# 1

If abortion becomes illegal, abortion will end

The foundation of anti-choice activism and legislation assumes that, if abortion is criminalized, abortions will no longer be performed. Nothing could be further from the truth. This myth also tries to erase the tragic history of women dying from unsafe, illegal abortion – an avoidable pandemic that is still common in many developing countries today.

The main reason abortion was legalized in the first place was to protect public health – women were dying or being injured because a large proportion of women with an unwanted pregnancy will resort to abortion, regardless of any laws. In Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries, the main causes of maternal mortality were puerperal pyrexia, hemorrhage, convulsions, and illegal abortion. In the United States, the number of illegal abortions during the 1950s and 1960s ranged from an estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million per year, with up to 5,000 women dying each year from unsafe abortion. During the abortion ban in Romania from 1965 to 1989, implemented to increase the birth rate, more than 9,000 women died from complications due to illegal abortions and the birth rate increased very little.

Restrictive abortion laws don’t even lower the rate of abortions. Global research points to a correlation between restrictive abortion laws and higher abortion rates. A survey of abortion rates from 2010 to 2014 shows that developed regions have an average of 27 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age, while developing regions have 37 /1000. Across Africa and Latin America (including the Caribbean), where abortion is illegal under most circumstances in most countries, the abortion rate is 34/1000 and 44/1000 abortions, respectively. The lowest rates in the world are found in North America (17/1,000), Western Europe (18/1,000), and Oceania (19/1,000), all regions where abortion is generally legal on broad grounds.

When abortion is illegal, it is unsafe.

The only thing that criminalizing abortion changes is the safety of the procedure. New studies estimate that 8–18% of maternal deaths worldwide are due to unsafe abortion, and the number of abortion-related deaths in 2014 ranged from 22,500 to 44,000. Almost all occur in places where abortion is illegal. Further, about 6.9 million women receive treatment for complications, with a further 40% of women with complications never receiving treatment. When abortion is criminalized or unavailable, it only creates unsafe conditions and results in more deaths. Illegal abortion is frequently done later in pregnancy (around 15 weeks gestation on average) by an untrained person (often the woman herself), under unhygienic conditions, and with unsuitable equipment. Although some doctors provide safe abortions when it’s illegal, such as in Poland and many other countries, such procedures are usually very expensive and only available to well-off women.

The website www.abortionfilms.org has compiled a list of films and videos about abortion throughout history and today, with many from countries where abortion is illegal.

Improved access to contraception and sex education helps reduce unwanted pregnancy, which is the main cause of abortion. Favourable economic conditions, good access to healthcare, and full human rights for women also enable women to have children when they want to. But women will always need access to safe abortion care because contraceptives are not 100% effective and human error further reduces efficacy.

Figure 1: Timeline for legalisation of abortion in various countries


Figure 2: Abortion prohibition in Romania


Figure 3: Abortion prohibition in the USA


Figure 4: Abortion prohibition in England and Wales


Guttmacher Institute,  Induced Abortion Worldwide (2016)

World Health Organization, Abortion rates drop in more developed regions but fail to improve in developing regions (2016)

Abortion Rights Campaign (Ireland), Myth #3: Criminalising abortion ensures a low abortion rate

Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, British Maternal Mortality in the early 18th and 19th centuries, by Geoffrey Chamberlain (2006)

Journal of Family Planning & Reproductive Healthcare, The remarkable story of Romanian women’s struggle to manage their fertility (2013)

Our Bodies, Ourselves, The Impact of Illegal Abortion (2014)

Everyday Feminism, 6 Abortion Myths Debunked, by Erin McKelle (2004)

# 2

Religious people are against abortion

In western countries, it is mostly the Roman Catholic Church and various religious fundamentalists (primarily evangelical Protestant Christians), who are against abortion. However, a majority of Catholics are pro-choice (at least in western countries). In a poll of U.S. Catholics, only 14% agreed with the Vatican’s position that abortion should be illegal, and 85% believed a woman should be able to access an abortion in some or all circumstances.

The doctrines of all major religions allow abortion at least in a few circumstances. Most religions have a liberal stream of thought that is more fully pro-choice, as well as many pro-choice adherents. For example, the group Catholics for Choice points to the supremacy of individual conscience in Catholic doctrine over the dictates of the Pope and the hierarchy. Jews are largely pro-choice, and so are many Muslims. The diversity of Christianity means that many denominations are pro-choice, such as the United Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church. Also, the Bible can be interpreted as being pro-choice.

Before abortion was legalized in the United States, many religious leaders were at the forefront of calls to legalize abortion. From 1967 to 1973, the members of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion – 1,400 ministers and rabbis across the country – helped thousands of women obtain illegal but safe abortions.

