Communications Department

New Analysis of Maternal Mortality Confirms Health Care, Not Abortion, Key Factor in Saving Lives

Jul 27, 2011 | 06/07-June/July 2011 NRL News

NRL News
Page 20
June-July 2011
Volume 38
Issue 6-7


New Analysis of Maternal Mortality Confirms Health Care,
Not Abortion, Key Factor in Saving Lives

By Jeanne E. Head, R.N. and Scott Fischbach

Improved medical care, not abortion, is the solution to the problem of maternal deaths in the developing world, according to a new analysis of research from the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations, The Lancet, and other resources.

The updated analysis, “Why Legalized Abortion Is Not Good for Women’s Health,” was released last month at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Global Outreach (MCCL GO) and National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund. The WHA was urged to emphasize improving health care for women as the only sure means of reducing maternal mortality.

The members of the WHA, which is the governing body of WHO, are health ministers from throughout the world. Many of the delegates, particularly those from pro-life countries, were pleased to receive our information. They have been under enormous pressure by UN Treaty Compliance Committees, WHO, the United Nations Population Fund, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and other abortion advocates to accept the premise that legal abortion is necessary to save women’s lives.

It has been 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 and with the availability of emergency obstetric care. Yet some in the international community have focused their resources primarily on legalizing abortion rather than on improved maternal health care, at the expense of women’s lives.

In arguing for the legalization of abortion in pro-life countries, abortion advocates have consistently repeated exaggerated estimates of deaths from illegal abortions in the developing world, claiming that they had not decreased since the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development vowed to do so. However, a 2010 study published in the medical journal The Lancet reveals that these statistics were inflated and that a significant decrease in maternal mortality has been made with improved maternal health care and without the expansion of abortion.

Why Legalized Abortion Is Not Good for Women’s Health” presents clear, factual evidence to repudiate the claim that legalized abortion reduces maternal mortality. It compares the impact of improved medical care and legalized abortion on maternal mortality rates in several countries. According to WHO, maternal deaths declined sharply in the United States, England, and Wales through the 1930s and 1940s, for example, coinciding with advancements in maternal health care, obstetric techniques, antibiotics, and the general health status of women. This occurred long before the widespread legalization of abortion.

Chile sharply reduced its maternal mortality rate even after its prohibition of abortion in 1989, and now has the lowest maternal mortality rate in Latin America. Of the four countries that reduced their maternal mortality rates the most from 1990–2008, three have maintained bans on abortion. In the United States, which has had abortion on demand throughout pregnancy since 1973, resulting in over 53 million abortions, the maternal mortality rate has increased.

In the developing world, where even basic health care is scarce, the danger of legalized abortion is profound, our analysis explains. 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. The number of abortion-related maternal deaths is likely to actually increase, not decrease. (According to an advocate for legalized abortion, Stanley Henshaw of the Guttmacher Institute, “In most countries, it is common after abortion is legalized for abortion rates to rise sharply for several years, then stabilize, just as we have seen in the United States.”)

We called upon the WHA to focus its resources on the improvement of women’s health care in the developing world so as to provide a healthy outcome for mother and child, not expend endless energy and resources in areas where there is profound disagreement.

The analysis is available in English, Spanish, and French on the National Right to Life ( and MCCL GO ( websites.

Jeanne E. Head, R.N., is NRLC vice president for international affairs and UN representative. Scott Fischbach is executive director of MCCL and MCCL GO and a UN representative for NRLC.