Bring it on, President Biden

Today, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States of America, and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated as Vice President. Pro-life advocates are bracing for a hostile four years, as abortion industry interests dominate Washington, D.C.

Since the Supreme Court’s brutal and unjust decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, there have been many ups and downs, victories and defeats, and constant shifts in the balance of power. But some things never change.

Human life still begins at fertilization.

All human beings are still worthy of protection from violence.

Abortion is still the violent act of killing a human being.

Abortion is still a matter of life and death, not a mere religious issue or political debate. 

The cause of life still attracts millions of dedicated people of every faith and none, from diverse backgrounds.

Pro-life Americans still have the truth on our side. 

Social and legal change takes time. To put our struggle in context, Roe v. Wade will be 48 years old on Friday; we remember that it took 58 years for the Supreme Court to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson and reject “separate but equal” racism. The pro-life movement is in it for the long haul. 

We will continue to save as many babies as we can, while we strive for the day that the right to life is restored. No matter who is in the White House, no matter who is in Congress, no matter who is on the Supreme Court, no matter who dismisses and mocks us, we aren’t going anywhere

Poll: Pro-choicers support a lot more abortion restrictions than you’d expect.

When polls regarding abortion ask Americans about Roe v. Wade, most people say they want the Supreme Court decision upheld. But when the same polls ask people when they think abortion should be legal, most believe there should be more restrictions than Roe v. Wade actually allows. I’ve summarized these contradictory results before. Today I was reading a 2019 NPR/PBS Marist poll which captured the same phenomenon.

The poll asked: In 1973, the Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court established the constitutional right for women to legally obtain an abortion. Over time, other laws have expanded or restricted this ruling. Do you think the U.S. Supreme Court today should decide to:

  • Overturn Roe v. Wade
  • Keep Roe v. Wade but add more restrictions
  • Keep Roe v. Wade but reduce some of the restrictions
  • Expand Roe v. Wade establishing the right to abortion under any circumstance
  • Keep Roe v. Wade the way it is
  • Unsure
The poll found that 39% of respondents thought Roe v. Wade should either be overturned or have more restrictions compared to 51% who thought Roe v. Wade should either be kept as is or strengthened. Broken down by self-identified pro-life vs pro-choice labels, the results looked like this:
(Click to enlarge)
So
  • As you’d expect, pro-life people were more likely to say Roe v. Wade should be overturned or further restricted and pro-choice people were more likely to say the opposite.
  • Even so, 18% of self-described pro-lifers said Roe v. Wade should be kept as is or strengthened, and 21% of pro-choicers thought it should be further restricted or overturned.
The poll described Roe v. Wade as establishing a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, but it did not explain the specifics. Roe v. Wadealong with Doe v. Bolton, made it difficult if not impossible to constitutionally limit abortion in the first two trimesters. (Planned Parenthood v. Casey moved the standard from trimesters to fetal viability, but the situation is largely the same: restrictions in the first or second trimester are difficult to pass or uphold.)

I don’t think most people are aware of that level of detail, which may explain why some of the same people who say they support Roe v. Wade also think abortion shouldn’t be allowed in some of the circumstances Roe v. Wade specifically mandates.
The same poll asked: Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion on abortion?
  1. Abortion should be available to a woman any time she wants one during her entire pregnancy.
  2. Abortion should be allowed only during the first six months of pregnancy.
  3. Abortion should be allowed only during the first three months of pregnancy.
  4. Abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman.
  5. Abortion should be allowed only to save the life of the woman.
  6. Abortion should never be permitted under any circumstance.
47% of respondents chose options 4-6, i.e. abortion should be permitted only in the “hard cases,” or not at all. Only 29% thought abortion should be allowed after the first three months of pregnancy. 
Based on my experiences with pro-life and pro-choice activists, I would expect pro-lifers to mostly say abortion should be allowed only in the hard cases, or never at all, and I’d expect pro-choicers to mostly say abortion should be allowed in at least the first 6 months of pregnancy. Here are the actual responses:
Compared to my expectations, 12% of pro-lifers answered differently (9% said abortion should be allowed in the first three months, 3% said it should be allowed even later). And a whopping 54% of pro-choicers answered differently: 33% said abortion should be allowed only in the first three months, and 21% said it should be allowed only for the hard cases. In other words, over half of self-identified pro-choice people believe abortion should be restricted in ways Roe v. Wade absolutely does not allow
I also wonder how many of them realize that the hard cases account for less (probably much less) than 5% of abortions performed in the U.S. If the data above are accurate, about 1 out of 5 pro-choicers think over 95% of abortions (those performed on healthy fetuses carried by healthy women in pregnancies resulting from consensual sex) shouldn’t be allowed.
Also worth noting: contrary to the “old white men” trope, white people tended to be more pro-choice (more likely to support abortion in more circumstances) than everyone else:
A 45% plurality of people under age 45, and 45% of women, say abortion should be limited to the hard cases. Only 32% of people under age 45 and 27% of women believe abortion should be allowed after the first three months of pregnancy.
One more interesting tidbit: a full 68% of pro-choicers said they would support a measure requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. You’d think such a law would be easy common ground, middle-of-the-road type stuff, but June Medical Services v. Russo suggests otherwise.
Meanwhile, the poll also asked people to explain when they believe life begins. Specifically: do you believe human life begins…
  • at conception
  • within the first eight weeks of pregnancy
  • within the first three months of pregnancy
  • between three and six months
  • when a fetus is viable and can live outside the womb
  • at birth
  • unsure
A plurality (38%) said life begins at conception; 16% said life begins at birth. Broken down by pro-life and pro-choice labels:
Pro-lifers are relatively monolithic on this (72% said life begins at conception), whereas pro-choice people are much more evenly divided (and twice as likely to say they’re unsure). No doubt some of these answers reflect the respondents’ philosophical views about when a human becomes a person, as opposed to their understanding of biology (e.g. when an organism is a living member of the species homo sapiens). Still, I continue to suspect that a significant proportion of pro-choice people aren’t just conflating philosophy with biology but are actually misunderstanding biology itself. Indeed, a survey of pro-choice people found that if it were common knowledge that a fetus is a biological human, 90% believed abortion rates would decrease and 83% believed support for legal abortion would decrease.
This NPR/PBS poll was filled with information suggesting that the legal status quo for abortion in the U.S. is actually pretty dramatically at odds with what most Americans think makes sense. So how did NPR cover the poll?
Mmmk.

Poll: Pro-choicers support a lot more abortion restrictions than you’d expect.

When polls regarding abortion ask Americans about Roe v. Wade, most people say they want the Supreme Court decision upheld. But when the same polls ask people when they think abortion should be legal, most believe there should be more restrictions than Roe v. Wade actually allows. I’ve summarized these contradictory results before. Today I was reading a 2019 NPR/PBS Marist poll which captured the same phenomenon.

The poll asked: In 1973, the Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court established the constitutional right for women to legally obtain an abortion. Over time, other laws have expanded or restricted this ruling. Do you think the U.S. Supreme Court today should decide to:

  • Overturn Roe v. Wade
  • Keep Roe v. Wade but add more restrictions
  • Keep Roe v. Wade but reduce some of the restrictions
  • Expand Roe v. Wade establishing the right to abortion under any circumstance
  • Keep Roe v. Wade the way it is
  • Unsure
The poll found that 39% of respondents thought Roe v. Wade should either be overturned or have more restrictions compared to 51% who thought Roe v. Wade should either be kept as is or strengthened. Broken down by self-identified pro-life vs pro-choice labels, the results looked like this:
(Click to enlarge)
So
  • As you’d expect, pro-life people were more likely to say Roe v. Wade should be overturned or further restricted and pro-choice people were more likely to say the opposite.
  • Even so, 18% of self-described pro-lifers said Roe v. Wade should be kept as is or strengthened, and 21% of pro-choicers thought it should be further restricted or overturned.
The poll described Roe v. Wade as establishing a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, but it did not explain the specifics. Roe v. Wadealong with Doe v. Bolton, made it difficult if not impossible to constitutionally limit abortion in the first two trimesters. (Planned Parenthood v. Casey moved the standard from trimesters to fetal viability, but the situation is largely the same: restrictions in the first or second trimester are difficult to pass or uphold.)

I don’t think most people are aware of that level of detail, which may explain why some of the same people who say they support Roe v. Wade also think abortion shouldn’t be allowed in some of the circumstances Roe v. Wade specifically mandates.
The same poll asked: Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion on abortion?
  1. Abortion should be available to a woman any time she wants one during her entire pregnancy.
  2. Abortion should be allowed only during the first six months of pregnancy.
  3. Abortion should be allowed only during the first three months of pregnancy.
  4. Abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman.
  5. Abortion should be allowed only to save the life of the woman.
  6. Abortion should never be permitted under any circumstance.
47% of respondents chose options 4-6, i.e. abortion should be permitted only in the “hard cases,” or not at all. Only 29% thought abortion should be allowed after the first three months of pregnancy. 
Based on my experiences with pro-life and pro-choice activists, I would expect pro-lifers to mostly say abortion should be allowed only in the hard cases, or never at all, and I’d expect pro-choicers to mostly say abortion should be allowed in at least the first 6 months of pregnancy. Here are the actual responses:
Compared to my expectations, 12% of pro-lifers answered differently (9% said abortion should be allowed in the first three months, 3% said it should be allowed even later). And a whopping 54% of pro-choicers answered differently: 33% said abortion should be allowed only in the first three months, and 21% said it should be allowed only for the hard cases. In other words, over half of self-identified pro-choice people believe abortion should be restricted in ways Roe v. Wade absolutely does not allow
I also wonder how many of them realize that the hard cases account for less (probably much less) than 5% of abortions performed in the U.S. If the data above are accurate, about 1 out of 5 pro-choicers think over 95% of abortions (those performed on healthy fetuses carried by healthy women in pregnancies resulting from consensual sex) shouldn’t be allowed.
Also worth noting: contrary to the “old white men” trope, white people tended to be more pro-choice (more likely to support abortion in more circumstances) than everyone else:
A 45% plurality of people under age 45, and 45% of women, say abortion should be limited to the hard cases. Only 32% of people under age 45 and 27% of women believe abortion should be allowed after the first three months of pregnancy.
One more interesting tidbit: a full 68% of pro-choicers said they would support a measure requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. You’d think such a law would be easy common ground, middle-of-the-road type stuff, but June Medical Services v. Russo suggests otherwise.
Meanwhile, the poll also asked people to explain when they believe life begins. Specifically: do you believe human life begins…
  • at conception
  • within the first eight weeks of pregnancy
  • within the first three months of pregnancy
  • between three and six months
  • when a fetus is viable and can live outside the womb
  • at birth
  • unsure
A plurality (38%) said life begins at conception; 16% said life begins at birth. Broken down by pro-life and pro-choice labels:
Pro-lifers are relatively monolithic on this (72% said life begins at conception), whereas pro-choice people are much more evenly divided (and twice as likely to say they’re unsure). No doubt some of these answers reflect the respondents’ philosophical views about when a human becomes a person, as opposed to their understanding of biology (e.g. when an organism is a living member of the species homo sapiens). Still, I continue to suspect that a significant proportion of pro-choice people aren’t just conflating philosophy with biology but are actually misunderstanding biology itself. Indeed, a survey of pro-choice people found that if it were common knowledge that a fetus is a biological human, 90% believed abortion rates would decrease and 83% believed support for legal abortion would decrease.
This NPR/PBS poll was filled with information suggesting that the legal status quo for abortion in the U.S. is actually pretty dramatically at odds with what most Americans think makes sense. So how did NPR cover the poll?
Mmmk.

The Comfortable Pro-Choice People

Last year before the San Francisco Walk for Life, Monica (SPL co-leader) gave a brief speech about “comfortable” pro-choice people, essentially outlining the most ubiquitous myths that allow people to be comfortable with the pro-choice political position. [And she did this speech before pro-choice people started insisting embryos don’t have hearts.] You can watch the video here and/or read the transcript below. Sources are linked in the transcript.

My name is Monica Snyder, I’m an atheist, and I work with Secular Pro-Life. And normally I do discussions about diversity and inclusivity and fact-based research, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. I have been thinking a lot about—I’m pretty fed up, actually. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

I’ve worked with Secular Pro-Life for 10 years. I’ve had many, many conversations about abortion—some of them have been very good. I’m always happy to have thoughtful dialogue with people who are interested in exploring each other’s views. Even if we’re not going to change minds, I’m happy to have thoughtful dialogue.

Kinda over the other kind of conversation though—and by that I mean conversations with who I’ve started to think of as the casual, comfortable pro-choice person. And by that I mean people who—this isn’t a top political topic for them; it’s not something that they know a lot about or dig into a lot, but they still identify as pro-choice because they’ve picked up on the idea that that is the right side to be. The right side of history, the side of progress and freedom of religion and equality. And so even though they don’t know a lot about the situation, it doesn’t stop them from being kind of scandalized that I think…whatever it is I think, they don’t actually have any idea, but it probably involves hating women or something. And so they sort of clutch their pearls at the fact that I’m against abortion. They talk to me as if I owe them an apology or an explanation, even as they say many nonsensical things that they can’t back up in any way.

So, for example, many people have no understanding of American abortion law. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that abortion is illegal after the first trimester. That’s not true literally anywhere in the country. Even in the most restrictive state—Mississippi—you can get a non-medical abortion until the 5th month, okay? They think that anti-choice forces are bringing us into the dark ages. They don’t realize we have some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world. We are 1 out of only 7 countries where it’s legal to get a non-medical abortion after 20 weeks—right there with North Korea and China. They don’t realize that Roe v. Wade makes us this way. They think that all Roe v. Wade did was made abortion a legal option. Actually what it did was make it almost impossible to have any kind of restrictions before viability, which is about 6 months into the pregnancy.

And even if they believe me when I tell them that, it doesn’t shock them because they don’t know anything about fetal development at 6 months into the pregnancy! These are the same people who will tell me that biology—not philosophy—biology doesn’t tell us when life begins, which is complete anti-science nonsense. They’ll use the phrase “clumps of cells” as if we’re aborting amorphous spheres of genetic material instead of small humans with heartbeats and brain waves and organ systems. And if you show them video footage of Planned Parenthood harvesting those organs, they’ll just say “Heavily edited! Heavily edited!” over and over again, even though there’s no evidence that part was heavily edited. They don’t know what they mean when they say that. There’s no evidence of audio manipulation, and Planned Parenthood itself doesn’t even deny that they take organs from late-term fetuses. But sure, they’re taking brains and livers from “clumps of cells.”

And if they believe that part, they still think that it’s only because late-term abortions are done for severe medical reasons. So even if, yes, they take those, it’s from a tragic situation that had to happen anyway so at least it’s useful, right? Unfortunately, the research actually shows that even at 21 weeks or later, 80% of these abortions are not done for health-related reasons. It is a pleasant fiction to think that we are tearing children apart limb from limb only in the most tragic and dire situations. The reality is far less…comfortable. We even have abortion providers—and they’ll talk openly, in interviews, publicly, about how in third trimester they will abort healthy, viable babies. But the comfortable pro-choice people don’t want to talk about that, or hear it at all.

