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Roe v. Wade made a difference

“Every child has a right to be wanted.”


That was the rallying cry of pro-abortion activists prior to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. In the seven previous years 13 states had passed laws to allow abortion in specified circumstances; another four allowed them in most cases. In Washington a wary legislature put a referendum to a vote of the people; it passed by 56.5%.

Only this week did I learn that most of the abortion laws overruled by Roe v. Wade were less than a century old. Before that, states had followed English common law which protected a fetus only after ‘quickening' at 15 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. This, in turn, was based on Jewish law already in use at the time of Christ. In some states abortion in earlier pregnancy wasn’t illegal until 1900.


And a Federal law outlawed the transport of contraceptives across state lines from 1873 to 1965.


One might think that strict laws against abortion and contraception were a reaction to a Civil War that had killed 620,000 men. England had passed such laws a few decades earlier; France didn’t pass them until 1920.


Laws on abortion and contraception have gone hand in hand. The 1965 Supreme Court ruling often cited as making birth control legal in the U.S. only covered married couples. The ruling that extended rights to single persons in many states, including Idaho, came in 1972, just months before Roe v. Wade.

Life was different prior to the Supreme Court decisions allowing birth control and abortion.

There were more births. The birth rate has fallen from 15.6 per 1,000 of population in 1973 to 12.0 today.

There were more children with serious birth defects. Many were housed in the hospital section of the Nampa State School where staff moved their arms and legs daily to prevent their muscles from freezing in a single position. One, abandoned at BSU, had much of her brain missing and screamed in pain her entire short life.


In 1973, 17.84 out of every 1000 children had a serious birth defect. Today, that number is 5.5 per 1000. (Thalassemia is genetic in my husband’s family. A cousin of my father-in-law had nine siblings die before they were six years old.)


Possibly, there were more abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “estimates of the number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year.” In 1968 a woman with a septic abortion was admitted to the Los Angeles County Medical Center (USC) for every 14 women who had a baby.

The figures since 1973 indicate a rise in the number of legal abortions from 16.3 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 1973 to 29.3 in 1979. A steady decline brought the number to 13.5 per 1,000 in 2017; a slight bounce has followed.


Maternal deaths, however, have followed a reverse pattern. The annual rate dropped from about 15 per 100,000 births in 1973 to seven in 1987. It had risen to 23.8 by 2020. Rates are higher for blacks and Hispanics, and highest for women over 40.


And there was more crime. In 1991, 18 years after Roe v. Wade, the U.S. crime rate peaked. According to the FBI, violent crimes fell from 758 per 100,000 in 1991 to a low of 362 in 2014. Since, there has been a bounce to 398.5 (2020).


“Every child has a right to be wanted.”


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