The Dangerous Myths of the New Abortion Bills



To some, this legislation represents a metaphorical return to the Dark Ages, so it shouldn’t be hard to criticize them without lying.


British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli probably summed it up best: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Since the governors of several conservative states signed into law some of the most comprehensive pro-life bills in the nation, Democratic pundits and pro-choice activists on Twitter have been using all three.

To be clear, I don’t intend to advocate for a pro-life position here. I don’t agree with, however, the gross misconceptions surrounding these new bills. To some, this legislation represents a metaphorical return to the Dark Ages, so it shouldn’t be hard to criticize them without lying.

Let’s debunk the biggest lie first: that the new abortion laws will criminalize women for seeking the procedure. Here’s a microcosm of the claims:

From Slate: “Georgia just criminalized abortion. Women who terminate their pregnancies would receive life in prison.”

An Alyssa Milano tweet: “If you get pregnant & exercise your right to choose your own destiny & healthcare, you may be thrown in prison.”

This factoid is able to thrive largely as a result of Georgia defining unborn fetuses as natural persons. As logically should follow, Georgia’s murder statute would have to apply to women who “self-terminate.” But there is one huge flaw in this thinking. Georgia’s criminal code has a section that explicitly pertains to unlawful abortions, which the state’s Court of Appeals has ruled “does not criminalize a pregnant woman’s actions in securing an abortion, regardless of the means utilized.” The criminal charges instead fall to those who facilitate the abortions.

Leana Wen, the president of Planned Parenthood, is currently spearheading the dispersion of another bogus claim. During an interview two months ago, she claimed, “We face a real situation where Roe could be overturned. And we know what will happen, which is that women will die. Thousands of women died every year pre-Roe.”

If any right-of-center figure were to level a claim this catastrophic, he or she would be grilled to near-death over its tenacity. Wen, however, has faced almost no questioning over this quite astounding claim.

That is, until the Washington Post slapped her with its notorious “Four Pinocchios” fact-check.

Wen’s absurd allegation stems from a study in the late 1920s. The man who conducted this study, Frederick Taussig, gathered his data using scientifically questionable methods, to say the least. 

His process was as follows: Based on data from only 13 states, he calculated up to 912 deaths from abortion a year. Because those 13 states represented 26% of the birth registration of the United States at the time, Taussig extrapolated the figure to 3,508 a year and then rounded it up to 4,000. Assuming that half of deaths from abortion were concealed, he doubled that number and then surmised that his final calculation was no greater than 10,000 deaths per year in the United States.

Imagine the grade a high school statistics student would receive with this as their project. Does this study seem insane? That’s because it was.

Even taking Taussig’s number at face value, the “thousands of women dying” narrative falls apart quickly. With the advent of antibiotics, birth control and safer medical procedures, abortions, both legal and illegal, became drastically less dangerous.

In 1959, an authority on the subject wrote, “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.”

Who was this authority? The medical director of Planned Parenthood. 

Going even further, the Center for Disease Control estimates that in 1972, the number of deaths in the United States from legal abortions was 24, and from illegal abortions, 39.

After having a change of heart and becoming a pro-life activist, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the co-founder of National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), admitted that he completely made up statistics to help the Supreme Court decide Roe v. Wade. 

Nathanson stated that he “fed the public a line of deceit, dishonesty, a fabrication of statistics and figures. We succeeded because the time was right and the news media cooperated.”

According to  Nathanson, he and his associates fabricated polls and fatality totals as a result of illegal abortions and “unashamedly lied” to the American public.

The last lie about the new bans comes courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

They call the new abortion bans “unconstitutional.” That’s a pretty rich claim coming from the same “constituonal rights” group that lobbied against giving college students accused of sexual assault their Sixth Amendment right to cross-examination.

If by unconstitutional, they are referring to the 7-2 Roe v. Wade decision, then I suppose they are narrowly correct. But they fail to note the compelling argument of the dissent. The use of the standard dubbed “substantive due process,” a judicial principle allowing courts to protect certain rights that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, as a means to adjudicate court cases has proved highly controversial and contested.

Consider the following simple example: the Supreme Court has decided that the word liberty in the due process clause 14th Amendment grants parents the fundamental right to the custody of their children. Simple enough, it seems.

In Roe v. Wade, however, the court decided that the right to privacy, although not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, is also protected by the 14th Amendment’s due process clause. And now things get complicated.

Now, let’s not diminish the gravity of what is at stake here. An unwanted child goes a far way in ruining a woman’s life, and were I a legislator, I’d probably advance at least limited pro-choice legislation. Of course a woman’s liberty to choose to terminate her pregnancy is part of the liberty that the 14th Amendment states shall not be infringed without due process of law. Yet, “due process” means that any inhibition of freedom should carry the weight of significant government interest. This makes Roe unusual in the sense that it forges a right so absolute that even a fetus’ right to existence is not sufficient to overcome it. 

This right, opines the late-Yale constitutional law scholar John Hart Ely, “is not inferable from the language of the Constitution, the framers’ thinking respecting the specific problem in issue, any general value derivable from the provisions they included, or the nation’s governmental structure.”

Even a clerk for Roe’s author Justice Blackmun stated that “As a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible.”

Let’s not sugarcoat these new bills. They’re bad, regressive and qualify for the use of an entire slew of negative adjectives. As such, they should be easy enough to criticize without lying. Doing so will only make it easier for the bills’ proponents to strike down counter arguments and make any court battle much easier to win.