And even if they believe me when I point out that we’re killing small humans, that are abortion laws are insane, and that late-term abortion is not usually for health reasons, what is the comfortable pro-choice person supposed to do? They can’t be on our side! We’re the side of the old, rich, white conservative Christian men, right? Unfortunately that’s not really real either. Actually young people are just as likely to be against abortion as our parents and our grandparents. Poor people are more likely to be against abortion than rich people. Latinos are more likely to be against abortion than white people. And it’s true that we skew conservative and Christian, but 1 out of 5 Democrats is against abortion. 1 out of 5 non-religious people is against abortion. And what about the men thing? Everyone’s heard the “war on women” trope, right? All of the highly educated empowered women are fighting to control their bodies while regressive religious men are trying to stop them, right? Right? NO! Actually women are just as likely as men to be against abortion. There are literally tens of MILLIONS of American women against abortion! And when I point this out you see their true feminist colors, because then the answer is it must be that I am an internalized misogynist! I couldn’t possibly be against abortion because it’s destroying millions of humans! It must be because I hate myself. What a convenient, comfortable theory so that you don’t have to think too much about this. Everyone who disagrees with you is just deep-seated prejudice, right?

The reality is that I am a young, atheist, pretty broke, Millennial woman who is strongly against abortion, and I am standing right HERE! So stop acting like I don’t exist!

So all I ask is that if you’re going to defend our insane abortion laws, at least own what you’re defending. The inconvenient truth is that we’re killing small humans, our laws are insane, and we do late-term abortions even for non-medical reasons. And if you own that in your position, you’re not the one I have a problem with, because you’re doing it with eyes wide open. But if you are comfortable being pro-choice because you bury yourself in euphemisms and nonsense, then I ask you to step up. If you really want to defend this, do it with eyes wide open. That’s all I’m asking, thank you.

SPL banner at the Walk. Click to enlarge.

The Comfortable Pro-Choice People

Last year before the San Francisco Walk for Life, Monica (SPL co-leader) gave a brief speech about “comfortable” pro-choice people, essentially outlining the most ubiquitous myths that allow people to be comfortable with the pro-choice political position. [And she did this speech before pro-choice people started insisting embryos don’t have hearts.] You can watch the video here and/or read the transcript below. Sources are linked in the transcript.

My name is Monica Snyder, I’m an atheist, and I work with Secular Pro-Life. And normally I do discussions about diversity and inclusivity and fact-based research, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. I have been thinking a lot about—I’m pretty fed up, actually. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

I’ve worked with Secular Pro-Life for 10 years. I’ve had many, many conversations about abortion—some of them have been very good. I’m always happy to have thoughtful dialogue with people who are interested in exploring each other’s views. Even if we’re not going to change minds, I’m happy to have thoughtful dialogue.

Kinda over the other kind of conversation though—and by that I mean conversations with who I’ve started to think of as the casual, comfortable pro-choice person. And by that I mean people who—this isn’t a top political topic for them; it’s not something that they know a lot about or dig into a lot, but they still identify as pro-choice because they’ve picked up on the idea that that is the right side to be. The right side of history, the side of progress and freedom of religion and equality. And so even though they don’t know a lot about the situation, it doesn’t stop them from being kind of scandalized that I think…whatever it is I think, they don’t actually have any idea, but it probably involves hating women or something. And so they sort of clutch their pearls at the fact that I’m against abortion. They talk to me as if I owe them an apology or an explanation, even as they say many nonsensical things that they can’t back up in any way.

So, for example, many people have no understanding of American abortion law. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that abortion is illegal after the first trimester. That’s not true literally anywhere in the country. Even in the most restrictive state—Mississippi—you can get a non-medical abortion until the 5th month, okay? They think that anti-choice forces are bringing us into the dark ages. They don’t realize we have some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world. We are 1 out of only 7 countries where it’s legal to get a non-medical abortion after 20 weeks—right there with North Korea and China. They don’t realize that Roe v. Wade makes us this way. They think that all Roe v. Wade did was made abortion a legal option. Actually what it did was make it almost impossible to have any kind of restrictions before viability, which is about 6 months into the pregnancy.

And even if they believe me when I tell them that, it doesn’t shock them because they don’t know anything about fetal development at 6 months into the pregnancy! These are the same people who will tell me that biology—not philosophy—biology doesn’t tell us when life begins, which is complete anti-science nonsense. They’ll use the phrase “clumps of cells” as if we’re aborting amorphous spheres of genetic material instead of small humans with heartbeats and brain waves and organ systems. And if you show them video footage of Planned Parenthood harvesting those organs, they’ll just say “Heavily edited! Heavily edited!” over and over again, even though there’s no evidence that part was heavily edited. They don’t know what they mean when they say that. There’s no evidence of audio manipulation, and Planned Parenthood itself doesn’t even deny that they take organs from late-term fetuses. But sure, they’re taking brains and livers from “clumps of cells.”

And if they believe that part, they still think that it’s only because late-term abortions are done for severe medical reasons. So even if, yes, they take those, it’s from a tragic situation that had to happen anyway so at least it’s useful, right? Unfortunately, the research actually shows that even at 21 weeks or later, 80% of these abortions are not done for health-related reasons. It is a pleasant fiction to think that we are tearing children apart limb from limb only in the most tragic and dire situations. The reality is far less…comfortable. We even have abortion providers—and they’ll talk openly, in interviews, publicly, about how in third trimester they will abort healthy, viable babies. But the comfortable pro-choice people don’t want to talk about that, or hear it at all.

And even if they believe me when I point out that we’re killing small humans, that are abortion laws are insane, and that late-term abortion is not usually for health reasons, what is the comfortable pro-choice person supposed to do? They can’t be on our side! We’re the side of the old, rich, white conservative Christian men, right? Unfortunately that’s not really real either. Actually young people are just as likely to be against abortion as our parents and our grandparents. Poor people are more likely to be against abortion than rich people. Latinos are more likely to be against abortion than white people. And it’s true that we skew conservative and Christian, but 1 out of 5 Democrats is against abortion. 1 out of 5 non-religious people is against abortion. And what about the men thing? Everyone’s heard the “war on women” trope, right? All of the highly educated empowered women are fighting to control their bodies while regressive religious men are trying to stop them, right? Right? NO! Actually women are just as likely as men to be against abortion. There are literally tens of MILLIONS of American women against abortion! And when I point this out you see their true feminist colors, because then the answer is it must be that I am an internalized misogynist! I couldn’t possibly be against abortion because it’s destroying millions of humans! It must be because I hate myself. What a convenient, comfortable theory so that you don’t have to think too much about this. Everyone who disagrees with you is just deep-seated prejudice, right?

The reality is that I am a young, atheist, pretty broke, Millennial woman who is strongly against abortion, and I am standing right HERE! So stop acting like I don’t exist!

So all I ask is that if you’re going to defend our insane abortion laws, at least own what you’re defending. The inconvenient truth is that we’re killing small humans, our laws are insane, and we do late-term abortions even for non-medical reasons. And if you own that in your position, you’re not the one I have a problem with, because you’re doing it with eyes wide open. But if you are comfortable being pro-choice because you bury yourself in euphemisms and nonsense, then I ask you to step up. If you really want to defend this, do it with eyes wide open. That’s all I’m asking, thank you.

SPL banner at the Walk. Click to enlarge.

Legal Abortion Does Not Save Women’s Lives. Here’s Proof.

Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen recently made the following claim in an interview with a TV station in Dallas: 

We face a real situation where Roe could be overturned and if it is overturned then one in three women over reproductive age, which is 25 million women, could be living in states, including Texas, where they do not have the right to safe, legal abortion and we know what will happen.

