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Maarten van Swaay / April 21, 2016

Births and Abortions

Some numbers readily available from reputable sources:

U.S. abortions per year: 330,000.
U.S. births per year: 14/1000 –> ~4,500,000.

In other words, about one in 15 pregnancies is terminated by abortion. That fraction would be very hard to explain as a reflection of medical emergencies; much of it is almost certainly ascribable to “choice.” The number 330,000 may not carry much impact, but it amounts to almost 1,000 abortions per day, or about one abortion every 90 seconds. If those abortions are performed during standard 40-hour weekly working hours, there would be almost three abortions per minute.

Reported “intentional homicides” exclude such categories as war casualties and highway fatalities. The data are reported as rates: instances per 100,000 population.

U.S. rate (U.S. total, est.): 2010: 5 (16,000 ); 2011: 5 (16,000); 2012: 4 (12,000).

Countries with reported homicide rates of more than 30 per 100,000 per year: Bahamas, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, South Africa, St-Kitts, Venezuela.

U.S. traffic fatalities: 32,675 in 2014. That number has been above 50,000 for several years during the 1960s and late 1970s, even with a smaller population. From 1962 until 2008 the number only once fell below 40,000.

Data on traffic fatalities and homicides look out of place in a summary about abortion. But they do put some numbers in perspective. The womb is a far more dangerous place than the highway: even though the “womb population” is far smaller than the “highway population,” each year more than 10 times more babies are killed in the womb than people are killed on the highway. Yes, one hears arguments that the unborn are not yet “persons,” and that therefore the word “kill” may be misleading. But if a pregnant woman is killed, the law holds the killer responsible for two homicides, not one.

Abortions also dwarf homicides by a factor of more than 20 in the U.S. The abortion data are unclear about whether they include those produced by “morning-after” interventions. I suspect that those are probably not counted in the reported abortion statistics because they would be much harder to estimate than recorded visits to abortion clinics.

A ratio of abortions over full-term births near 1:15 is very hard to describe in terms of medical emergencies, i.e., unforeseeable accidents. In other words, most abortions are likely to be matters of choice, and not risk. Then it is misleading to label contracts that cover their cost as “insurance”: they have far more in common with subscriptions — a tool to spread episodic costs more uniformly over time. One would expect that subscription rates are set to cover the — predictable — average cost. In other words, with a subscription the customers pay for what they receive, as they should.

But if such contracts are labeled as insurance, and if that insurance is made mandatory, then those costs will be imposed on large groups whose members — by choice — refrain from incurring them. In other words, the many are forced to pay for the choice of the few.


Professor Maarten van Swaay retired from Kansas State University in 1995. He can be reached at [email protected]

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