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SELF-DEFEATING

Abortion bans don’t reduce abortions, they just make them less safe

Abortion rights demonstrators protests outside the United States Supreme Court. One sign says "Never Again" over a drawing of a wire hanger.
Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein
Abortion bans kill more women.
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Americans who oppose abortion have long pursued bans on the treatment, culminating in today’s decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. The idea, of course, is that abortion bans will reduce the number of abortions. Years of abortion data across all countries prove otherwise. 

In an analysis run jointly by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization (WHO) between 2015 and 2019, abortion rates were similar in countries that restricted abortion versus those where abortion is broadly legal.

“However, when you consider safety, the picture is different,” WHO said in a statement to Quartz. “In countries where abortion is allowed on broad grounds 9 out of 10 abortions occur safely. But in countries where abortion laws are very restrictive and access to care is limited, only 1 in 4 abortions are safe.”   

Roe v. Wade drastically reduced the hundreds of maternal deaths that occurred from abortion each year in the 1960s and 1970s, wrote Jeremy Fraust, an MD at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. With the reversal of Roe, 20 states will now likely see higher maternal death rates with little change in abortion rates. 

Free contraception does dramatically reduce abortions, however. In a study of 9,000 women run by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, abortion rates decreased by more than 60%. 

Abortion rates had been steadily declining for 30 years between 1973 and 2017 as contraception access expanded and women were pulled out of poverty. From 2017 to 2020, that trend reversed as abortion rates per 1,000 women increased in the US by 7% in the face of decreased federal contraceptive care, increased medicare funding for abortion, and around 168 abortion restrictions or bans were passed in 25 states. 

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