Women will die. Thousands of women died every year pre-Roe

Before we get to the actual statistics, let’s look at what Planned Parenthood was saying back in the 1960s, before Roe.

Mary S. Calderone, then medical director of Planned Parenthood, discussed illegal abortions in a 1960 article in the American Journal of Public Health:

Abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure. This applies not just to therapeutic abortions as performed in hospitals but also to so-called illegal abortions as done by physicians. In 1957 there were only 260 deaths in the whole country attributed to abortions of any kind. In New York City in 1921 there were 144 abortion deaths. In 1951 there were only 15; and, while the abortion death rate was going down so strikingly in that 30-year period, we know what happened to the population and the birth rate. Two corollary factors must be mentioned here: first, chemotherapy and antibiotics have come in, benefiting all surgical procedures as well as abortion. Second, and even more important, the conference estimated that 90 percent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians. Call them what you will, abortionists or anything else, they are still physicians, trained as such; and many of them are in good standing in their communities. They must do a pretty good job if the death rate is as low as it is… abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous. [1]

Then Planned Parenthood president Dr. Alan Guttmacher, in his 1960 book Babies by Choice or Chance, wrote:

The technique of the well–accredited criminal abortionist is usually good. They have to be good to stay in business, since otherwise they would be extremely vulnerable to police action. [2]

So we see that before Roe, Planned Parenthood officials knew perfectly well that illegal abortion was not killing thousands of women. Planned Parenthood’s current president is either grossly uninformed, or, more likely, simply lying.

Where did the stories of thousands of abortion deaths a year originate? Pro-choicers started lying about these statistics during the push to make abortion legal in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson was a former abortionist turned pro-life activist who co-founded NARAL, a pro-abortion organization that is still active today. He helped come up with pro-abortion talking points. In his 1977 book Aborting America, he wrote about the way NARAL lied about illegal abortion deaths:

How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In NARAL., we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always “5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.” I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the “morality” of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible. [3]

Malcolm Potts was medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), who helped promote abortion throughout the world. He wrote in 1977:

Those who want the [abortion] law to be liberalized will stress the hazards of illegal abortion and claim that hundreds, or thousands, of women die unnecessarily each year – when the actual number is far lower. [4] 

Courtesy of Carole Novielli and Live Action News, here are the actual official numbers on mothers’ deaths from illegal abortion before Roe:

  • 1959: less than 300 deaths (Source: Guttmacher Institute)
  • 1964: 264 deaths (Source: Department of Health Education and Welfare)
  • 1964: 267 deaths (Source: Statistician Dr. Christopher Tietze)
  • 1965: just under 200 deaths (Source: Guttmacher Institute) 
  • 1965: 193 deaths (Source: Planned Parenthood) 
  • 1966: 189 deaths (Source: National Center for Health Statistics, reported by CDC)
  • 1972: 39 deaths (Source: Centers for Disease Control CDC)
  • 1973: 19 deaths (Source: Centers for Disease Control CDC)
There were nowhere near thousands of women dying before Roe. The year before Roe vs. Wade was decided, there were only 39 deaths. 
But even though the numbers are small, we still see the numbers going down. Did Roe save some women’s lives? There were, indeed, fewer maternal deaths in 1973 than there were in 1959. So, were fewer women dying? 
Sadly, no. Deaths from illegal abortions simply started being replaced by deaths from legal abortions. In 1978, in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, one of the oldest and most respected peer reviewed medical journals in the world, researcher Dennis Cavanaugh wrote: 

There has been no major impact on the number of women dying from abortion in the United States since liberalized abortion was introduced… It really makes no difference whether a woman dies from legal or illegal abortion, she is dead nonetheless. I find no comfort in the fact that legal abortion is now the leading cause of abortion related maternal deaths in the US. [5] 

Researchers Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. and Dennis O’Hare conducted a study in 1981 that determined a high number of legal abortion deaths since Roe. They wrote: 

As a result [of deaths by legal abortion], there has been no detectable change in the relative frequency of abortion-related maternal death due to induced abortion in the United States in the last 30 years. It is extremely important that there has been no significant impact on the relative frequency of abortion related maternal death due to induced abortion in the United States since the legalization of abortion.

The reason for this appears to be quite simple. While maternal death due to criminal abortion appear to be decreasing, they have been replaced, almost one for one, by maternal deaths due to legal abortion. [6] 

There were not thousands of women dying before Roe, and Roe v. Wade did not stop women from dying of botched abortions. Despite the common argument that overturning Roe would lead to massive numbers of women dying, there is no historical evidence to back this up. 
[Today’s guest post by Sarah Terzo is part of our paid blogging program.]
Footnotes
[1] Mary Calderone, “Illegal Abortions” American Journal of Public Health July 1960, p. 949
[2] Quoted in Kevin Sherlock The Scarlet Survey (Akron, Ohio: Brennyman Books, 1997) 5 
[3] Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D. Aborting America (New York: Pinnacle Books, 1979) 193 
[4] Malcolm Potts, Peter Diggory and John Peel Abortion (Cambridge University Press 1977) 529 
[5] Dennis Cavanaugh “Effect of Liberalized Abortion on Maternal Mortality Rates” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology February 1978, p. 375
[6] Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. and Dennis O’Hare “Abortion Related Maternal Mortality: An In-Depth Analysis” in New Perspectives on Human Abortion, ed. By Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. Dennis J. Horan, and David Mall (Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1981) 84

Legal Abortion Does Not Save Women’s Lives. Here’s Proof.

Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen recently made the following claim in an interview with a TV station in Dallas: 

We face a real situation where Roe could be overturned and if it is overturned then one in three women over reproductive age, which is 25 million women, could be living in states, including Texas, where they do not have the right to safe, legal abortion and we know what will happen.

Women will die. Thousands of women died every year pre-Roe

Before we get to the actual statistics, let’s look at what Planned Parenthood was saying back in the 1960s, before Roe.

Mary S. Calderone, then medical director of Planned Parenthood, discussed illegal abortions in a 1960 article in the American Journal of Public Health:

Abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure. This applies not just to therapeutic abortions as performed in hospitals but also to so-called illegal abortions as done by physicians. In 1957 there were only 260 deaths in the whole country attributed to abortions of any kind. In New York City in 1921 there were 144 abortion deaths. In 1951 there were only 15; and, while the abortion death rate was going down so strikingly in that 30-year period, we know what happened to the population and the birth rate. Two corollary factors must be mentioned here: first, chemotherapy and antibiotics have come in, benefiting all surgical procedures as well as abortion. Second, and even more important, the conference estimated that 90 percent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians. Call them what you will, abortionists or anything else, they are still physicians, trained as such; and many of them are in good standing in their communities. They must do a pretty good job if the death rate is as low as it is… abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous. [1]

Then Planned Parenthood president Dr. Alan Guttmacher, in his 1960 book Babies by Choice or Chance, wrote:

The technique of the well–accredited criminal abortionist is usually good. They have to be good to stay in business, since otherwise they would be extremely vulnerable to police action. [2]

So we see that before Roe, Planned Parenthood officials knew perfectly well that illegal abortion was not killing thousands of women. Planned Parenthood’s current president is either grossly uninformed, or, more likely, simply lying.

