The Washington Post’s fact checker has given Planned Parenthood’s president Dr. Leana Wen a rating of “four Pinocchios”—meaning she perpetuated a major falsehood—for repeatedly referencing a misleading stat about abortion. On several recent occasions, Wen has said that before the Roe v. Wade decision, thousands of women died every year because of unsafe abortions.
However, after an extensive dive into the facts, The Post found: “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.”
The Post suggests Dr. Wen knows this. The stats they reference are so old they predate antibiotics. And, the facts the researchers used to arrive at the numbers (some of them dating back to the 1930s) were essentially rough, somewhat educated guesses.
“Wen is a doctor, and [the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] is made up of doctors. They should know better than to peddle statistics based on data that predates the advent of antibiotics,” The Post said.
In a 2014 policy statement, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said, “It is estimated that before 1973, 1.2 million U.S. women resorted to illegal abortion each year and that unsafe abortions caused as many as 5,000 annual deaths.”
Dr. Wen has gone as far as to say, “Before Roe v. Wade, thousands of women died every year — and because of extreme attacks on safe, legal abortion care, this could happen again right here in America.”
However, this too lacks evidence to support.
Stanley Henshaw, a professional researcher at the Guttmacher Institute (which, The Post notes, “favors abortion rights”) told The Post, “In my opinion, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, women would turn to relatively safe medications that can be purchased over the internet.”
The Post concluded their findings saying, “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.”