Post-Roe America Is Not The First Instance Of Abortion Supporters Inflating Illegal Abortions

Abortion advocates argue the Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade will only cause more women to seek illegal abortions. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “women are going to die” due to abortion restrictions. A New York Times editorial last week said more women are “self-managing” abortions. Protestors outside the court brandish signs with hand-drawn coat hangers, suggesting women will use dangerous and violent self-induced abortion methods post-Roe

Members of the pro-abortion left have used this argument since the 1960s when two men exaggerated the number of illegal abortions occurring to convince women’s rights activist Betty Friedan to add abortion to the feminist platform. 

National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) founders Larry Lader and Dr. Bernard Nathanson lobbied state legislatures to repeal abortion restrictions, but their success came when they linked abortion to the rise of feminism. Due to Lader and Nathanson’s influence, feminism transformed from a movement for equal rights to the belief that childless women are best equipped for success.

“If we’re going to move abortion out of the books and into the streets, we’re going to have to recruit the feminists,” Nathanson repeated Lader saying in his 1979 book. “Friedan has got to put her troops into this thing — while she still has control of them.”

In Friedan’s landmark feminist book, “The Feminine Mystique,” she encouraged women to seek jobs outside of the home, drawing attention to the “problem with no name,” the belief women could only achieve happiness through being a wife and mother. But Friedan wanted to protect a woman’s right to have a family.

“Women are the people who give birth to society, and that is a necessary value in society,” she said in an interview with Playboy. “Feminism was not opposed to marriage and motherhood. It wanted women to be able to define themselves as people and not just as servants to the family. You want a feminism that includes women who have children and want children because that’s the majority of women.”

A woman’s right to be a mother was a personal issue for Friedan, as she was fired from her job as a reporter in the 1940s because she was pregnant. Her feminism was not a fight against marriage and family, but a fight for equality. The first issue of “The Feminine Mystique” did not mention abortion, rather it focused on creating a world where women could be equals in the workplace without sacrificing their children. 

“It’s just so unrealistic to be a woman who is anti-family,” she said. 

Friedan was one of the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW), writing its mission statement “to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” Abortion legalization was absent from NOW’s founding list of issues. 

Shifting the Cause

After Lader, who wrote the biography of Planned Parenthood founder and eugenicist Margaret Sanger, founded NARAL with Nathanson, they worked to get feminists like Friedan on board with their cause. They overstated the number of illegal abortions in America to convince Friedan that true equality for women could be achieved only through the legalization of abortion. 

Nathanson, a former abortionist who became a vocal pro-life activist after becoming troubled about the number of unborn deaths he presided over, later admitted he and Lader fabricated the figures they told Friedan. 

“It was always ‘5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year,’” he said. “I confess that I knew the figures were totally false. … The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible.” 

Lader and Nathanson’s intent was not to protect women but to provide a way for men to avoid accountability in light of the Sexual Revolution, Sue Ellen Browder wrote in her book “Subverted.”

Even after Lader and Nathanson convinced Friedan to become pro-abortion, she valued family, as she herself was a mother of three. She called feminists to shift their focus from abortion activism to issues she considered more important: child care, parental leave, and flexible work hours. 

“Ideologically, I was never for abortion. Motherhood is a value to me, and even today abortion is not. … I believed passionately in 1967, as I do today, that women should have the right of chosen motherhood,” Friedan said in 2000, six years before her death. “For me the matter of choice has never been primarily the choice of abortion, but that you can choose to be a mother. That is as important as any right written into the Constitution.”

Even the Left Knows Abortion Numbers Will Decrease

The pro-choice argument after the overturn of Roe mirrors the argument Lader and Nathanson made to Friedan: that making abortion illegal will not decrease abortions, but compel women to terminate their pregnancies through other means. 

But even left-wing pro-choicers admit the overturn of Roe will decrease abortion numbers. 

The New York Times article titled, “Most Women Denied Abortions By Texas Law Got Them Another Way” laments that the overturn of Roe “will cause some women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term,” which is another way of saying the decision saves unborn lives. Additionally, economists concluded a 2013 Texas bill that banned abortion at 20 weeks saved 3,230 unborn lives the year after the law took effect.

Randall K. O’Bannon, director of education and research at National Right to Life, said the abortion industry is encouraging women to seek self-induced abortions or chemical abortions by offering to fund their travel or send mifepristone and misoprostol pills to their homes.

“We’ve never claimed pro-life laws will stop all abortions, but a number of lives will be saved and that’s the point of the legislation, to encourage women to choose life for themselves and for their baby,” O’Bannon said. 

Abortion advocates have downplayed the life-saving nature of pro-life laws and rulings before, and they can trick Americans like they tricked Betty Friedan again. 


Elizabeth Troutman is a student at Hillsdale College.

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