Where did the stories of thousands of abortion deaths a year originate? Pro-choicers started lying about these statistics during the push to make abortion legal in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson was a former abortionist turned pro-life activist who co-founded NARAL, a pro-abortion organization that is still active today. He helped come up with pro-abortion talking points. In his 1977 book Aborting America, he wrote about the way NARAL lied about illegal abortion deaths:

How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In NARAL., we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always “5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.” I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the “morality” of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible. [3]

Malcolm Potts was medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), who helped promote abortion throughout the world. He wrote in 1977:

Those who want the [abortion] law to be liberalized will stress the hazards of illegal abortion and claim that hundreds, or thousands, of women die unnecessarily each year – when the actual number is far lower. [4] 

Courtesy of Carole Novielli and Live Action News, here are the actual official numbers on mothers’ deaths from illegal abortion before Roe:

  • 1959: less than 300 deaths (Source: Guttmacher Institute)
  • 1964: 264 deaths (Source: Department of Health Education and Welfare)
  • 1964: 267 deaths (Source: Statistician Dr. Christopher Tietze)
  • 1965: just under 200 deaths (Source: Guttmacher Institute) 
  • 1965: 193 deaths (Source: Planned Parenthood) 
  • 1966: 189 deaths (Source: National Center for Health Statistics, reported by CDC)
  • 1972: 39 deaths (Source: Centers for Disease Control CDC)
  • 1973: 19 deaths (Source: Centers for Disease Control CDC)
There were nowhere near thousands of women dying before Roe. The year before Roe vs. Wade was decided, there were only 39 deaths. 
But even though the numbers are small, we still see the numbers going down. Did Roe save some women’s lives? There were, indeed, fewer maternal deaths in 1973 than there were in 1959. So, were fewer women dying? 
Sadly, no. Deaths from illegal abortions simply started being replaced by deaths from legal abortions. In 1978, in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, one of the oldest and most respected peer reviewed medical journals in the world, researcher Dennis Cavanaugh wrote: 

There has been no major impact on the number of women dying from abortion in the United States since liberalized abortion was introduced… It really makes no difference whether a woman dies from legal or illegal abortion, she is dead nonetheless. I find no comfort in the fact that legal abortion is now the leading cause of abortion related maternal deaths in the US. [5] 

Researchers Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. and Dennis O’Hare conducted a study in 1981 that determined a high number of legal abortion deaths since Roe. They wrote: 

As a result [of deaths by legal abortion], there has been no detectable change in the relative frequency of abortion-related maternal death due to induced abortion in the United States in the last 30 years. It is extremely important that there has been no significant impact on the relative frequency of abortion related maternal death due to induced abortion in the United States since the legalization of abortion.

The reason for this appears to be quite simple. While maternal death due to criminal abortion appear to be decreasing, they have been replaced, almost one for one, by maternal deaths due to legal abortion. [6] 

There were not thousands of women dying before Roe, and Roe v. Wade did not stop women from dying of botched abortions. Despite the common argument that overturning Roe would lead to massive numbers of women dying, there is no historical evidence to back this up. 
[Today’s guest post by Sarah Terzo is part of our paid blogging program.]
Footnotes
[1] Mary Calderone, “Illegal Abortions” American Journal of Public Health July 1960, p. 949
[2] Quoted in Kevin Sherlock The Scarlet Survey (Akron, Ohio: Brennyman Books, 1997) 5 
[3] Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D. Aborting America (New York: Pinnacle Books, 1979) 193 
[4] Malcolm Potts, Peter Diggory and John Peel Abortion (Cambridge University Press 1977) 529 
[5] Dennis Cavanaugh “Effect of Liberalized Abortion on Maternal Mortality Rates” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology February 1978, p. 375
[6] Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. and Dennis O’Hare “Abortion Related Maternal Mortality: An In-Depth Analysis” in New Perspectives on Human Abortion, ed. By Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. Dennis J. Horan, and David Mall (Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1981) 84

McFall v. Shimp and Thomson’s Violinist don’t justify the vast majority of abortions.

Many people argue that abortion is justified because of bodily rights. The idea is that it
doesn’t matter if the fetus is a person or not, because no person can use your body
against your will. If that principle is generally true and generally applies to
abortion, it makes sense to be pro-choice regardless of whether or not you think the
fetus is a valuable human.




McFall v. Shimp
People who argue that
bodily rights are paramount sometimes point to the court case of McFall v. Shimp. This isn’t a huge court case—it wasn’t the Supreme Court, it was the
Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania—but it’s an important case because of the
unique case elements.

Robert McFall was an
asbestos worker with anemia. He was given a 20% chance of surviving another
year unless he got a bone marrow transplant. His relatives were tested and his
cousin, David Shimp, was a likely match. Unfortunately Shimp didn’t want to
donate his bone marrow. In desperation McFall took Shimp to court, hoping to
compel Shimp to give this life-saving donation. However the court sided fairly
quickly with Shimp. The judge stated,


Morally, this decision rests with the Defendant, and, in the view of the Court,
the refusal of the Defendant is morally indefensible. For a law to compel the
Defendant to submit to an intrusion of his body would change every concept and
principle upon which our society is founded.

In other words, even
though Robert McFall was clearly a person with as much moral worth as you and
I, and even though he would die without this bodily donation, the Court would
not compel Shimp to donate to McFall. And McFall did die shortly thereafter.


Article here.

So if we can’t compel
someone to give of his body to save Robert McFall, how can we compel someone to give of her
body to save a fetus?



The Violinist
Another example of
this idea is a thought experiment by Judith Jarvis Thomson. She wrote an essay
called “A Defense of Abortion” in which she argued that we need not debate
whether the fetus is a person because abortion is justified anyway. To illustrate
her point, she asks you to imagine you wake up one day in a hospital bed and your
circulatory system is hooked up to a man in the bed next to you. You learn this
man is a very talented and famous violinist with a fatal kidney ailment, and his fans–the Society of Music Lovers–have somehow reviewed all
available medical records and learned that you are the
only person with the right kidney or blood type to filter the
poisons from the Violinist’s blood. So the Society of Music Lovers kidnaps you,
knocks you out, and attaches you to the Violinist.


The hospital director
enters the room and says he is terribly sorry—if he had realized what was
happening he would have never allowed it. Nevertheless, you’re now attached to
the Violinist and if you unplug, the man will die. But if you stay plugged in
for nine months, the Violinist will be cured and you can each go on your way.

Thomson then asks if
it is morally required of you to stay plugged in to the Violinist. And even if
it is morally required, should it be legally required? Most people intuitively
think it should not. They agree it would be a heroic act if you stayed hooked
up to the Violinist, but they don’t think such an act should be legally required.



True Analogies
I agree with both the
real life example of McFall v. Shimp and the hypothetical example of the
Violinist. I don’t think Shimp should have been legally required to donate to
McFall, and I don’t think you should be legally required to stay hooked up to the
Violinist. And yet I still think most abortions should be illegal. Is that a
contradiction?

No, it’s not.

McFall v. Shimp and
The Violinist are not analogous to abortion; if they were I would
think bodily donation should be required in those cases too.

In order for a bodily
rights argument to be analogous to abortion, the hypothetical needs to
include the following five elements:
  1. If you refuse bodily
    donation, someone else will die.
  2. You chose to risk
    making this person’s life depend on you.
  3. No one else can save
    this person.
  4. Your bodily donation
    is temporary.
  5. Your refusal means
    actively killing this person, not just neglecting to save him.

Some suggest
that last factor is being too nitpicky. If the person is going to be dead
either way, what difference does it make whether you neglect to save him versus actively kill him? 


It makes a great deal of difference.
It’s the difference between watching someone drown while refusing to try to rescue him versus holding him underwater until he dies. It’s the difference
between unplugging from the Violinist and letting him succumb to his kidney
ailment versus shooting him in the head. We recognize both socially and legally
a great difference between actively killing someone versus simply neglecting to
save him. And the main point here is that most forms of abortion actively kill
humans, rather than simply fail to save them.



