Responding to “Back-Alley” Abortion Arguments

Download Audio MP3 | 00:47:40

Josh Brahm and Rachel Crawford dive deeper into the pro-choice argument regarding back-alley abortions than we ever have before on ERI. Topics include understanding why this argument is particularly persuasive to pro-choice people, the most persuasive responses, several bad pro-life responses, and how some pro-abortion-choice advocates lied about this before Roe vs. Wade.


  • 1:55: Understanding why this argument comes up more now than it used to;
  • 4:00: Understanding why this argument is particularly persuasive to pro-choice people;
  • 5:31: How this argument was heavily emphasized in Rachel’s Women’s Studies classes;
  • 8:52: How Josh’s speaking trip in Trinidad (where abortion is illegal) affected him on this issue;
  • 12:24: A weaker version of this argument;
  • 15:27: Pro-life people should never start with this counter-argument;
  • 22:53: Instead pro-life advocates should make these arguments;
  • 31:19: Pro-abortion-choice sources debunk their own statistics;
  • 38:19: Responding to people who are skeptical of Dr. Nathanson’s confession;
  • 41:53: Two unhelpful pro-life counter-arguments.

A good question to ask:

Do you think like I do, that abortion is an unjust act of violence against an innocent person? If you don’t, that’s okay and we should talk about that. But I do, and so it affects the way I think about these questions. Can you think of one other example where we should keep an unjust act of violence legal to make it safer for a perpetrator to do it anyway?


Mary Anne Warren:

The fact that restricting access to abortion has tragic side effects does not, in itself, show that restrictions are unjustified, since murder is wrong regardless of the consequences of prohibiting it.

Source: “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,” in The Problem of Abortion, Joel Feinberg, et al, Wadsworth, 1984, p.103


Mary Calderone:

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 . . . Second, and even more important, the conference estimated that 90 per cent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians, trained as such; and many of them are in good standing in their communities. They must do a pretty good job if the death rate is as low as it is.

Source: “Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem,” American Journal of Health 50 (July I960): 949

Afred Kinsey source: Cincinnati, Ohio: Hayes Publishing Co, 1988), 169.


Dr. Bernard Nathanson:

It was always ‘5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year,’ I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the ‘morality’ of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? The overriding concern was to get the laws [against abortion] eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible.

Source: Aborting America, New York, Doubleday, 1979, 193


Dr. Christopher Tietze, chief statistician for, among others, Planned Parenthood and the CDC at the time:

Some 30 years ago it was judged that [illegal abortion] deaths might number 5,000 to 10,000 per year, but this rate, even if it was approximately correct at the time, cannot be anywhere near the true rate now. The total number of deaths from ALL causes among women of reproductive age in the U.S. is not more than about 50,000 per year. The National Center for Health Statistics listed 235 deaths from abortion in 1965. Total mortality from illegal abortions was undoubtedly larger than that figure, but in all likelihood it was under 1,000.

Source: Scientific America, volume 220 in 1969


Related Links:

We referenced a graphic image of Gerri Santoro’s body, who died because of an illegal abortion in 1964. Then picture is circulated in textbooks today, and it was also published in Ms. Magazine in 1973. Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article about her, that includes the famous picture. Graphic picture warning, both for blood and for nudity:

Abortion Images: A Case for Disagreement without Division

Podcast: Should Women be Punished if Abortion Becomes Illegal?

Podcast: Response to Pro-Choice Propaganda

Bodily Rights Arguments Necessitate Extremism

Is Abortion 14 Times Safer Than Childbirth?

Fetus Tunnel Vision: 4 Reasons Pro-Lifers Need to Stop Doing This

Back Alley Abortion Arguments in 5 Minutes:

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