“We have had a century of this argument, that if you ban abortion, women will die, and if you legalize abortion, women will not die,” Dr. Callum Miller said at the 2023 Heartbeat Conference in Louisville, Ky.
His research, however, proves otherwise.
“When you look at pretty much every country in the world that has changed their abortion policy, the consistent narrative again and again and again is that legalization does not help and sometimes can make things significantly worse,” Miller said.
Miller, an MD and research fellow at Oxford University, gave a presentation titled The Truth About Backstreet Abortions at the first Heartbeat Annual Pregnancy Help Conference since the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
Debunking a tired argument
The pro-legalization argument makes four key claims: (1) High numbers of illegal abortions happen; (2) Many women die from these illegal abortions; (3) Legalization won’t increase how many abortions are performed; and (4) Illegal abortions will decrease when “safer,” legal abortions are available.
“The moral idea is even if all of those premises are true, banning abortion is still the right thing to do because the unborn child has a human right to life,” Miller said. “What I want to do today is to suggest that those empirical claims are simply false, and we have very, very good evidence that they are false.”
Miller deflated the first claim by identifying the misquoted or completely fabricated “statistics” that have been widely repeated as facts. For example, Bernard Nathanson, a founder of NARAL, later confessed to inventing numbers of deaths due to illegal abortion just to further his cause.
“I knew the figures were totally false,” Nathanson had said. “But in the morality of our revolution, it was a useful figure, and it was widely accepted. So why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?”
Fifty years ago, Miller said, even the pro-abortion Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology issued a statement that called out commonly spread lies.
“It has been repeatedly stated that as many as 100,000 criminal abortions are induced in this country each year, and a more recent estimate is 250,000,” their statement read. “But these and an earlier figure of 50,000 are without any secure factual foundation of which we are aware.”
Recently, the international abortion-promoting NGO IPAS overstated deaths from abortion in Nigeria alone sevenfold over the World Health Organization’s count for the entire world. Other published claims conflate maternal deaths from all causes (including miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy), attributing them all to abortion.
“When these statistics are given, it is remarkable to see just how much they are dissociated from the established empirical facts,” Miller said.
But are sloppy statistics enough to doom the legalization argument? Even Miller would say no.
“There are still many women around the world who lose their infinitely valuable and precious lives as a result of abortion,” he said. “If we could have a solution, such as legalizing abortion, which saved those infinitely valuable women, wouldn't that be incredible?
“Well, the problem is not only that it also leads to the death of these many innocent children,” Miller said, “but also that the empirical evidence doesn't support the idea that legalization will actually help.”
Legalized abortion fails the test
Miller analyzed and compared data from countries with and without legalized abortion to see if the argument held true: abortion bans should cause increased illegal, unsafe abortions, and thereby more maternal deaths due to abortion. Conversely, legalizing abortion should improve conditions for women.
“But in fact, when you look at pretty much every country in the world that has changed their abortion policy, the consistent narrative again and again and again is that legalization does not help and sometimes can make things significantly worse,” he said.
Poland, which banned abortion in 1993, now has the world’s lowest maternal mortality rate—down from 80 in 1991 to 25 deaths in the year 2000 and virtually none today.
East Germany legalized abortion in 1948. But when, as Miller said, “women were getting illegal abortions at an even greater rate and putting their lives at risk even more than they were before,” the country banned abortion again near the end of 1950.
“Legalizing abortion actually made the problem of illegal abortion worse and prohibiting abortion actually made the problem of illegal abortion better”
“Legalizing abortion actually made the problem of illegal abortion worse and prohibiting abortion actually made the problem of illegal abortion better,” he said.
Denmark, where abortion became legal in 1939, saw a 77 percent increase in illegal abortions in the following decade. And throughout western Europe, Miller said, “in no case did legalization help, but in some cases, it actually made the problem worse, even if only temporarily.”
In England, abortions became so numerous after legalization, he said, that “there were many, many doctors complaining that there was a massive pressure on obstetrics and gynecological services because all of the beds were being taken up with women having abortions.”
“They were talking about women who were missing cancer diagnoses because all of the beds and all of the clinical appointments were taken up with abortions,” said Miller. “You can see how the promotion of abortion and the spread of abortion directly leads to the neglect of women with other healthcare conditions, and in some cases can lead to their loss of life.”
In South Africa, the maternal mortality rate doubled after abortion was legalized in 1997, traceable in part to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Miller noted that sexually transmitted disease rates rise when people have a sense that they “can have sex with more people with fewer consequences.”
Similar patterns hold true across the continents of Africa and Asia. With legalization, total abortion numbers rose; legal abortions did not replace illegal ones but were added to them.
And in the United States, “the impact of Roe v. Wade [on maternal death rates] was absolutely negligible,” Miller said. Already in decline due to the introduction of antibiotics, the U.S. rate simply continued its downward trajectory.
Tweet This: Legalizing abortion actually made the problem of illegal abortion worse & prohibiting abortion made the problem of illegal abortion better
Legal is the new backstreet
“What we are now seeing, ironically, is a return to backstreet abortions with mifepristone (RU486) and misoprostol being sent out to women at their house with no medical supervision,” Miller said.
He described a leaked email exchange between the UK’s National Health Service and a prominent midwife that told of women presenting with significant pain and bleeding, ruptured ectopic pregnancies, extreme hemorrhaging, and home delivery of infants as far along as 30 weeks gestation.
“We are seeing firsthand in our hospitals, in our clinics, these dangerous situations because legal abortion is now being pushed as the new backstreet abortion,” he said, and without ultrasound evaluation or post-abortion care, women are facing the very dangers that proponents said legalization would prevent.
Miller pointed out abortion’s other impacts on women’s mortality rates, including “mental health risks, increased alcohol and drug abuse, the increase in family breakdown and poverty, and the increase in male delinquency and male violent crime, much of which is carried out against vulnerable women.”
All these consequences stand in stark contrast to the effects of a pro-life culture, which has a proven track record of improving women’s health outcomes, reducing abortion-related deaths, and preserving the lives of unborn children.
“We know with absolute certainty that if you restrict abortion, the abortion rate goes down,” Miller said. “We know that abortion laws work, that they do save lives. That laws protecting unborn children are effective, is uncontroversial. The empirical evidence is very clear.”
Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages the Abortion Pill Rescue® Network (APRN) and Pregnancy Help News. Heartbeat Conference recordings can be purchased HERE.