Note: Originally published on NBCNews.com/THINK
Speaking at an event hosted by an anti-abortion group in Nashville on Feb. 27, Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speechhighlighting the numerous anti-choice initiatives the Trump administration has launched and suggesting (hoping?) that legal abortion will end “in our time.”
“I truly do believe, if all of us do all that we can, that we will once again, in our time, restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law,” Pence said. “I just know in my heart of hearts that this will be the generation that restores life in America.”
There’s only one problem: Making abortion illegal will not in fact end abortion in America. Doing so will merely drive it underground, making it unsafe and unregulated, and will result in the needless deaths of women. How’s that for restoring the sanctity of life?
Pence’s dream of returning America to a pre-Roe dystopia, in which forced pregnancy and birth is the law of the land, comes as no surprise. His extreme anti-abortion record is well documented and bereft of consideration for women’s lives, health or history.
Because we know what will happen if we make abortion illegal. Before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in its historic Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, scores of women died from illegal abortion care. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that focuses on reproductive health, the death toll associated with illegal abortions was significant: In 1930, abortion was listed as the official cause of death for almost 2,700 women, or 18% of maternal deaths recorded in that year. In 1965, death-by-illegal-abortion accounted for 17% of all deaths attributed to pregnancy and childbirth that year. And those are just the reported cases.
Even when women didn’t die from their illegal abortions, injury was not uncommon. As the Guttmacher Institute explained, “In 1962 alone, nearly 1,600 women were admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City for incomplete abortions…In 1968, the University of Southern California Los Angeles County Medical Center…admitted 701 women with septic abortions.”
The situation was indeed bleak. Dr. David Grimes, a retired OB-GYN and pre-Roe abortion provider, detailed his experience treating women with back-alley abortion complications in a recent TIME interview: “I got called down to the emergency department to a see a young woman, a coed from on campus, who was in septic shock. She had virtually no blood pressure. And on examination, I found a dead fetal foot protruding through her cervix at about 17 weeks of pregnancy and [under] suspicious circumstances.”
Desperation drove up to 1.2 million women per year to terminate their pregnancies in the 1950s and 1960s, even though it meant putting their lives and health at risk. Where there is a will, there’s a way. And this pattern will surely repeat if Pence gets his way.
Conversely, legalized abortion saves women’s lives. Deaths from abortion declined fivefold between 1973 and 1985 (an immediate, positive impact of the Roe v. Wade decision), and they are now a rarity. What’s more, legal abortion enables women to obtain abortions earlier in pregnancy — when it is safest — thereby reducing the risk of complications.
For Pence to deliver a triumphant speech exalting the efforts of anti-choice legislators and activists — and encouraging them to “do the work” until abortion is outlawed — is essentially promoting the injury and death of women.
One cannot claim to respect the sanctity life and also be willing to impose deadly consequences on a large faction of the population. While abortions are generally on the decline, which is good news, studies suggest between one third and one quarter of women will have an abortion during their reproductive years. Stripping away the legal right to abortion care won’t save lives. It will only jeopardize women’s health and wellbeing.
If Pence was really serious about women’s health, he would be talking about improving access to contraception — something that is believed to be a driving force behind the decline in unplanned pregnancies. But that’s not his style.
Make no mistake: If history repeats itself, women will needlessly die because of people like Mike Pence.