Her staff was barraged with emails, telephone calls and letters, urging them to keep moving forward.  The point is the death was so unusual that it evoked an incredible nationwide reaction amongst her peers.

When a woman enters a clinic – any medical clinic – and has surgery, there is a chance she can die.

Prior to the legalization of abortion, however, the chances of dying were much, much higher….