General Information / History / Stats / Types

Maternal Mortality and Abortion – Myths and Facts

The need to reduce maternal mortality is an argument frequently used to promote the legalization of abortion, or indeed a 'Right to Abortion‘ throughout the world.

This argument runs as follows:

Every year, x women die as a result of botched illegal abortions, which take place under unsafe conditions. If abortion was legal (and affordable), they could have recourse to safe abortions.

This would be the lesser evil: women who want to have abortion, will have abortion anyway (the life of the child can therefore not be protected) – but by legalizing abortion one can at least protect the pregnant woman's life.

The facts, however, are the following:

    * It is estimated that every year there are ca. 50 million abortions worldwide. Roughly 40% of these are estimated to be ‘illegal'. That makes 20 million illegal abortions every year.[1]

    * For the purposes of the above-quoted argument, the pro-abortion lobby usually quote a figure of 65.000 women (other sources[2] quote even 74.000 women) dying as a consequence of ‘illegal' abortions every year. For the sake of argument, we use the higher estimate.

    * If 74.000 of 20 million having an illegal abortion die in the process, the death risk is 0,37 %. In other words: of 1000 women having an illegal abortion, less than four will die. 996 will survive. By contrast, of the 1000 children, not a single one will survive.

    * The statistics remain, however, conspicuously silent on the death risk associated with ‘legal' abortions. No statistics are ever provided by the UN or any other source in this regard. Yet common sense tells us that statistics on ‘legal' abortions must be much more readily available than statistics on ‘illegal' abortions.

    * It also seems very unlikely that ‘legal' abortions are completely free of risk. Thus, the comparison is not between 0,37% risk and nought, but between 0,37% and a risk that remains to be identified.

    * It should be noted that ‘illegal' and ‘legal' abortions are often carried out by the same practitioners, using the same methods and implements. Furthermore, the ‘illegality' may simply result from the fact that, in a country where abortion is ‘legal' during the first three months, it takes place at a later stage of the pregnancy – which naturally increases the risk for the pregnant woman.

[1] A report on the worldwide incidence of abortion in 1995, published by the pro-abortionist Guttmacher Institute, provides the following information: "Approximately 26 million legal and 20 million illegal abortions were performed worldwide in 1995" (International Family Planning Perspectives, 1999, 25(Supplement):S30-S38,). UNFPA reports (on its website) that "more than 50 million of the 190 million women who become pregnant each year have abortions". The quote of 40% illegal abortions was quoted in a recent report by the UN. This (40% of 50 million) is how the estimate of 20 million illegal abortions is reached.

[4/30/10, By J.C. von Krempach, J.D., ]




New Global Study Shows Maternal Mortality Significantly Lower Than Previously Thought
 A new study out this week by the leading British medical journal shows maternal mortality rates have been significantly overestimated by United Nations (UN) agencies.

The Lancet reports that maternal deaths worldwide in 2008 totalled 342,900, rather than the 500,000+ used by the World Bank, World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in recent years.

The study finds both that the numbers from WHO and UNICEF were faulty due to a lack of proper reporting and also imprecise statistical modelling. But The Lancet study also finds progress has been made in preventing pregnant women from dying.

The study cites four main reasons for the improvement: declining pregnancy rates in some countries, higher per capita income, higher education rates for women, and increasing availability of basic medical care including “skilled birth attendants.”

The report finds that HIV/AIDS caused 60,000 maternal deaths and suggests that maternal deaths would have been significantly lower in Africa if mothers were given antiretroviral drugs. This sharply contradicts current UN and Obama administration policies, which divert funding from HIV/AIDS to family planning as a way to reduce maternal deaths.

The study shows that 50% of maternal deaths come from just six countries; India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Researchers were surprised that three of the richest countries in the world actually showed increased maternal mortality; the United States, Canada and Norway – three countries with the most liberal abortion laws in the world.

What was not cited anywhere in the document is abortion.

Contrary to this study, the UN has promoted better maternal health through legal, or “safe,” abortion. At the UN-sponsored Women Deliver Conference in London two years ago, which was billed as a conference on maternal mortality, abortion advocate Frances Kissling told C-Fam's Friday Fax the conference was a “pro-choice conference.”

The Lancet’s editor Dr. Richard Horton told the New York Times he was pressured “by advocacy groups” to delay publication of the report until later this year.

Horton said the groups wanted the information withheld until after the current UN Commission on Population and Development (CPD), the Women Deliver Conference scheduled for this June in Washington DC, and the next UN General Assembly, which is also scheduled to address maternal mortality.

Pro-life critics of the maternal mortality numbers have long complained that the 500,000 number was likely too high and based on ideological assumptions.

Dr. Donna Harrison, writing in a C-FAM briefing paper last year, said the WHO introduction of medical abortion in some countries to reduce maternal mortality has been based on unreliable data, unreliability now confirmed by the much broader and more detailed study by The Lancet.

Regarding the new Lancet study, Harrison, the president of the American Academy of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) said:

“This study uses the best statistical methods currently available and clearly demonstrates that worldwide legalization of abortion is unnecessary to bring about significant decreases in maternal mortality.  AAPLOG encourages UN member nations to continue to develop even better statistical information by improving the identification of maternal mortality causality, especially induced abortion related mortality, which is most often underreported or misreported.”

There is little doubt that this new study will have a direct impact on the negotiations going on this week at the UN CPD, where the negotiated document on maternal mortality
includes dozens of references to reproductive health, which is used as a codeword for abortion.

[15April2010, Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. and Austin Ruse,, ]