9 Myths about Abortion Rights and Roe v. Wade

Myth #1: Abortion was a common and widely accepted practice throughout history.

Truth: This inaccurate claim was repeated throughout the 1960s. The fact is that abortion was rare well into the 19th century. Almost all abortion methods before then were ineffective or potentially dangerous to the mother. True, unwanted children were still terminated, but this was done by killing newly born children. If abortion is to be considered a common practice throughout history, the method was infanticide or abandonment (82-85).

Myth #2: Roe was based on a careful investigation of the facts.

Truth: When Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton were tried in the lower courts there were no trials, and the judges did not look at evidence. One of the attorneys even stated that “the facts don’t matter.” Although many of the justices who decided Roe insisted on the importance of the factual record in other privacy cases, the investigation in Roe was largely taken up with procedural questions (92-97).

Myth #3: Women were dying by the thousands because of back-alley abortions.

Truth: The number of maternal deaths from all causes was 780 in 1972 (down from 7,267 in 1942). Of the 780 maternal deaths, 140 were listed as “abortion deaths” by the National Center for Health Statistics, and included in this number were those deaths caused by spontaneous miscarriage (102).

Myth #4: Existing abortion laws targeted women.

Truth: Virtually all states with anti-abortion laws treated the woman as a victim and never as a perpetrator or an accomplice to abortion. The states understood that abortions were often coerced by others and that prosecuting the woman who had an abortion was not enforceable. Instead, “treating the woman as the second victim of abortion was the consistent policy of the states for nearly a century before Roe” (112).

Myth #5: The destruction of the fetus was never treated as infanticide in the American legal tradition.

Truth: Anglo-American law, in a tradition inherited from Roman law, had called the fetus an…

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