If the goal of pro-lifers is to lower abortion rates, perhaps they are approaching it incorrectly. A 2012 study from the Guttmacher Institute found that countries with more restrictive abortion laws generally have higher abortion rates than countries with liberal abortion laws.
Regions where abortion is illegal have much higher rates of abortion in almost all circumstances. Africa and Latin America, for example, have high abortion rates: 29 and 32 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age, respectively. In Western Europe, where abortion is legal on broad grounds in most countries, the abortion rate is significantly lower, at 12 per 1,000.
Quite simply, highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates.
Additionally, conservative abortion laws appear to result in higher rates of mortality among women. The same Guttmacher study found that 47,000 women die each year as a result of unsafe abortion, accounting for 13 percent of all maternal deaths globally.
Abortion is safe where it is legal and generally unsafe where it is illegal. In the United States, for example, abortion results in 0.6 deaths per 100,000 procedures. In Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, the rate is 30 and 460 deaths per 100,000 procedures, respectively.
In the United States, abortion is widely legal. In Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, many countries have very restrictive abortion laws. As a result, more women die undergoing the procedure in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa than in the United States. Nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, a troubling fact for women in developing countries, and a fact that should trouble those who are pro-life.
It should be noted that the Guttmacher study shows that there is no causal relationship between the legal status of abortion and rates of abortion. Liberal abortion laws do not necessarily result in lower rates of abortion, but neither do conservative ones. Women with unwanted pregnancies will seek abortions regardless of whether or not the procedure is legal. The study also demonstrates the undeniable reality that the procedure is immeasurably safer where it is legal. Instead of seeking to restrict legal access to abortion, as many pro-lifers do, those within the movement should heed the lesson this study holds.
Legal, safe abortion results in less death. Instead of reviling Roe v. Wade, pro-lifers should celebrate it.