McFall v. Shimp
Revisited
McFall v. Shimp does not meet all five criteria. It does have the following two elements:

  • If you refuse bodily donation, someone else will die.
  • Your bodily donation is temporary.

Shimp refused to donate bone marrow, and McFall died. And bone marrow donations are temporary in the sense that you can regenerate bone marrow. 


But the case lacks the remaining three criteria:

  • You chose to risk making this person’s life depend on you.
  • No one else can save this person.
  • Your refusal means actively killing this person, not just neglecting to save him.

Shimp had nothing to do with the fact that McFall’s life was in danger. (And even though Shimp was in no way responsible for McFall’s condition, the court still found Shimp’s refusal to donate “morally indefensible.”) Additionally, in coming to a ruling, the Court discussed the fact that there could be an unrelated person out there who was a bone marrow match. (If you’re interested in potentially saving lives through bone marrow donation, please check out BeTheMatch.org.) Finally, Shimp neglected to save McFall; he didn’t actively kill his cousin.

If McFall v. Shimp
were truly analogous to abortion, it would involve Shimp making a decision that he knew could endanger McFall. Say
there was some button Shimp could press that made him feel wonderful; he knew pushing the button involved the remote chance that
McFall would contract a fatal ailment only Shimp could save him from. Still, Shimp figured the chance was too small to worry about, and so he pushed the button anyway. Then McFall did get a fatal illness, and he reached out to Shimp
to save him. Shimp declined …and then shot McFall in the head.
That’s abortion.




The Violinist
Revisited
The Violinist thought
experiment suffers from similar limitations. It’s a bit closer to the proper
analogy because Thomson includes the fact that you
are the only person who can save the Violinist. So The Violinist has the three
elements: 

  • If you refuse bodily donation, someone else will die.
  • No one else can save this person.
  • Your bodily donation is temporary.
But the thought experiment fails to meet the remaining two criteria:

  • You chose to risk making this person’s life depend on you.
  • Your refusal means actively killing this person, not just neglecting to save him.

In the thought experiment, you didn’t
choose to risk the Violinist’s life, nor did you choose to hook yourself up to
him. In fact a major aspect of the story is that you were kidnapped and hooked up to the Violinist
against your will. You very specifically had no choice in the matter.
Furthermore you don’t kill the Violinist. You are choosing whether or not to
unplug from him and let him succumb to his ailment; you’re not choosing whether
to smother him with a pillow.


When bodily rights
arguments are adjusted to include all five criteria, they
become pretty unpersuasive. At best the conclusion sounds incredibly immoral, and at worst
it also sounds very illegal.



Roe v. Wade
It’s important to
also understand what the Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade,
had to say about bodily rights. During oral arguments they did argue that the
woman should be able to get an abortion because it’s her body and thus her
choice. However SCOTUS did not ground the right to abortion in bodily rights;
instead they grounded it in a right to privacy and explicitly rejected the bodily rights argument:

Click to enlarge
Roe v. Wade actually
ruled that the government can outlaw abortion after a certain point in the
pregnancy, meaning the government can compel bodily donation to keep another
alive. In fact in an article analyzing McFall v. Shimp and whether we should
always say bodily rights trump saving
lives, FE Huffman cites Roe v. Wade as precedent for compulsory bodily
donation.

Click to enlarge
Huffman also notes
that Roe v. Wade didn’t even consider the fetus a person and yet still allowed
for compulsory bodily donation to keep another entity alive. How much stronger
would the case be if the law recognized the fetus as a person?*


If your response to all this is that these analogies overstate the case because the fetus isn’t a person, you’re implicitly demonstrating my point: bodily rights arguments work only if the fetus isn’t a person. If the fetus is a valuable human being, the “my body, my choice” train of thought isn’t nearly strong enough to justify abortion.


We have now completed half of this cycle.

Consider the fact that most Americans believe abortion is justified only at earlier stages of pregnancy or only under more severe
circumstances. If you believe elective abortion should be illegal at later stages of the pregnancy, your stance implies bodily right are not sacrosanct. For people who view
the embryo and fetus as morally valuable humans from the beginning, bodily rights don’t even come
close to justifying the vast majority of abortions.

*During oral arguments the justices and plaintiffs suggested that if we recognized the
fetus as a person under the 14th amendment, it would be almost impossible to
justify legal abortion. Remember that background when people claim Roe v.
Wade remained neutral on the question of when life begins.





Further Reading
ERI Bodily Rights Materials – a whole collection of thoughtful articles by the Equal Rights Institute related to bodily rights arguments.

Misconceptions about the rape exception – Secular Pro-Life Perspectives, 7/19/14, post exploring the relationship between bodily rights arguments and the rape exception

McFall v. Shimp and Thomson’s Violinist don’t justify the vast majority of abortions.

Many people argue that abortion is justified because of bodily rights. The idea is that it
doesn’t matter if the fetus is a person or not, because no person can use your body
against your will. If that principle is generally true and generally applies to
abortion, it makes sense to be pro-choice regardless of whether or not you think the
fetus is a valuable human.




McFall v. Shimp
People who argue that
bodily rights are paramount sometimes point to the court case of McFall v. Shimp. This isn’t a huge court case—it wasn’t the Supreme Court, it was the
Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania—but it’s an important case because of the
unique case elements.

Robert McFall was an
asbestos worker with anemia. He was given a 20% chance of surviving another
year unless he got a bone marrow transplant. His relatives were tested and his
cousin, David Shimp, was a likely match. Unfortunately Shimp didn’t want to
donate his bone marrow. In desperation McFall took Shimp to court, hoping to
compel Shimp to give this life-saving donation. However the court sided fairly
quickly with Shimp. The judge stated,


Morally, this decision rests with the Defendant, and, in the view of the Court,
the refusal of the Defendant is morally indefensible. For a law to compel the
Defendant to submit to an intrusion of his body would change every concept and
principle upon which our society is founded.

In other words, even
though Robert McFall was clearly a person with as much moral worth as you and
I, and even though he would die without this bodily donation, the Court would
not compel Shimp to donate to McFall. And McFall did die shortly thereafter.


Article here.

So if we can’t compel
someone to give of his body to save Robert McFall, how can we compel someone to give of her
body to save a fetus?



The Violinist
Another example of
this idea is a thought experiment by Judith Jarvis Thomson. She wrote an essay
called “A Defense of Abortion” in which she argued that we need not debate
whether the fetus is a person because abortion is justified anyway. To illustrate
her point, she asks you to imagine you wake up one day in a hospital bed and your
circulatory system is hooked up to a man in the bed next to you. You learn this
man is a very talented and famous violinist with a fatal kidney ailment, and his fans–the Society of Music Lovers–have somehow reviewed all
available medical records and learned that you are the
only person with the right kidney or blood type to filter the
poisons from the Violinist’s blood. So the Society of Music Lovers kidnaps you,
knocks you out, and attaches you to the Violinist.


The hospital director
enters the room and says he is terribly sorry—if he had realized what was
happening he would have never allowed it. Nevertheless, you’re now attached to
the Violinist and if you unplug, the man will die. But if you stay plugged in
for nine months, the Violinist will be cured and you can each go on your way.

Thomson then asks if
it is morally required of you to stay plugged in to the Violinist. And even if
it is morally required, should it be legally required? Most people intuitively
think it should not. They agree it would be a heroic act if you stayed hooked
up to the Violinist, but they don’t think such an act should be legally required.



True Analogies
I agree with both the
real life example of McFall v. Shimp and the hypothetical example of the
Violinist. I don’t think Shimp should have been legally required to donate to
McFall, and I don’t think you should be legally required to stay hooked up to the
Violinist. And yet I still think most abortions should be illegal. Is that a
contradiction?

