Sunday, June 22, 2008

Abortion Deaths Pre-Legalisation

I posted on the Ann Furedi thread: "Oh, that question. These untold thousands who died from back-street abortions in the bad old days. Is there any factual evidence for this, or numbers of any kind, or is it just another left-wing myth ?"


ChooChoo answered as follows :

@LabanTell:

I'd hesitate to say 'myth'. But there are problems with some figures and, of course, this is further problematised by the polemical contexts of inveterate debates. The US is interesting because abortion remains a livewire political debate: not just because of social dynamics, but also because of the legal context there. Unlike here, the (from one view) judicial fiat by which abortion was legalised in the states generates tensions beyond the usual ones in this debate.

In Planned Parenthood vs. Casey (Bob, a lifelong Democrat incidentally), the figure of 5,000-10,000 pre-legalisation deaths was mentioned. This figure, a common one in the US context, goes back to attempted extrapolations from studies from the 1930s, for instance, by one Frederick Taussig (published in '36). He used figures for the abortion rate (not the abortion mortality rate) from NY and Iowa birth control clinics, combined with his own estimates for the mortality rate to come up with the figures. (There were others which used similar techniques).

In reality, these figures are dubious and not least because of their use in polemical contexts. In 'Induced termination of pregnancy before and after Roe v. Wade', in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 208.22 (1992) pp.3231-3239, the authors use pre-legalisation figures for abortion mortality from National Center [sic] for Health Statistics:

1940 - c.1400

1945 - c.750

1950 - c.250

1955 - c.225

1960 - c.250

1970 - c.125

(The exact figure for pre-legalisation 1972 is 39. Abortion mortality figures still do exist post-legalisation, and the figure hovered around c.20 post-legalisation before dropping further in the 80s or 90s, I forget which).

These figures can hardly settle the question. First, they don't show how many total abortions there were. Second, they do not, in themselves, get into the difficulty of arriving at such figures. This difficulty, incidentally, is not just for finding reliable pre-legalisation figures, but also reliable post-legalisation figures. (Assigning abortion as cause of death is not as simple as it may sound). Third, these do not get into all sorts of social factors (was there a change in the public acceptability of treating women who had had abortions?). (These figures, per se, are far more reliable than, say, Taussig's).

Fundamentally, however, and this occurs in other contexts too, the large reduction in abortion mortality correlates to (and is no doubt caused by) medical provisions: most importantly, the diffusion of antibiotics. Medical provisions are more important in bringing down abortion mortality than legality. (This is not to deny that legality cannot or does not have an effect of safety: it does, but this relation is heightened where the safety, even where legal, would not be so good. Conversely, where medical provisions are good - not just supplies, but access - legality cannot have a strong effect on abortion mortality). In a first-world context, the notion that illegality will result in the death of scores of women is not tenable. (Another important aspect to this is that pre-legality abortion, certainly in the states, was largely - c.90% - carried out by physicians: this is what emerges from works on the reality of abortion by the likes of Mary Claderone - erstwhile medical director of Planned Parenthood - in the 60s). This is not to deny the total legitimacy of being worried about this, or of valuing women's lives. (Of course not). I'm just trying to write a little about the figures for abortion mortality.

I'm most grateful to him or her for this - the only information I've ever seen on the subject. If anyone's got any info on Britain I'd be interested.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

The birth rate in England and Australia was very low on the great depression. I doubt if abortionists were all that available then though. Or were they?

Anonymous said...

Despite abortion and easy access to quality contraceptives, we now have more children in care than at any time in our history.

So it doesn't work, does it? Not the easy answer we were told it would be.

JuliaM said...

No information on abortion figures. But since we import trends and fads from the States, I wonder if we'll see this taking hold over here in the future...?

http://rachellucas.com/index.php/2008/06/20/two-words-mandatory-sterilization/

Found via Instapundit.

Recusant said...

The Royal Society of Obs. & Gyn. had a report on the figures for 1963 or 1964 (I forget which)which estimated the deaths from illegal abortions at approximately 40 a year on an estimated 35,000 (estimated with good evidence) a year. A death rate that was statistically indistinguishable from the maternal death rate of life births.

