Why Ipas is wrong to say legalizing abortion worldwide would save lives


By Paul Stark

mm_brochure_2012reThe international abortion advocacy organization Ipas helped convene a meeting this week calling for governments to “repeal laws that criminalize abortion and remove barriers on women’s and girls’ access to safe abortion services,” making “safe, legal abortion universally available, accessible and affordable for all women and girls.” The conference attendees say abortion must be legalized to “sav[e] women’s lives.”

That is false. Maternal health depends far more on the quality of medical care (and related factors) than on the legal status or availability of abortion. Consider:

Maternal mortality declined dramatically in the developed world as a result of advancements in modern medicine that took place before the widespread legalization of abortion.

Today Ireland, Poland, Malta and Chile significantly restrict or prohibit abortion and yet have very low maternal mortality ratios.

Among the few countries that achieved a 75 percent reduction in their maternal mortality ratios (a target of Millennium Development Goal 5) by 2010, Maldives, Bhutan and the Islamic Republic of Iran did so while generally prohibiting abortion.

After Chile banned abortion in 1989, its maternal mortality ratio continued to decline significantly and at about the same rate, dropping 69.2 percent over the next 14 years, according to a 2012 study by Elard Koch, et al. Even maternal deaths due specifically to abortion declined—from 10.78 abortion deaths per 100,000 live births in 1989 to 0.83 in 2007, a reduction of 92.3 percent after abortion was made illegal.

Legalizing abortion, the Chilean study’s authors conclude, is demonstrably unnecessary for the improvement of maternal health and the saving of women’s lives.

In fact, legalizing or expanding abortion can be detrimental to the health and safety of pregnant women. Abortion poses physical and psychological risks. These risks include immediate complications such as hemorrhage, infection and death as well as long-term risks such as breast cancer.

A wealth of worldwide research has established that abortion increases the risk of subsequent preterm birth, which can cause death or disability in newborn children. Abortion is also associated with a variety of psychological and social problems, including depression, drug abuse and suicide.

The health risks of abortion are exacerbated in countries where basic health care is lacking. The legalization or expansion of abortion in such countries can increase the incidence of abortion, increasing the number of women subjected to the risks of abortion.

The evidence shows that better maternal health care, not abortion, is the way to save lives.

Editor’s note. Paul Stark is Communications Associate for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, NRLC’s state affiliate. This appeared at prolifemn.blogspot.com.