Fact check: Abortion-related deaths continued after Roe v. Wade, but occurred less often
The claim: Roe v. Wade marked the end of women dying from abortions
After a Supreme Court draft opinion leaked that signaled a potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, debates about the future of abortion access ignited nationwide.
Some people online claim that the watershed ruling did more than just establish a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.
"Roe wasn't the beginning of women having abortions," reads text in an image that left-wing page Occupy Democrats shared to Facebook May 9. "Roe was the end of women dying from abortion."
The post generated over 30,000 interactions and 20,000 shares in less than a week. Similar posts amassed thousands more interactions on Facebook and Instagram.
But the claim is false.
Experts told USA TODAY abortion-related deaths still occur since Roe v. Wade was decided, though such outcomes are rare. This declining trend in abortion mortality began before the 1970s, but the Roe decision was a key contributor to that trend.
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USA TODAY reached out to Occupy Democrats and other social media users who shared the claim for comment.
Abortion-related deaths have still occurred after Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows abortion-related deaths still have occurred in subsequent years but in low numbers.
The CDC defines legal induced abortions as those a licensed clinician performs within state law and illegal abortions as those performed in any other cirumstances.
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Abortion deaths for both categories dropped sharply in the mid-1970s and have remained low since, according to CDC data. From 2011 to 2018, the CDC reported two to six deaths per year from legal abortions and one total death from an illegal abortion.
In terms of rate, the latest data showed 0.41 deaths per 100,000 abortions from 2013 to 2018.
The Roe decision was a key driver in this decrease, Mary Faith Marshall, director of biomedical ethics at the University of Virginia, told USA TODAY.
"Abortion became part of care provided under an accredited health care system with safety standards," Marshall said. "Clinicians had to be trained to perform abortion procedures in a formal way."
Women were also protected in their right to get abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy, which reduced their risk of mortality, Marshall said.
The abortion-related deaths still occurring are typically due to rare complications and demographics who can't afford medical care, Amanda Jean Stevenson, a sociologist at the University of Colorado, told USA TODAY in an email.
Declining trend in abortion mortality before Roe vs. Wade
Even before Roe v. Wade, the number of abortion-related deaths was steadily declining, Dr. Karen Meckstroth, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told USA TODAY in an email.
A 1978 study found that "deaths from abortion declined more rapidly than deaths from other causes associated with pregnancy and childbirth" between 1940 and 1975. This was attributed to various factors, such as increased availability of legal abortion and more effective contraception, according to the study.
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Abortion mortality decreased when antibiotics such as penicillin became widely available in 1945, which increased the safety of the procedure, Dr. Lisa Harris, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan, told USA TODAY in an email.
Abortion-related deaths also declined as a result of states repealing and changing anti-abortion laws, proving wider access to safe procedures. Meckstroth said that by the end of 1970, four states had repealed their anti-abortion laws, and 11 states had changed them.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Roe vs. Wade marked the end of women dying from abortions. Abortion-related deaths still occurred after the landmark decision, though there was a sharp decline. This downward trend in abortion mortality began before 1973, and Roe contributed to it, experts said.
Our fact-check sources:
Mary Faith Marshall, May 13, Phone interview with USA TODAY
Lisa Harris, May 16, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Suzanne Bell, May 13, Phone interview with USA TODAY
Carol Joffe, May 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Belsie Gonzalez, May 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Saifuddin Ahmed, May 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Mary Ziegler, May 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Amanda Jean Stevenson, May 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Paula Lantz, May 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Karen Meckstroth, May 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
CDC, accessed May 16, Abortion Surveillance -- United States, 1993 and 1994
CDC, Nov. 27, 2020, Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2018
CDC, Nov. 26, 2021, Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2019
Britannica, accessed May 16, Roe v. Wade
USA TODAY, May 9, What the end of Roe v. Wade could mean in a nation without child care aid or family leave
The Washington Post, May 29, 2019, Planned Parenthood’s false stat: ‘Thousands’ of women died every year before Roe
Department of Health, Education and Welfare (via Glenn Kessler), September 1978, Cates Abortion Mortality1940 To1976 AJOG 1978
USA TODAY, May 3, What happens if Roe v. Wade is overturned? What we know about Supreme Court's leaked draft
PolitiFact, Oct. 13, 2021, Deaths from abortions still happen, but they declined sharply after Roe v. Wade
FDA, accessed May 13, FDA's Approval of the First Oral Contraceptive, Enovid
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: False claim abortion-related deaths ended after Roe ruling