No, it’s not.

McFall v. Shimp and
The Violinist are not analogous to abortion; if they were I would
think bodily donation should be required in those cases too.

In order for a bodily
rights argument to be analogous to abortion, the hypothetical needs to
include the following five elements:
  1. If you refuse bodily
    donation, someone else will die.
  2. You chose to risk
    making this person’s life depend on you.
  3. No one else can save
    this person.
  4. Your bodily donation
    is temporary.
  5. Your refusal means
    actively killing this person, not just neglecting to save him.

Some suggest
that last factor is being too nitpicky. If the person is going to be dead
either way, what difference does it make whether you neglect to save him versus actively kill him? 


It makes a great deal of difference.
It’s the difference between watching someone drown while refusing to try to rescue him versus holding him underwater until he dies. It’s the difference
between unplugging from the Violinist and letting him succumb to his kidney
ailment versus shooting him in the head. We recognize both socially and legally
a great difference between actively killing someone versus simply neglecting to
save him. And the main point here is that most forms of abortion actively kill
humans, rather than simply fail to save them.



McFall v. Shimp
Revisited
McFall v. Shimp does not meet all five criteria. It does have the following two elements:

  • If you refuse bodily donation, someone else will die.
  • Your bodily donation is temporary.

Shimp refused to donate bone marrow, and McFall died. And bone marrow donations are temporary in the sense that you can regenerate bone marrow. 


But the case lacks the remaining three criteria:

  • You chose to risk making this person’s life depend on you.
  • No one else can save this person.
  • Your refusal means actively killing this person, not just neglecting to save him.

Shimp had nothing to do with the fact that McFall’s life was in danger. (And even though Shimp was in no way responsible for McFall’s condition, the court still found Shimp’s refusal to donate “morally indefensible.”) Additionally, in coming to a ruling, the Court discussed the fact that there could be an unrelated person out there who was a bone marrow match. (If you’re interested in potentially saving lives through bone marrow donation, please check out BeTheMatch.org.) Finally, Shimp neglected to save McFall; he didn’t actively kill his cousin.

If McFall v. Shimp
were truly analogous to abortion, it would involve Shimp making a decision that he knew could endanger McFall. Say
there was some button Shimp could press that made him feel wonderful; he knew pushing the button involved the remote chance that
McFall would contract a fatal ailment only Shimp could save him from. Still, Shimp figured the chance was too small to worry about, and so he pushed the button anyway. Then McFall did get a fatal illness, and he reached out to Shimp
to save him. Shimp declined …and then shot McFall in the head.
That’s abortion.




The Violinist
Revisited
The Violinist thought
experiment suffers from similar limitations. It’s a bit closer to the proper
analogy because Thomson includes the fact that you
are the only person who can save the Violinist. So The Violinist has the three
elements: 

  • If you refuse bodily donation, someone else will die.
  • No one else can save this person.
  • Your bodily donation is temporary.
But the thought experiment fails to meet the remaining two criteria:

  • You chose to risk making this person’s life depend on you.
  • Your refusal means actively killing this person, not just neglecting to save him.

In the thought experiment, you didn’t
choose to risk the Violinist’s life, nor did you choose to hook yourself up to
him. In fact a major aspect of the story is that you were kidnapped and hooked up to the Violinist
against your will. You very specifically had no choice in the matter.
Furthermore you don’t kill the Violinist. You are choosing whether or not to
unplug from him and let him succumb to his ailment; you’re not choosing whether
to smother him with a pillow.


When bodily rights
arguments are adjusted to include all five criteria, they
become pretty unpersuasive. At best the conclusion sounds incredibly immoral, and at worst
it also sounds very illegal.



Roe v. Wade
It’s important to
also understand what the Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade,
had to say about bodily rights. During oral arguments they did argue that the
woman should be able to get an abortion because it’s her body and thus her
choice. However SCOTUS did not ground the right to abortion in bodily rights;
instead they grounded it in a right to privacy and explicitly rejected the bodily rights argument:

Click to enlarge
Roe v. Wade actually
ruled that the government can outlaw abortion after a certain point in the
pregnancy, meaning the government can compel bodily donation to keep another
alive. In fact in an article analyzing McFall v. Shimp and whether we should
always say bodily rights trump saving
lives, FE Huffman cites Roe v. Wade as precedent for compulsory bodily
donation.

Click to enlarge
Huffman also notes
that Roe v. Wade didn’t even consider the fetus a person and yet still allowed
for compulsory bodily donation to keep another entity alive. How much stronger
would the case be if the law recognized the fetus as a person?*


If your response to all this is that these analogies overstate the case because the fetus isn’t a person, you’re implicitly demonstrating my point: bodily rights arguments work only if the fetus isn’t a person. If the fetus is a valuable human being, the “my body, my choice” train of thought isn’t nearly strong enough to justify abortion.


We have now completed half of this cycle.

Consider the fact that most Americans believe abortion is justified only at earlier stages of pregnancy or only under more severe
circumstances. If you believe elective abortion should be illegal at later stages of the pregnancy, your stance implies bodily right are not sacrosanct. For people who view
the embryo and fetus as morally valuable humans from the beginning, bodily rights don’t even come
close to justifying the vast majority of abortions.

*During oral arguments the justices and plaintiffs suggested that if we recognized the
fetus as a person under the 14th amendment, it would be almost impossible to
justify legal abortion. Remember that background when people claim Roe v.
Wade remained neutral on the question of when life begins.





Further Reading
ERI Bodily Rights Materials – a whole collection of thoughtful articles by the Equal Rights Institute related to bodily rights arguments.

Misconceptions about the rape exception – Secular Pro-Life Perspectives, 7/19/14, post exploring the relationship between bodily rights arguments and the rape exception

“The people want Roe to stay.”



Polls asking about support for Roe v. Wade

Polls about Roe v. Wade consistently find that a strong majority of Americans don’t want Roe overturned. Examples:

About seven-in-ten Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, Pew Research, January 3, 2017. “Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe v. Wade decision, or not?” 69% answered “No, do not overturn.”

Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Want Roe v. Wade to Stand, Gallup, July 12, 2018. “Would you like to see the Supreme Court overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision concerning abortion, or not?” 64% answered “No, not overturn.”

Support for Roe v. Wade hits new high, NBC, July 23, 2018. “Should Roe v. Wade be overturned?” 71% answered “No, do not overturn.”



Polls asking about the time frame in which abortion should be legal.

Polls that ask about when abortion should be legal (e.g. by trimester or more specific gestational age) find that most Americans–including most people who call themselves pro-choice–increasingly oppose abortion as the pregnancy goes on. Examples:

Americans’ Opinion on Abortion, Marist, January 2018

“Which comes closest to your opinion on abortion: (1) Available to a woman any time during her entire pregnancy, (2) only during the first six months of pregnancy, (3) only during the first three months of pregnancy, (4) only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, (5) only to save the life of the mother, (6) should never be permitted under any circumstances.”

  • 11% of Americans said abortion should be available only during the first six months of pregnancy (including 19% of people who identified as pro-choice)
  • 12% of Americans said abortion should be available anytime during the pregnancy (including 21% of people who identified as pro-choice)
  • In other words, only 23% of Americans (including 40% of pro-choice people) chose options that allowed abortion after the first trimester.

Millennials have a surprising view on later-term abortions, Washington Post, January 31, 2018

“If a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy were enacted in the state in which you live, would you support or oppose that policy?”

  • Americans were exactly split, with 46% saying they’d oppose and 46% saying they’d support.
  • 36% of Democrats, 45% of Independents, and 56% of Republicans said they’d support the ban.
  • Strangely, every age demographic was more likely to support than oppose the ban except those aged 65 and older.