Today, a number of religious organizations educate the public about women’s right to abortion, teaching that it can be a religiously responsible decision:

  • Catholics for Choice (international) – A voice for Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health.
  • The Religous Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health & Ethics (international) – A multi-faith network of progressive feminist religious scholars and leaders, who seek out the positive, renewable moral energies of our faith traditions and direct them to the issues of population, consumption, ecology, reproductive health, and the empowerment of women.
  • Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (U.S.) – A community of religious organizations and faithful individuals dedicated to achieving reproductive justice through education, organizing and advocacy.


Catholics for Choice, The Facts Tell the Story: Catholics and Choice (2015)

Pew Research Center, Religious Groups’ Official Positions on Abortion (2013)

Think Progress (Tara Culp-Ressler): “God Loves Women Who Have Abortions”: The Religious Abortion Advocates that History Forgot (2014)

Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions (book), by Daniel Maguire (Fortress Press, 2001)

Belief.net: The Biblical Basis for Being Pro-choice (2003)

# 3

Feminists are pro-abortion and encourage women to have abortions

“Pro-choice” means that feminists and liberals support a woman’s right to decide freely whether to have a child or not. It means the decision belongs to the woman and no-one else. Pro-choice people consider it unethical when others pressure pregnant women to have either an abortion or a baby. When pro-choice people have babies, it often solidifies their pro-choice beliefs, because they can see how wrong and difficult it would be to carry a pregnancy to term against one’s will.

At abortion clinics, options counseling provides women with full information on alternatives to abortion. If women seem ambivalent about abortion, or feel pressured by others, counselors will encourage them to take more time to think about their decision. Many patients who were unsure end up deciding to carry to term. When a woman chooses to have a child, pro-choice people welcome the decision. But if a woman is not in a position to have a child, this must be accepted and the woman treated with respect and compassion.

Proponents of choice also aim to provide sexual education for young people and to facilitate access to contraception in order to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancy – the main cause of abortion. But many women will need and request abortions, and it’s important that abortions are performed under the best possible medical conditions.

sisterresist, Mythos Abtreibung – Ammenmärchen zum Schwangerschaftsabbruch

Pro-Choice Action Network, Misconceptions About Abortion

xojane, My Planned Pregnancy Made me More Pro-choice

# 4

Adoption is better than abortion

For many women, the choice to have an abortion is because they do not want to be pregnant, or give birth, or relinquish a child. In an Australian study, “We Women Decide”, women who had relinquished a baby for adoption spoke of their pain and ongoing emotional difficulty because of the decision. In contrast, most women do not regret their abortions.

Because adoption is such a difficult route to take, only a tiny percentage of pregnant women choose adoption (about 2% in North America). Most women today choose abortion or single parenthood, and it is simply not realistic to expect this to change. It would be wrong to force women to give birth and relinquish their baby for adoption, and it is not women’s purpose to produce babies for infertile couples. Further, the “market” for newborns, especially healthy and white newborns, turns babies into commodities and perpetuates inequality and poverty for older children that no-one wants.

Every child should be a wanted child. In the U.S., over 400,000 children are in the foster care system because they were in abusive or neglectful situations. While more than half of these children will return to their parents, the remainder will stay in the system. Each year, more than 20,000 children age out of the foster care system without being adopted.  There are currently 10,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted. So while the anti-choice movement claims that the answer is adoption, not abortion, the reality is that children are often abused, abandoned, and neglected because no one will take care of them. During the “social experiment” of banned abortion in Romania from 1966 to 1989, tens of thousands of unwanted children were abandoned in  orphanages where they were badly neglected, and many ended up living on the street. The country still hasn’t recovered from this disaster that traumatized an entire generation.

Unwanted children
There is a large amount of scientific research about unwanted children showing that their prospects in life are less than for wanted children. For example, researcher Henry P. David has done very important work on this topic:
David HP. et al. “Born unwanted. Developmental effects of denied abortion“, Springer, 1988
David, H. P., Dytrych, Z., & Matejcek, Z.  “Born unwanted: Observations from the Prague Study“. American Psychologist, 58: 224-229, 2003

More recently, the Turnaway study in the U.S. noted that many women denied abortions were concerned about the well-being of their existing children. Consistent with those concerns, the study found lower scores on child development for the children of women denied abortions compared to children whose mothers received an abortion. (The study focused on the effects of unwanted childbearing on women, not on the unwanted children.)


South Australia Health, Myths and Facts About Abortion

Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Why Few Women Choose Adoption (2017)

PBS fact sheet on adoption: “Off and Running”

LA Times, Cory L. Richards, The Adoption vs. Abortion Myth

Adopt U.S. Kids – Meet the Children

National Public Radio, For Romania’s Orphans, Adoption Is Still A Rarity (2012)

Children of the Decree, documentary film on Romain’s orphans (2005)

# 5

Proponents want to allow abortion up to birth

The anti-choice myth that abortion is available right up to birth is prevalent in Canada, which has no legal restrictions on abortion, including no gestational limits. But proponents of abortion on request aim to give women access to abortion as early as possible, and women who want an abortion will try to obtain one as early as possible. Later abortions are usually only sought under more desperate circumstances, such as when a woman is delayed while raising funds, she didn’t know she was pregnant, or something unexpected and serious has happened during the pregnancy to make it unviable. It is insulting to both women and doctors to imply that third-trimester abortions are happening frequently or on a ‘casual’ basis – and no laws are needed to oversee this because doctors already act professionally and women act responsibly.

