Feinstein Fact Check

How many women died from illegal abortions, before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, and “safe”?

Here’s why we ask the question…

On Wednesday, during the confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), made the following statement:

“In the 1950s and ‘60s, the two decades before Roe, death from illegal abortions in this country ran between 200,000 to 1.2 million.”

Is this true?

AND, if abortion is made illegal, will we go back to the days of thousands, even millions, of women dying from illegal abortions?

No, and here’s why:


That Stat is Incorrect:

The Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, and also where we assume Senator Feinstein obtained this statistic, actually states:

Estimates of the number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year.”

Not deaths.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 1972, the year before abortion was made legal (and was therefore still illegal), the number of women who died from illegal abortions was 39. In the years prior to that, the CDC had not reported data on abortion-related deaths.

The Guttmacher Institute also says:

“In 1930, abortion was listed as the official cause of death for almost 2,700 women—nearly one-fifth (18%) of maternal deaths recorded in that year. The death toll had declined to just under 1,700 by 1940, and to just over 300 by 1950 (most likely because of the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, which permitted more effective treatment of the infections that frequently developed after illegal abortion). By 1965, the number of deaths due to illegal abortion had fallen to just under 200, but illegal abortion still accounted for 17% of all deaths attributed to pregnancy and childbirth that year.”

Not the 200,000 to 1.2 million, which Senator Feinstein referenced.


The “Back-Alley Abortion” Falsehood:

Dr. Mary Calderone, the medical director of Planned Parenthood in 1960, wrote in the American Journal of Public Health:

“… about 90 percent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians…Whatever trouble arises usually arises from self-induced abortions, which comprise approximately 8 percent, or with the very small percentage that go to some kind of non-medical abortionist…So remember…abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous, because it is being done well by physicians.”

So most of the so-called “back-alley abortions” which the abortion industry often refers to as causing so many deaths were, in actuality, not done “back-alley” but done by licensed physicians themselves.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former abortionist and co-founder of NARAL, often claimed that thousands (5,000 to 10,000) of women had died every year from back-alley abortions. Surprisingly, he later admitted that the so-called “back-alley abortion” statistics were false and made up. He wrote in his book, Aborting America:

I confess that I knew that the figures were totally false and I suppose that others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the ‘morality’ of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted … The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible.”


The Reality Today:

One thing is for certain: whether or not abortion is legal or illegal, women are still dying from it, and it is certainly not safe.

The CDC reports that the number of women who die from legal abortion fluctuates every year. In the most recent year for which data was collected (2013), four women were reported to have died, while in 2008, twelve women were reported to have died, in 2000, eleven women, and so on and so forth.

The truth of the matter is: abortion is an invasive procedure, involving surgical tools being inserted inside a woman’s body and used to tear apart and terminate a child.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, admits that in this invasive procedure, “serious complications may be fatal.” They also make note of the following complications:

  • allergic reaction
  • blood clots in the uterus
  • incomplete abortion – part of the pregnancy is left inside the uterus
  • failure to end the pregnancy
  • infection
  • injury to the cervix or other organs
  • undetected ectopic pregnancy
  • very heavy bleeding

What a frightening list, to say the least.

Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry often discredit the risks of medical abortion, considering abortion procedures like this, which are performed during the early stages of pregnancy, to be less risky and once again, safer than childbirth. However, this is not true. A recent study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who have medical abortions have a four-fold higher risk for complications and problems.

Still, the immediate complications are just a part of the story. There are significant risks and negative repercussions that abortion can have on women’s health later on in life.

It turns out, a study conducted in Finland for seven years on nearly 10,000 women, found that there were significant statistical increases in the mortality rate of women after abortion. Women who had abortions were actually 3.5% more likely to die within a year than those who carried their pregnancy to term.

Furthermore, a study, published in the Southern Medical Journal, was performed in California using the Medicaid records of 173,279 women. They actually found the following results:

“Compared with women who delivered, those who aborted had a significantly higher age-adjusted risk of death from all causes (1.62), from suicide (2.54), and from accidents (1.82), as well as a higher relative risk of death from natural causes (1.44), including the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) (2.18), circulatory diseases (2.87), and cerebrovascular disease (5.46)… Higher death rates associated with abortion persist over time and across socioeconomic boundaries. This may be explained by self-destructive tendencies, depression, and other unhealthy behavior aggravated by the abortion experience.”

In addition, according to the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, documentation shows that since 1957, 58 out of 74 (78%) research studies conducted in 22 countries confirmed an increased risk of breast cancer following induced abortion. In one of the most recent meta-analysis studies conducted in China in February of 2014, a 44% increased risk of breast cancer was found after a woman had one induced abortion (a 76% increase following two induced abortions and an 89% increase following three induced abortions).

Finally, the most comprehensive and largest study of the mental health risks associated with abortion, was published on September 1, 2011, in the prestigious British Journal of Psychiatry. The study was a meta-analysis that examined 22 other studies that had been published between 1995 and 2009. The study involved 877,181 women – 163,831 of whom had abortions. Here’s what the study found:

Women who have had an abortion have an 81% higher risk of subsequent mental health problems compared to women who have not had an abortion.

Women who aborted have a 138% higher risk of mental health problems compared to women who have given birth.

Women who aborted have a 55% higher risk of mental health problems compared to women with an “unplanned” pregnancy who gave birth.

Women with a history of abortion have higher rates of anxiety (34% higher), depression (37%), alcohol use/misuse (110%), marijuana use (230%), and suicidal behavior (155%) compared to those who have not had abortions.

The stats speak for themselves.



The claim that hundreds of thousands of women died from back-alley illegal abortions is false, but making abortion legal doesn’t make abortion any safer or prevent women from suffering and even dying, either.