Of course the loaded phrase 'back-street abortionist' covers the fact that they were almost invariably doctors and midwives performing the abortions; as is the case for current illegal (sex selective) abortions.

dearieme said...

In other words, pre-Penicillin figures would be worthless even if they were accurate.

Ralph said...

Laban

These are interesting figures, and the thrust of the argument is in line with a lot I have both read and heard in the UK and the US (where I write this).

How it moves the debate forward, however, is less clear. I have always been a bit mystified as to why those on both sides of the debate want to use these numbers to their own ends. If you believe that abortion is a moral evil, then the fact that women committing such an evil put themselves at risk is neither here nor there (bank robbers put themselves at heightened risk of death; this is not an argument in favour of legalising bank robbing). Similarly, if you believe that women have the right to an abortion, the fact that they would not die from doing it illegally is also irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

juliam I think that story a good thing!
Since the 60's any young girl intentionally getting pregnant and actually wanting to keep the baby has been considered almost mad.

The girls from that story are an example that just goes to show how the social engineers wont have things all their own way.

John Trenchard said...

i am somewhat reminded in this abortion debate about what George Orwell wrote in 1984 - that the proles are our future.

is it not noticable that the lower underclass prefer to have kids than abort them? no , we can argue about welfare and all that till the cows come home - but who else is replacing the native English population? well, its not the middle class Islington set, who see nothing wrong with abortion.


for the record - my prole background precludes me from ever contemplating abortion - except for rape. so should my daughter make a "mistake" - i'll be only too happy to adopt the child.

heck - a child is a life giving elixir, and knocks about 10 years or more off your age.

we have to recognise that its not the proles that have the problem with kids - its the liberal establishment , beeboid media types.

John Trenchard said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-476629/BBC-childrens-TV-hosts-gay-childless--dont-like-kids-claims-childrens-presenter.html


the fish rots from the head, and its in charge of BBC children's output.

John Trenchard said...

link corrected here

JuliaM said...

"juliam I think that story a good thing!
Since the 60's any young girl intentionally getting pregnant and actually wanting to keep the baby has been considered almost mad."


You do...?

Will you pay for them then? Because I for one am sick and tired of being taxed to the hilt so barely-out-of-school girls can have babies and live on benefits and tax credits...

Anonymous said...

"so should my daughter make a "mistake""

Babies tend to be born to young girls because Mother Nature always intended it that way. So is society wrong or Mother Nature?

And those young mums will have their brood all grown up and left home by the time they are 35. Plenty of time to get them back to work to pay for them all. Maybe society should work around Mother Nature, rather than expect Mother Nature to work round society.

Anonymous said...

JuliaM as a good libertarian its of no interest who the children are as long as its not your taxes, correct?

No ca$h for feckless whites but if they are totally replaced by tax paying, non-welfare receiving Indians or whatever thats A-OK. Correct again?

So as long as mass immigration brings in high IQ, hard working, taxpaying non-welfare receivers thats fine. Genocide by good book keeping as it were.

I just want to confirm - in the culture war - whose side you are actually on.

JuliaM said...

"Plenty of time to get them back to work to pay for them all. "

Back to work...? Just what sort of 'work' do you suppose they'll be fit for? And why should I support them until they are?

"JuliaM as a good libertarian ..."

Who said I was..?

"I just want to confirm - in the culture war - whose side you are actually on."

Oh, gawd. Another anonymong nutter...

John Trenchard said...

"11:44 AM"

good point - i think society is wrong.

note the po-faced MSM reporting on "teenage pregnancies", as if it was some disaster, and as if never before in history did we have women giving birth in their teens.

the feminists and their allies in the liberal MSM wont be happen until the English native birth rate declines to zero and we make ourselves extinct.

but then ,fascists like them have always had a bit of a fetish for the genocidal way of doing things.

Anonymous said...

