Dr. Michael M. Levi's 1974 Congressional Testimony Explains How Legal Abortion Saves Lives — No Matter What Decade We're Talking About
In spite of the fact that abortion is not only legal, but also safe and necessary, the fight for access to the service isn't about to end anytime soon. But in a time when opponents to abortion seem determined to return the country to ira pre-Roe v. Wade legal landscape, it's important to know exactly what that means for women: More of us would have to choose dangerous, illegal abortions instead of the safe, completely legal abortions that are currently available to us. And that's why this doctor's 1974 Congressional testimony about illegal abortions — in a time when Republicans were considering adding a "Human Life Amendment" to the constitution in order to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had made abortion legal just a year before — is so incredibly important. It's just as relevant now as it was over 40 years ago, and it drives home exactly why access to safe and legal abortions is a fundamental necessity for women's health.
According to Taryn Hillin of Fusion, who uncovered a transcript several days ago, the testimony comes from Dr. Michael M. Levi. Levi was an OBGYN, a doctor who performed abortions, a medical professor, and a former doctor at Harlem Hospital in New York City before abortion was made legal. What he saw during the years before Roe v. Wade — lots and lots of illegal, dangerous abortions — horrified him. Much of the time, illegal abortions resulted in the death of the women who were trying to attain them. Levi told Congress:
Levi goes onto say that at the time of his testimony, abortion was the most common and available type of birth control in the world (now, of course, condoms are). But abortions remain incredibly common today — three in 10 women will have abortions by age 45, according to projections reported by the Guttmacher Institute — so his big point still stands. "It would be absurd to imagine that women wishing to terminate an unwanted pregnancy will not find the means to do so, even if abortion is prohibited by law [. . .] Contrary to the misconception of some people, the impact of legalizing abortion is largely a shift from dangerous and costly illegal procedures, rather than the generating of abortions which would not have occurred." As proof of this, Levi says that one hospital in New York found that miscarriages dropped 20 percent after abortion was made legal (since most of those miscarriages had been induced by badly performed abortions), premature births dropped 36 percent, and abandoning newborns dropped by 56 percent. Compare these with mountains of research that has proven that abortion is safe when performed legally, and, well... the picture now is the same as it was in 1974. Access to safe and legal abortions is always important for women's health, no matter what decade we're looking at.
The entire testimony, which includes account from multiple doctors, is worth reading in full (if only to see a time when someone could support abortion rights in front of the Senate without being interrupted ad nauseum). Some of the statistics and concerns seem incredibly outdated now; others are as relevant as ever. But it's hard to shake the perspective that legalizing abortion has saved the lives of women — plain and simple.