(NEXSTAR) — Shockwaves reverberated across the U.S. Monday night after a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion revealed the court intends to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case legalizing abortion in the U.S.
The authenticity of the draft, obtained by Politico, was confirmed by Chief Justice John Roberts — while it isn’t an official decision and positions of justices could change, the signaled likelihood sparked outrage and immediate protests outside the SCOTUS building in Washington, D.C.
One of the biggest concerns among abortion-rights advocates is the potential dangers to the health of women in states where abortion would become completely illegal and even criminal.
The World Health Organization estimates that 30 women die for every 100,000 unsafe abortions in developed regions, while 220 women die for every 100,000 unsafe abortions in developing regions, where abortion access is limited or impossible. The term “unsafe” refers to both self-induced methods and illegal procedures performed by non-physicians.
At least 22,800 women die each year from unsafe abortions, per a 2018 report from Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy nonprofit. The researchers analyzed death information available through the year 2014.
Overall, WHO says 7 million women per year went to the hospital after unsafe abortions in developing areas alone, per 2012 estimates. Forty-five percent of all induced abortions are unsafe, the organization says. Methods of unsafe self-induced or illegal abortions can be violent, including sharp objects being inserted through the vagina or ingestion of toxic substances, Doctors Without Borders explains.
Ninety-seven percent of all unsafe abortions take place in developing countries, where access to abortion is limited or impossible, WHO reports. DWB backs up this figure, explaining the organization works in many of these regions performing daily traumatic care to women who are hurt from unsafe abortions.
Non-fatal trauma of unsafe abortions includes sepsis and unintended organ puncturing. DWB says these conditions often require major surgeries or “the complete, and irreversible removal of the uterus.” Irrespective of induced abortions, current data point to more deaths during childbirth where abortion access is limited.
In their peer-reviewed study “Unsafe Abortion: Unnecessary Maternal Mortality,” researchers at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explained the correlation between outlawed abortion and an increase in female mortality during live births, citing Romanian laws banning the procedure in the 1960s and its reversal in the 1980s. Researchers say deaths per 100,000 ballooned from 20 to 148. Within only a year of the reversal, researchers say the number dropped to 68 deaths per 100,000 live births. The ratio was down to nine deaths per 100,000 by 2002, they write.
A blanket ban on abortion in the U.S. would lead to a 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths overall, a study from the University of Colorado Boulder found. Researchers only included numbers related to the actual pregnancy and delivery, saying: “Any increased death due to unsafe abortions or attempted abortions would be in addition to these estimates.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently estimates about 700 U.S. women die from pregnancy-related deaths each year. The CDC explains carrying a pregnancy to full term is 33 times more dangerous than having an abortion.
Advocates of legal abortion argue that ending Roe won’t affect the number of abortions performed, only the number of safe abortions performed. Guttmacher Institute reports abortion rates in illegal-abortion countries are 37 per 1,000, while rates in legal-abortion countries are 34 per 1,000.
While some states do have laws that would protect abortion access, at least a dozen states already have “trigger laws” – legislation that’s ready to go into effect immediately if Roe ultimately falls. Despite the SCOTUS opinion, public opinion indicates the majority of Americans favor upholding abortion access, with 54% telling Washington Post last week the law should hold.