One constant refrain from the pro-choice side of the abortion issue is that there will be just as many abortions if they are illegal, but that they will be much more dangerous. Both arguments are objectively false. It’s old news that the first part of that argument is false. The famous chapter in Freakonomics that claimed abortion lowered crime rates was based on a study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics called The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime (pdf). One of the subsidiary findings of the study, discussed in footnote 8, talks about the relatively small decline in births at the same time as the number of abortions went up dramatically after legalization:
Note, however, that the decline in births is far less than the number of abortions, suggesting that the number of conceptions increased substantially—an example of insurance leading to moral hazard. The insurance that abortion provides against unwanted pregnancy induces more sexual conduct or diminished protections against pregnancy in a way that substantially increases the number of pregnancies.
In other words: when abortion was legalized you didn’t see a shift of the same number of abortions from illegal to legal. You simply saw many more abortions. The second part of the argument is also deeply flawed: abortions got safe long, long before they were legalized, and it had nothing to do with the law. (Details here.) It was simply a reflection of advancing medical technology. Even prior to Roe, illegal abortions were performed by doctors, and in the arguments leading up to Roe the safety of illegal abortions was considered an argument for legalizing them. The whole “back-alley abortion” thing was invented after-the-fact as a scare tactic. So the evidence suggests criminalizing abortion would lead to a lower rate of abortions without making the illegal abortions that do take place any more dangerous. Maternal death should not increase.
But what about direct evidence? Well, now we have that too. This article discusses a recent medical study that examined the change in maternal death rate in Chile when abortion was criminalized in 1989 after being legal since 1965. (Full article also available.) The result? With decades of data before and after criminalization, there is no evidence of any increase in maternal death due to illegal abortions.
This is strong evidence, along with what we already knew, that criminalizing abortion would not lead to a flood of scary, dangerous, coat-hanger abortions.