Juliam, actually no I am not happy to pay for people who are deliberately irresponsible, and I don't think other tax payers should either.
But its not that simple, we live in a society that doesn't allow young people to support themselves. We can't complain about people not living within their means if we don't allow them to try. When my Granddad left school at 14 years old and started work the next day for the family business, now you might say he was lucky but only a few generations earlier people were leaving school (and working) at 12 years old, to work in all kinds of places, sure they had a tough time of it but these days they are talking of raising the school leaving age to 18, this will again increase the dependence of young people on the welfare state and encourage 'libertarians' to criticise them.

Where-as I wouldn't want to live in a world where 12 year olds and younger were sent down the mine to earn very little in a real tough conditions, I think we risk heading too far in the other direction the way anyone under 25 is considered a 'youth' who needs protecting from themselves.

JuliaM said...

"But its not that simple, we live in a society that doesn't allow young people to support themselves."

Doesn't allow them..? How so?

"We can't complain about people not living within their means if we don't allow them to try."

We do allow them to try. If they mostly fail, how is that anyone elses fault?

" I think we risk heading too far in the other direction the way anyone under 25 is considered a 'youth' who needs protecting from themselves."

I agree with you there, but aren't you guilty of the same thing, by claiming they 'can't' live within their means or they 'can't' support themselves?

Anonymous said...

No seriously we don't allow them.
My Granddad left school at 14 and started work delivering stuff without a drivers license as you didn't need one back then.
These days he wouldn't be able to do the job until he was 17 maybe 18, and couldn't drive a truck until 21.
Thats what I'm talking about.

There are many age restrictions in the modern world, age you can work down a mine, work in a factory, on some types of building site, drive various types of machine. Also a lot of jobs involving using a machine require special licenses/tickets to prove your ability which cost money to get.
Many office jobs would probably want A-levels so a 15-16 year old can't do that either.
What are they suppose to do? if they have a kid and don't want to live off the state?

JuliaM said...

"There are many age restrictions in the modern world, age you can work down a mine, work in a factory, on some types of building site, drive various types of machine."

Well, that's covered a tiny fraction of the job market. But remember that the modern world has created so many more, and some that can be done from home (internet based).

"What are they suppose to do? if they have a kid and don't want to live off the state?"

Is it asking too much that they consider the problems of supporting a family on teenager's wages before they have children...?

Anonymous said...

"We do allow them to try. If they mostly fail, how is that anyone elses fault?"

Consider this: other primates behave as infants, dependent on their mothers, until they lose their milk-teeth. Once they lose their milk-teeth they become juveniles and cease to be cared for directly by their parents. They mix more with other adults and gradually develop into adults by spending more time with adults. Eventually they reach breeding age, by which time they are already well able to cope with the demands of being a parent.

In western human society, we care for our children directly until they lose their milk teeth, but once they become juveniles, we put them in special instituition where they spend more time with other juveniles. In such institutions they cannot develop into adults, since they are not exposed to the adult world to observe adults as role models before they take on adult roles themselves. Consequently the process of +7yr old schooling only infantilises young people. The process is even worse where the juvenile comes from a broken home, since there aren't even role models showing how to maintain relationships or the basics of fatherhood. Of course, the institutions we put these untutored children in are mixed-sex as a general rule, and consequently the likelihood of young people having irresponsible sexual relations is quite high. This is exacerbated by the fact that the secondary schools are far bigger than the primary schools - it is already known that children that grow up together seldom have sexual relationships with each other and are more likely to have sex with others outside they original social group. In other words, the secondary school is exactly the place where young, untutored juveniles are likely to meet lots of new juveniles of the opposite sex and then explore inappropriate sexual relationships with them but then be far too immature to cope with the results. This is not what Nature intended. But then Nature didn't intend young women to delay settling down until their mid-30s only to discover they can't find a suitable partner or have healthy children. Given the sad examples of the Bridget Jones generation, can we really blame young girls for seizing the first chance they get to give birth? They have often learned sad lessons from their older sisters.

ChooChoo said...

@LabanTall

Glad this was of interest. (I'm a he by the way). Next time I come across figures (I sort of study abortion and, though not in the modern world, I try to read around) I'll post them on your blog.

Best,

ChooChoo