SUMMARY: Twila Coulter, age 21, died November 14, 1972 after an abortion performed in a hospital in Los Angeles, CA.


On November 13, 1972, 21-year-old Twila Jeanne Coulter traveled from her home in Colorado to California for a safe and legal saline abortion. A saline abortion involves injecting a strong salt solution into the womb. The fetus swallows and inhales the saline, which causes massive internal hemorrhaging and death.

At that time, abortions were legal in California as long as they were performed in a hospital, including freestanding abortion hospitals.

Twila was injected with the saline on November 13, then expelled the dead fetus and the placenta the following day. Twila had no blood pressure and was bleeding from IV sites. She was given oxygen and three units of blood and transferred to a fully-equipped hospital.

Upon arrival, Twila was comatose and bleeding heavily. Doctors removed some retained pregnancy tissue and sutured numerous uterine injuries, but were unable to address her clotting problems. Twila died of cerebral hemorrhage.

Supporters of legal abortion would argue that while Twila's death was sad, even more women would die every year if abortion had not been legalized. To encourage people to believe this, abortion-advocacy organizations and leaders put forth claims such as:

  • "The legalization of induced abortion beginning in the 1960s contributed to an 89% decline in deaths from septic illegal abortions during 1950-1973." (Centers for Disease Control )
  • "By making abortion legal nationwide, Roe v. Wade has had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of American women. Deaths from abortion have plummeted, and are now a rarity." (Alan Guttmacher Institute)

The problem is, they're omitting far more than they're saying, and what they do say gives a very false impression as a result.

Let's look at these claims:



"The legalization of induced abortion beginning in the 1960s contributed to an 89% decline in deaths from septic illegal abortions during 1950-1973."



The first legalization of abortion in the US was in 1966, when Mississippi legalized abortion for rape cases. From 1967 through 1970, states began allowing "mental health" abortions approved by hospital committees. In 1970, New York legalized abortion on demand.



Let's zoom in on the period between 1950 and 1973, with a line at 1966 to mark Mississippi's groundbreaking legalization of abortions for rape, another at New York's legalization of abortion on demand, and another at Roe to see how much of the decline can be attributed to legalization:



external image CDC+Claim.jpg






Actually, I'm sort of bewildered as to why they set their starting point at 1950, 16 years before the first state legalized abortion at all, when the 1950s was a time when abortion mortality was leveling off rather than declining. But regardless of the selection of 1950 rather than 1960 as a starting point for illustrating the supposedly life-saving impact of legalization, clearly abortion deaths had been falling long before the first rather tepid forays into legal abortion in a few states. If legalization had any impact at all, judging from the data, it was to cause a slight blip in the existing downward trend.



Now let's look at the Alan Guttmacher claim:



"By making abortion legal nationwide, Roe v. Wade has had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of American women. Deaths from abortion have plummeted, and are now a rarity."



That claim was more vague, and also far less supportable by the data. In fact, it's not even supportable by their own graphic:



external image AGI+Claim.gif


I'll add a line at Roe to make this clearer:



external image AGI+Claim.png






Look at the chart below, which shows the number of women dying annually from abortions since 1940. The first vertical line is at 1970 -- when New York became the first state to legalize abortion-on-demand. (It had become de-facto on-demand in California by then as well.) The second is at 1973, when the Roe vs. Wade decision struck down every abortion law in the United States.



external image Abortion+Deaths+Since+1940.jpg




Pointing to Roe as the reason why abortion deaths plummeted starts to look downright delusional when you stand back and look at the data.



What really does account for the dramatic fall in abortion deaths? Two things: antibiotics and blood transfusions.



So you could use actual facts to argue that were antibiotics and blood transfusions not available, even more women would die from abortions. But you can not rationally and honestly claim that legalizing abortion deserves any credit at all for reducing abortion deaths.

Supporters of legal abortion would argue that while these young women's deaths were sad, even more women would die every year if abortion had not been legalized. To encourage people to believe this, abortion-advocacy organizations and leaders put forth claims such as:
  • "The legalization of induced abortion beginning in the 1960s contributed to an 89% decline in deaths from septic illegal abortions during 1950-1973." (Centers for Disease Control )
  • "By making abortion legal nationwide, Roe v. Wade has had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of American women. Deaths from abortion have plummeted, and are now a rarity." (Alan Guttmacher Institute)

The problem is, they're omitting far more than they're saying, and what they do say gives a very false impression as a result.

Let's look at these claims:

"The legalization of induced abortion beginning in the 1960s contributed to an 89% decline in deaths from septic illegal abortions during 1950-1973."

The first legalization of abortion in the US was in 1966, when Mississippi legalized abortion for rape cases. From 1967 through 1970, states began allowing "mental health" abortions approved by hospital committees. In 1970, New York legalized abortion on demand.

Let's zoom in on the period between 1950 and 1973, with a line at 1966 to mark Mississippi's groundbreaking legalization of abortions for rape, another at New York's legalization of abortion on demand, and another at Roe to see how much of the decline can be attributed to legalization:

external image CDC+Claim.jpg



Actually, I'm sort of bewildered as to why they set their starting point at 1950, 16 years before the first state legalized abortion at all, when the 1950s was a time when abortion mortality was leveling off rather than declining. But regardless of the selection of 1950 rather than 1960 as a starting point for illustrating the supposedly life-saving impact of legalization, clearly abortion deaths had been falling long before the first rather tepid forays into legal abortion in a few states. If legalization had any impact at all, judging from the data, it was to cause a slight blip in the existing downward trend.

Now let's look at the Alan Guttmacher claim:

"By making abortion legal nationwide, Roe v. Wade has had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of American women. Deaths from abortion have plummeted, and are now a rarity."

That claim was more vague, and also far less supportable by the data. In fact, it's not even supportable by their own graphic:

external image AGI+Claim.gif

I'll add a line at Roe to make this clearer:

external image AGI+Claim.png



Look at the chart below, which shows the number of women dying annually from abortions since 1940. The first vertical line is at 1970 -- when New York became the first state to legalize abortion-on-demand. (It had become de-facto on-demand in California by then as well.) The second is at 1973, when the Roe vs. Wade decision struck down every abortion law in the United States.

external image Abortion+Deaths+Since+1940.jpg


Pointing to Roe as the reason why abortion deaths plummeted starts to look downright delusional when you stand back and look at the data.

What really does account for the dramatic fall in abortion deaths? Two things: antibiotics and blood transfusions.

So you could use actual facts to argue that were antibiotics and blood transfusions not available, even more women would die from abortions. But you can not rationally and honestly claim that legalizing abortion deserves any credit at all for reducing abortion deaths.



Sources: LA County Coroner Report 72-12165; Obstetrics & Gynecology 1973


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