In western countries, abortions in the third trimester are done only in very rare exceptional situations – sometimes when the woman has a serious illness, but usually when there is a severe malformation of the fetus with little or no chance of survival after birth. An example is anencephaly, a situation where the fetus develops without a brain.  In these cases, an abortion must be possible later in pregnancy. Other examples of serious fetal conditions are spina bifida, major heart defects, chromosomal abnormalities, and missing organs and limbs.
Comprehensive testing of fetuses that would uncover such serious defects are typically performed just before 20 weeks, so it’s not possible for most women to obtain early abortions for reasons of fetal abnormality. Proponents of safe legal abortion often say: “As early as possible, as late as necessary,” because they recognize the tragic necessity of these rare third-trimester abortions.


Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Late Term Abortions (after 20 weeks)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Facts About Anencephaly (2015)

Orlando Women’s Center, Late Abortion Due to Fetal Anomaly

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, 18-20 Week Screening Pregnancy Ultrasound

# 6

One cannot be ‘pro-choice’ but against the death penalty

The moral and social questions behind these two issues are completely different.

The ability to access an abortion is based on the idea that every woman has the right to decide whether she wants to (or is able to) carry a pregnancy to term, and whether she feels ready to take responsibility for a child and guide it through life. Proponents of abortion rights know that safe and legal abortion is life-saving for women. Without it, large numbers of women resort to unsafe abortion and risk serious injury or death. Women also cannot control their own lives when their plans and dreams are contingent on whether or not they get pregnant accidentally.

Fetuses are not persons under the law, nor are they sentient individuals who are part of society. An unwanted fetus is also not “innocent” in the sense that it is co-opting a woman’s body against her will and imposing physical and mental health risks upon her.

In contrast, victims of the death penalty are mature and conscious beings who are being punished for a serious crime, usually murder. Most liberal people are against the death penalty because they feel it is inhumane, discriminates against minorities, does not deter violent crime, and carries too great a risk of killing innocent people who were wrongfully convicted.

Therefore, support for both abortion rights and abolishing the death penalty is rooted in justice, human dignity, and respect for life. Virtually all developed countries and many developing countries have abolished the death penalty. But U.S. states with the most anti-choice restrictions also tend to support the death penalty. They are not so much “pro-life” as against “sin”, and are therefore pro-punishment.


American Civil Liberties Union, The Case Against the Death Penalty (2012)

Anne Nicol Gaylor, Women’s Medical Fund, “Abortion Is a Blessing” (1975)

Joyce Arthur, Pro-Choice Action Network, “The Fetus Focus Fallacy” (2005)

Will Saletan, Slate: Why Pro-Lifers Kill

# 7

Abortions should not be funded by the government

Safe abortion is an integral part of women’s reproductive health care. Not funding abortion can put women’s lives and health at risk, especially poor women. It can also violate women’s constitutional rights to bodily autonomy, liberty, conscience, privacy, and equality (in countries that have such constitutional guarantees for women).  Therefore, many countries fund abortion services via their nation’s health care insurance (such as Canada and the UK). Funding abortion serves to integrate abortion care into the healthcare system in general, and ensure the comprehensiveness of reproductive healthcare programs, which is essential.

However, in many countries (such as the United States and Austria), abortion may be separated from other health care and not funded by taxpayers. This forces women to pay out of pocket or rely on private insurance. Abortion funding is therefore crucial to ensure fairness and equity, without discrimination on the basis of income or gender. In the U.S., poor women often have to delay their abortions while they raise the necessary funds, which increases the medical risk. Between 18 and 35 percent of poor American women who are unable to access funding are forced to carry to term, in violation of their constitutional right to abortion. When abortions are not funded, it tends to ghettoize abortion care, as well as the women who need it and the healthcare professionals who deliver it. This can contribute to an increase in stigma, other restrictions on access, marginalization of abortion care over time, and anti-choice harassment and violence. All of this occurred in the U.S. after abortion was defunded for poor women by the 1973 Hyde Amendment.

Abortion must also be funded because it is not an elective procedure, any more than childbirth is. Pregnancy outcomes are inescapable – that is, a pregnant woman cannot simply cancel the outcome – once she is pregnant, she must decide to either give birth or have an abortion. Anti-choice activists often say that “pregnancy is not a disease” and therefore abortion should not be funded. But the same arguments can be made for childbirth, since there are no medical reasons for a woman to get pregnant and have a baby. More importantly, health is much more than the absence of disease – it’s about achieving a state of overall health and wellness. Women with unwanted pregnancies are not in a healthy place, so their abortion care should be funded.

Guttmacher Institute, At What Cost? Payment for Abortion Care by U.S. Women
Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Why Abortion Care Must Be Fully Funded