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Feinstein makes major error saying up to 1.2 million women died in illegal abortions decades ago

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks at a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill, Sept. 6, 2018.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By WILLIAM CUMMINGS | USA Today | Published: September 6, 2018

Abortion rights have been at the forefront of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings as activists on both sides of the debate believe President Donald Trump's second Supreme Court nominee could become the deciding vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

While grilling Kavanaugh about his views on abortion during the second day of his Senate confirmation hearings Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., misstated a study's findings and dramatically exaggerated the number of women who are estimated to have died from illegal abortion procedures.

"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," Feinstein said.

Feinstein made a major error in her citation of the Guttmacher Institute's figures from a 2003 report. The study found that the number of illegal abortions performed annually during the 1950s and 1960s was between 200,000 and 1.2 million.

The number of deaths resulting from those procedures was about 300 in 1950 and was down to about 200 in 1965, according to the Guttmacher Institute. But the study cautions that those numbers are based on what was officially reported and that the actual number of deaths was likely much higher.

Feinstein spokeswoman Ashley Schapitl told USA TODAY the statistic was written incorrectly in the senator's question.

"She meant to cite just the number of illegal procedures, not deaths," Schapitl explained.   

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