Americans’ Support For Abortion Rights Wanes As Pregnancy Progresses, NPR, June 13, 2018

“Gallup finds that 60 percent of Americans believe abortion generally should be legal during the first three months of pregnancy, known as the first trimester. That support drops by more than half, to 28 percent, once a pregnancy reaches the second trimester; it falls to 13 percent in the third trimester, at which point the fetus is often viable with medical support.”

Polls asking about the circumstances under which abortion should be legal.

And polls that ask about why abortion should be legal (e.g. for rape, life of the mother, fetal abnormalities, socioeconomic reasons) find that most Americans think abortion should be legal only for the most dire of reasons, i.e. if the woman was raped or if the pregnancy threatens her life. But those situations constitute less than 5% of all abortions, meaning people think nearly all instances of abortion today should be illegal.

The State of Abortion in the United States, National Right to Life, January 2014

“Which of the following statements most closely describes your own position on the issue of abortion: (1) Abortion should be prohibited in all circumstances; (2) Abortion should be legal only to save the life of the mother; (3) Abortion should be legal only in cases of rape or incest, and to save the life of the mother; (4) Abortion should be legal for any reason, but not after the first three months of pregnancy; (5) Abortion should be legal for any reason, but not after the first six months of pregnancy; or (6) Abortion should be legal for any reason at any time during a woman’s pregnancy.”

  • 53% said abortion should be illegal either (a) in all circumstances, (b) all circumstances except to save the life of the mother, or (c) all circumstances except cases of rape and to save the life of the mother
  • 42% said abortion should be legal for any reason either (a) any time during a woman’s pregnancy, (b) only in the first six months, or (c) only in the first three months (only 22% of Americans thought abortion should be legal for any reason after the first three months.)

Americans’ Opinion on Abortion, Marist, January 2018

“Which comes closest to your opinion on abortion: (1) Available to a woman any time during her entire pregnancy, (2) only during the first six months of pregnancy, (3) only during the first three months of pregnancy, (4) only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, (5) only to save the life of the mother, (6) should never be permitted under any circumstances.”

  • 50% of Americans said abortion should either (a) never be permitted, (b) be permitted only to save the life of the mother, or (c) be permitted only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.
  • When broken down by “pro-life” vs “pro-choice” labels, the same poll found 88% of pro-life people and 19% of pro-choice people held those more restrictive views.

Trimesters Still Key to U.S. Abortion Views, Gallup, June 13, 2018

  • 83% of Americans think abortion should be legal in the 1st trimester if the woman’s life is endangers; 75% say the same for 3rd trimester
  • 77% think abortion should be legal in the 1st trimester if the pregnancy was caused by rape; 52% say the same for 3rd trimester
  • Only 45% think abortion should be legal in the 1st trimester for any reason; 20% say the same for 3rd trimester

Republicans divided over abortion, The Hill, September 6, 2018

“Which comes closest to your views: (1) Abortion should be illegal under all circumstances, (2) abortion should be legal in limited circumstances such as rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother, (3) abortion should be legal under most circumstances until the point of viability (start of the 3rd trimester), or (4) abortion should be legal under all circumstances.”

  • 55% of Americans said abortion should be either illegal in all circumstances or legal in limited circumstances such as rape and to save the life of the mother.
  • When broken down by demographics, the poll found that 44% of Democrats, 51% of Independents, 57% of Millennials, and 71% of Republicans held those more restrictive views.

These poll results are incompatible.


When asked about trimesters, most Americans think abortion should be illegal after the first trimester, which ends at about 13 weeks gestation. Yet when asked about a ban on abortion at 20 weeks (almost 2 months into the 2nd trimester), Americans are evenly split on whether they’d support or oppose such a ban. This implies a large group of Americans think abortion should be illegal after 13 weeks but also oppose a ban at 20 weeks.

More importantly, when asked about Roe v. Wade most Americans want the case upheld. Yet simultaneously most Americans think abortion should be illegal after the first trimester and about half think it should be illegal outside of the hard cases of rape or life of the mother. This implies many Americans want Roe v. Wade upheld but also want abortion restrictions that Roe v. Wade makes impossible.

Roe means abortion can’t be restricted to the first trimester (through the first 13 weeks). It enforces the right to elective abortion until at least viability–that is, Roe protects abortions for non-medical reasons until at least 23 weeks into the pregnancy. Read for yourself:

For the period of pregnancy prior to this “compelling” point, the attending physician, in consultation with his patient, is free to determine, without regulation by the State, that, in his medical judgment, the patient’s pregnancy should be terminated. If that decision is reached, the judgment may be effectuated by an abortion free of interference by the State. 

With respect to the State’s important and legitimate interest in potential life, the “compelling” point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion [410 U.S. 113, 164] during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

That last line is crucial because of the way the Supreme Court defined “health of the mother.” On the same day Roe v. Wade was decided, SCOTUS also ruled in Roe’s companion case, Doe v. Bolton. In Doe, SCOTUS defined health as:

All factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.

This broad definition of “health” means post-viability abortion is legal even when both mother and fetus are physically healthy, as long as the physician asserts the abortion is necessary for the woman’s emotional or psychological wellbeing. Such a wide loophole explains why most late-term abortions are elective. In other words, Roe makes it impossible to restrict abortion to only the limited circumstances of rape, incest, or life of the mother.

Americans want Roe upheld because they don’t know what Roe is.

Polls asking about Roe v. Wade either don’t describe the decision at all or describe it vaguely as “relating to abortion” or “establishing a right to an abortion.” But Roe goes far beyond establishing a right to an abortion to establishing a right to non-medically necessary abortion at least through 5 1/2 months of pregnancy and in many cases even later.

Given roughly a third of Americans don’t even know Roe relates to abortion at all, it’s unlikely most people polled realize the extent to which Roe enforces extremely permissive abortion law. If people mistakenly believe overturning Roe would mean outlawing abortion in all circumstances, it makes sense that the same people who think abortion should be permitted in only the first trimester or only very limited circumstances would also answer that Roe should be upheld. It would be interesting to see a poll on Roe that described the decision as “establishing the right to elective abortion up to 5 1/2 months gestation.” I doubt 7 in 10 Americans would support it.

Do you support bans on sex-selective abortions? Or bans on abortions for non-fatal conditions such as Down syndrome? Do you think selective reduction abortions (when a woman is pregnant with multiples but wants only one child) should be outlawed? Are you against the idea of the same women getting repeat abortions? Do you have a problem with elective abortion in the 3rd trimester? Then you should have a problem with Roe v. Wade.

Further reading:

What Do Americans Think About Abortion? Difficult Run, February 26, 2014
Nathaniel Givens explains the drawbacks of polls that ask only whether abortion should be legal, legal most of the time, illegal most of the time, or illegal; Givens further explains why polls are more informative when they ask under what circumstances abortion should be legal.

The Worst Poll Ever on the Roe v. Wade Decision, Townhall, August 14, 2018
Michael New explains why polling on Roe v. Wade is usually flawed because the polls fail to explain (1) the policy implications of Roe v. Wade and (2) the implications of reversing Roe v. Wade. In general people seem to think (1) Roe v. Wade merely establishes a right to abortion, rather than legalizing abortion-on-demand and making it difficult to restrict even late-term abortions and (2) if Roe v. Wade were overturned abortion would be banned, rather than abortion policy being left up to each state.

Hill.TV Conducts a Useful Survey on Americans’ Abortion Views, National Review, September 14, 2018
Michael New goes over the results of The Hill poll (linked above) but also notes the bizarre way The Hill chose to frame those results.