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Debunking the most common argument for legalized abortion

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Today, National Review Online published a pro-life column by Calum Miller titled “A Common Argument for Legalized Abortion is Wrong.” Miller is a medical doctor and research fellow at the University of Oxford, UK, where he studies abortion policy internationally. So, what is this so-called “common argument”?

Perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of legal abortion throughout history has been the potential consequences of banning it. It is commonly asserted that the number of women who will die from unsafe abortions performed in clandestine settings will increase significantly if abortion is prohibited. This is because, as the prevailing view asserts, the legalization of abortion has effectively eliminated the need for such procedures.

One might consider this the epitome of fearmongering. Miller systematically dismantles the mainstay of the case for abortion, which is a highly influential argument.

However, the findings of my recent research indicate that this approach is ineffective. Legalizing abortion does not result in a reduction in the number of deaths associated with clandestine abortions. In some instances, it may even lead to an increase in such deaths.

I encourage you to read the piece for yourself here. I will summarize a few of the highlights and quote extensively.

Miller begins by pointing out what seems to be counterintuitive: “It would seem logical that making something legal and allowing it to be performed in sanitary conditions would make it safer and cause fewer deaths.” He follows this up by writing that “Reality is, as usual, far more complex.”

The legalisation of abortion may empower credible, skilled doctors, but it may also empower quacks and reduce the perceived risk among women. Many women continue to seek less reputable sources of abortion for reasons of privacy, finance, or simply because they are unaware of any legal change. This leads to a greater number of abortions in general, many of which remain unsafe. Moreover, even abortions performed in sanitary conditions can become unsafe if there is poor access to emergency care in the event of complications. As previously discussed, the legalization of abortion can cause increased maternal mortality for a number of other reasons, including higher suicide rates, higher drug and alcohol use, and smoking, as well as an increase in unintended pregnancies.

Miller’s analysis focuses on sub-Saharan Africa, specifically South Africa, Zambia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Mozambique. These countries have legalized abortion. To maintain a manageable length for this post, I will primarily discuss Miller’s observations about South Africa.

What do the statistics reveal about a country that has been cited as a success story of legalized abortion?

Miller notes that the actual maternal mortality statistics from South Africa demonstrate a clear increase in maternal deaths from abortion since the legalization of abortion. Maternal mortality rates increased significantly in the years following legalization, with the majority of deaths attributed to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. However, evidence suggests that legalized abortion contributes to the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Miller ends his post with this striking and convincing paragraph:

The loss of life resulting from unsafe abortions represents a tragedy. It is therefore imperative that we take every possible step to protect the lives of women in our own countries and abroad. However, the evidence increasingly suggests that the legalisation of abortion on demand is likely to exacerbate the problem.

For further information, please refer to Miller’s excellent post, which can be accessed here.


Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

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