Reason Roundup

Planned Parenthood President Wrong on Illegal Abortion Deaths Pre-Roe

Plus: how the FDA is handling cannabidiol products, highlights from Harris and Amash town halls, and more...


Did thousands of U.S. women die of illegal abortions per year? Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen has repeatedly claimed that "thousands of women died every year" from botched abortions in a pre–Roe v. Wade America. It looks like Wen may play as loose with language as her predecessor, Cecile Richards (who left in 2018), did.

After "a tour of decades of musty academic literature," The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler concludes that Wen's claim is false (or, in Post terms, worth "Four Pinocchios") if we're talking about the era leading up to the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion throughout the country.

Wen "should know better than to peddle statistics based on data that predates the advent of antibiotics," Kessler writes.

Even given the fuzzy nature of the data and estimates, there is no evidence that in the years immediately preceding the Supreme Court's decision, thousands of women died every year in the United States from illegal abortions.

Wen's repeated use of this number reminds us of the shoddy data used by human trafficking opponents. Unsafe abortion is certainly a serious issue, especially in countries with inadequate medical facilities. But advocates hurt their cause when they use figures that do not withstand scrutiny. These numbers were debunked in 1969—50 years ago—by a statistician celebrated by Planned Parenthood. There's no reason to use them today.

Back in 1969, researchers writing in Scientific American pointed out that "the total number of deaths from all causes among women of reproductive age in the U.S. is not more than about 50,000 per year. The National Center for Health Statistics listed 235 deaths from abortion in 1965. Total mortality from illegal abortions was undoubtedly larger than that figure, but in all likelihood it was under 1,000."

By 1972, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started keeping track of abortion-related mortality, the official numbers were down to 24 deaths from legally-induced abortions and 39 deaths from illegal abortions. Again, the real number was almost certainly somewhat higher but not dramatically so.

Today, we have better medical technology all around, plus abortion via pill that's as safe and effective in the first trimester as it is discreet. The picture of illegal abortion today wouldn't look much like its 20th- and pre-20th-century counterparts, thank goodness—which isn't to say that abortion pill black markets (and a potential crackdown on them) wouldn't come with their own dangers. But tying nationwide abortion access to the idea that masses of women will die without it probably isn't the best tack.


Pew Research Center looks at the demographics of Twitter:


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will consider how to regulate cannabidiol (a.k.a. CBD) products at a hearing this Friday. MarketWatch notes that "the substance can be extracted from the cannabis plant or from hemp, which has caused confusion ever since hemp was legalized as part of December's 2018 Farm Bill. CBD was not legalized in that bill, but rather it was moved under the purview of the FDA, which immediately said companies cannot add it to food or beverages, as many are hoping to do."

Why did the FDA get control of CBD in the first place?

That's because it's the main ingredient in the only cannabis-based drug to win FDA approval, GW Pharma PLC's GWPH, -1.31% Epidiolex, a treatment for severe forms of childhood epilepsy.

The FDA is under pressure to create a regulatory framework to allow the use of CBD to treat such ailments as inflammation and anxiety, but it has said it may look to Congress to act instead, if it's unable to move in a timely manner. The regulator has been cracking down on companies making claims for CBD products in treating serious illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, as MarketWatch reported last week.


  • Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) did a town hall yesterday as well. "If you had never heard of Amash before, it was a perfect introduction to his views on just about every significant issue. If you are familiar with him, it was a standout performance," writes Reason's Eric Boehm. Watch here.
  • Rep. Justin Amash's primary challenger "said he had not read Mueller's report but agreed with the assessment of most Republicans." Amash expanded his assessment of the case for President Donald Trump's impeachment in another Twitter thread:

  • The U.S. has learned the wrong lessons from last decade in Iraq, argues Foreign Affairs' Jon Finner after reviewing new military material on the matter. "The U.S. Army's official history of the Iraq war erodes the tenuous consensus on what went wrong in Iraq and thus makes another damaging conflict—this time with Iran—more likely."
  • The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police blasted out a warning that officers shouldn't "fall into the trap" of thinking that teenagers "are only kids. Some are criminals!"
  • The Wall Street Journal rips into Sen. Kamala Harris' wage gap proposal:

Under Ms. Harris's plan, every business with 100 workers or more would have to get an "Equal Pay Certification" from the federal government. To earn this gold star, they must "prove they're not paying women less than men for equal work." That means demonstrating, to the satisfaction of some bureaucrat, that any wage gap "is based on merit, performance, or seniority—not gender." The penalty for failure is a steep fine: "1% of their profits for every 1% wage gap they allow to persist."

  • The Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that allowed eastern Pennsylvania students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.
  • "A UFO is not necessarily an alien from another planet," points out Daniel Drezner.