Evidence presented at World Health Assembly that health care, not abortion, will solve maternal mortality

By Paul Stark

(Left to right) Jeanne Head, R.N., National Right to Life vice-president for international affairs and U.N. representative; Scott Fischbach, MCCL GO Executive Director; and Patrick Buckley, with the U.K. Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

Evidence that legalizing abortion does not reduce maternal mortality was presented this week at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Global Outreach (MCCL GO), and Jeanne Head, R.N., U.N. representative and vice-president for international affairs at the National Right to Life Committee, launched an updated analysis published by both organizations.

Despite a worldwide decline in recent years, maternal mortality remains a serious problem in developing nations. “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,” says Head. “Yet some in the international community have focused their resources primarily on legalizing abortion at the expense of women’s lives.”

The new analysis, “Women’s Health & Abortion,” explains that maternal mortality fell dramatically in developed nations as a result of mid-20th century improvements in health care—well before the widespread legalization of abortion. Today Ireland and Poland, which prohibit most abortions, boast among the world’s lowest rates of maternal death.

“Maternal mortality is determined by the quality of maternal health care, not the legal status of abortion,” notes Fischbach. “Pushing for legal abortion in developing countries does nothing to solve the problem. It only leads to more abortions.”

The analysis highlights a peer-reviewed study of maternal mortality in Chile published on May 4. The researchers, led by Dr. Elard Koch of the University of Chile, show that maternal mortality declined significantly even after Chile prohibited abortion in 1989. Maternal deaths due specifically to abortion also dropped after abortion was made illegal. (See www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2012/05/chilean-study-shows-better-health-care-other-factors-reduce-maternal-mortality-not-legal-abortion/ and www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2012/05/chile-outperforms-u-s-and-dramatically-reduces-maternal-deaths-by-increasing-womens-educational-level.)

Koch, et al., cite various factors to explain the decrease, including a significant increase in education level, utilization of maternal health facilities, and improvements in the sanitary system. The researchers conclude that “making abortion illegal is not necessarily equivalent to promoting unsafe abortion, especially in terms of maternal morbidity and mortality. … Our study indicates that improvements in maternal health and a dramatic decrease in the [maternal mortality ratio] occurred without legalization of abortion.”

Chile’s success contrasts with the recent record of the United States, which permits abortion on demand and has seen its maternal mortality rate climb upward over the last two decades. The U.S. maternal mortality ratio (the number of deaths per 100,000 live births) increased from 10.3 in 1999 to 23.2 in 2009. Over the same period, Chile’s ratio decreased from 23.6 to 16.9.

A report issued this month by the World Health Organization and other U.N. agencies estimates that maternal deaths worldwide dropped 47 percent from 1990 to 2010. The report offers further proof that women’s lives can be saved through improved health conditions.

“We urge the World Health Assembly to adopt measures to significantly reduce maternal mortality in the developing world by improving women’s health care,” Fischbach adds. “We call upon the WHA to save lives, not expend endless energy and resources advocating the legalization of abortion in countries that protect their unborn children.”

Editor’s note. Mr. Stark is Communications Assistant for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, NRLC’s state affiliate.

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