Communications Department

Better Medical Care, Not Abortion, Will Reduce World Maternal Mortality

Jun 15, 2009 | 06-June 2009 NRL News

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D.

The most untrue and dangerous, but effective argument being used to promote the legalization of abortion in countries in the developing world is that legalization will decrease maternal mortality and morbidity.

A newly developed brochure, “Does legalizing abortion protect women’s health? Assessing the argument for expanded abortion access around the globe,” effectively counters the argument with the truth. It is packed with important data, charts, and documentation which demonstrate clearly that lack of modern medicine and quality health care, not the prohibition of abortion, result in high maternal mortality rates and that legalization—which actually leads to more abortions—would increase the number of women who die or are harmed by abortion.

The brochure was produced by NRLC’s Minnesota affiliate, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), including Executive Director Scott Fischbach and his team, at the request of and with extensive input from NRLC’s U.N. Representative and Vice President for International Affairs Jeanne E. Head, R.N., an experienced labor and delivery nurse and NRLC representative at the U.N.

The Maternal Mortality Brochure made its debut last month at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Assembly (WHA). It was introduced by Scott, Jeanne, and Patrick Buckley of Ireland, U.N. Representative for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) (NRLC’s British counterpart). The Assembly, which is WHO’s governing body, is attended by health ministers from throughout the world. The three of them urged health ministers to call on the Assembly to focus on the improvement of women’s health care in the developing world, not legalization of abortion.

The introduction of the Maternal Mortality Brochure proved to be very timely. The dominant theme of the conference was achievement of Millennium Development Goal 5, “Improve Maternal Health” with a target of decreasing the maternal mortality ratio by 75 percent by 2015.

It was the focus of the keynote address by the U.K.’s First Lady, Sarah Brown. She commended WHO Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan, for her commitment and determination to change “the unresolved issue of maternal mortality … the Millennium Development Goal that has fallen so dramatically behind.”

She added, “I know that there are many competing global health demands on politicians and clinicians alike and so it is a clear demonstration of your leadership that today you present maternal mortality as the keystone to unlocking the potential of all the Millennium Development Goals—a priority for all health ministers and governments all over the world.”

Jeanne told NRL News, “Sadly, we’ve been hearing similar words since the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) which stated a similar goal, but nothing has changed significantly since then.” She added, “It is tragic for the women of the developing world that the focus has been on decreasing the number of children women deliver rather than making the delivery of their children safe.”

Jeanne reports that her previous experience revealed that the inaccurate arguments of the pro-abortion side have been made so forcefully that even many health ministers have come to accept them. “That is why, when Scott asked what he could do to help,  I urged him to develop the brochure and to accompany me to Geneva,” she said. “The African and Latin American countries, most of which have laws protecting unborn children, are under enormous pressure to legalize or expand abortion,” she continued.

The team reports that the brochure was well received with a few exceptions and proved to be a very effective tool. It not only educated the health ministers but gave them ammunition to resist the increasing pressure placed on their countries by certain U.N. bodies such as Treaty Compliance Committees, the UNFPA and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as International Planned Parenthood, and many others.

“We have known for decades that most maternal deaths can be prevented with adequate nutrition, basic health care, and good obstetric care throughout pregnancy, at delivery, and postpartum,” Fischbach said in a statement. “Yet some in the international community have focused resources primarily on legalizing abortion, in many cases at the expense of women’s lives.”

With data and charts, MCCL shows that the decline in maternal mortality rates in the developed world coincided not with the advent of legal abortion, but with what WHO identified as “the development of obstetric techniques and improvement in the general health status of women.”

Improvements in maternal health care can make a huge difference. One WHO expert testified that severe bleeding contributes to as much as 44% of all maternal deaths in Africa. Many of these deaths can be prevented by access to safe blood. “Modern medicine and better health care are the key to protecting the lives and health of women,” the findings conclude.

Data from individual countries bear out these declarations. MCCL’s brochure points out that Malaysia and Sri Lanka sharply reduced maternal mortality rates by making professional midwives widely available in rural areas and by making sure that there was better communication and transportation and a reliable supply of appropriate drugs, medical equipment, and backup services.

With these kinds of improvements, maternal mortality in Sri Lanka dropped from 2,136 deaths for every 100,000 live births in 1930 to 24 in 1996. In Malaysia, it went from 1,088 in 1933 to just 19 in 1997.

Even in the western world, the legalization of abortion has not corresponded with low maternal mortality rates. Citing documentation, MCCL’s brochure offers Russia and the United States as examples, where abortion is legal, and the countries of Poland and Ireland, which have strong abortion restrictions. Poland and Ireland have the lowest maternal mortality rates, not the U.S. or Russia.

“And if you look carefully at the graph on maternal mortality in the U.S., you will note that in New York—where abortion on demand has been legal for 39 years—the maternal mortality rate is actually increasing,” Jeanne explained.

The brochure uses examples such as these to make clear that investing in better medical care reduces maternal mortality, and that legalizing abortion “only leads to more abortions and, as a result, more abortion-related complications for women.” Abortion does nothing to resolve the underlying lack of basic medical care, but actually exacerbates the situation.

MCCL’s brochure quotes the cogent observation often made by Jeanne: “Women generally at risk because they lack access to a doctor, hospital, or antibiotics before abortion’s legalization will face those same circumstances after legalization. And if legalization triggers a higher demand for abortion, as it has in most countries, more injured women will compete for those scarce medical resources.”

Jeanne told NRL News that Scott and his team at MCCL did a magnificent job with the brochure. “It is exactly what is needed at this crucial time and what many of us in the U.N. NGO Pro-Life and Pro-Family Coalition have needed in our work.” She reported that responses from members of the Coalition who are on the front lines have been extremely positive and that they are excited to have such an effective lobbying tool.

“Although we have been using much of the information all along in many separate documents, this puts it all together as an attractive and readable vehicle in a cohesive, cogent, and persuasive fashion,” Jeanne said. She noted that one of the Coalition members was in East Timor when he received the brochure by e-mail. Currently there is a push to legalize abortion in East Timor, and the brochure is being put to use right away.

The brochure is currently available in English, French, and Spanish, with Arabic and German translations in the works. Copies are available from MCCL or the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund