Safe then Legal

Seguro, luego legal

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director of Priests for Life
October 06, 2003

Abortion supporters have always tried to argue that making abortion illegal will make the procedure unsafe for women. Ironically, however, the text of Roe vs. Wade itself provides a rebuttal to this argument.

The Court's opinion in Roe indicated several historical reasons behind laws prohibiting abortion. One of those reasons, the Court said, "is concerned with abortion as a medical procedure. When most criminal abortion laws were first enacted, the procedure was a hazardous one for the woman. This was particularly true prior to the development of antisepsis. Antiseptic techniques, of course, were based on discoveries by Lister, Pasteur, and others first announced in 1867, but were not generally accepted and employed until about the turn of the century. Abortion mortality was high. Even after 1900, and perhaps until as late as the development of antibiotics in the 1940's, standard modern techniques such as dilation and curettage were not nearly so safe as they are today. Thus, it has been argued that a State's real concern in enacting a criminal abortion law was to protect the pregnant woman, that is, to restrain her from submitting to a procedure that placed her life in serious jeopardy."

The decision goes on to explain, "Modern medical techniques have altered this situation. Appellants and various amici [documents submitted to the Court] refer to medical data indicating that abortion in early pregnancy, that is, prior to the end of the first trimester, although not without its risk, is now relatively safe. Mortality rates for women undergoing early abortions, where the procedure is legal, appear to be as low as or lower than the rates for normal childbirth. Consequently, any interest of the State in protecting the woman from an inherently hazardous procedure, except when it would be equally dangerous for her to forgo it, has largely disappeared" (Roe, at 149).

So Roe vs. Wade asserts that abortion had already become safe. Its "safety" was not because of any change in the law, but because of developments in medicine, such as antibiotics. The Court does not say that making abortion legal makes it safe. It says, rather, that it should be made legal because it is already safe. Apparently, abortion proponents haven't read Roe vs. Wade in a while. They should decide which argument they want to use, because they can't have it both ways.

For various reasons, we can expect to hear arguments about abortion's "safety" more frequently. For one thing, the pro-life movement has made political gains in the last two elections and can be expected to make even more progress. This causes abortion supporters to start warning people of the "dangers of illegal abortion."

Moreover, efforts like the Silent No More Awareness Campaign -- a project of Priests for Life and Anglicans for Life whereby those injured by abortion speak out publicly -- are forcing the pro-abortion crowd to reassert that abortion really isn't as bad as these women say it is. But you can't deny experience. Neither laws nor antibiotics can take the pain out of abortion.

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