FACT CHECK: Feinstein Claimed That As Many As 1.2 Million Women Died From Illegal Abortions Before Roe v. Wade

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said that 200,000 to 1.2 million women in the U.S. died from illegal abortions in the decades before Roe v. Wade.

“In the 1950s and 60s, the two decades before Roe, deaths from illegal abortions in this country ran between 200,000 and 1.2 million. That’s according to the Guttmacher Institute,” she said while questioning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing on Sept. 5. “So, a lot of women died in that period.”

Verdict: False

The range cited by Feinstein accounts for the number of illegal abortions performed each year in the 1950s and 1960s, not the number of women who died from illegal abortions in those decades. Fewer than 1,000 women died each year due to abortions, according to multiple estimates.

Fact Check:

Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, referenced the statistic before asking Kavanaugh if he thinks that Roe v. Wade is correct and settled law. The landmark 1973 Supreme Court case legalized abortion nationally.

“I think knowing going into it, how you make a judgment on these issues is really important to our vote as whether to support you or not. Because I don’t want to go back to those death tolls in this country,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein misstated a statistic published in a 2003 analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. The estimate refers to the number of illegal abortions performed each year in the two decades before Roe v. Wade, not the number of women who died after those illegal abortions.

“Estimates of the number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year,” read the analysis.

Relatively few women died in those decades after getting an abortion. The report said there were around 300 reported deaths from abortion in 1950 and just under 200 in 1965. It noted that those were only officially reported deaths and that the actual number of deaths was likely much higher. (RELATED: Kamala Harris Says The Title X ‘Gag Rule’ Would Ban Clinics From Mentioning Abortion)

Abortion researcher Christopher Tietze wrote in 1969 that the number of deaths from abortion in 1965 was likely under 1,000. Assuming 1,000 abortion deaths per year in the 1950s and 1960s would put the number of deaths in those two decades at around 20,000, a fraction of Feinstein’s claim.

The Guttmacher Institute told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email that the 2003 report still contains the most recent data on illegal abortions and abortion deaths before Roe v. Wade.

Feinstein’s press secretary, Ashley Schapitl, said that the statistic was written incorrectly in the senator’s question. “She meant to cite just the number of illegal procedures, not deaths,” she told USA Today.

Guttmacher estimates that there were 926,000 abortions performed in 2014, a number that has declined in recent decades. Since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, there have been about 60 million abortions.

Feinstein’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter

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