A Washington Post fact check confirmed that Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen is repeatedly and intentionally using outdated statistics to exaggerate how many women died from illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade.
Particularly over the past three months, Wen has used a line stating that before Roe, thousands of women died every year from abortion due to “attacks on safe, legal abortion care” or women not having “access to essential health care.”
A Post reader requested that the organization check up on that claim, and the resulting research led The Washington Post to assign Wen’s claim a grade of “Four Pinocchios” which is defined on their rating scale simply as a “whopper.” For reference, a “Three Pinocchio” rating is for a claim with a “significant factual error and/or obvious contradiction.”
“Wen is a doctor, and the ACOG is made up of doctors,” the Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote. “They should know better than to peddle statistics based on data that predates the advent of antibiotics. Even given the fuzzy nature of the data and estimates, there is no evidence that in the years immediately preceding the Supreme Court’s decision, thousands of women died every year in the United States from illegal abortions.”
As early as 1959, even pro-abortion researchers were acknowledging that thousands of women were not dying from illegal abortions, even though that may have been the case in the 1930s.
“Abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure,” one researcher wrote in 1959. “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.”
The conclusion is that while there was likely a point in history during which Wen’s claim would’ve been true, in the years and possibly decades before Roe v. Wade as antibiotics became more common, there was not an epidemic of thousands of women dying because they had to seek illegal abortions.