By Laura Echevarria National Right to Life, Director of Communications and Press Secretary
On February 18, NBC News’ “Think” opinion page posted a piece about maternal mortality in the U.S. written by Prof. Summer Sherburne Hawkins.
Hawkins asserts that it is on the rise and is especially egregious in Washington, D.C.— and lays a large portion of the blame for it on a lack of access to abortion.
“Maternal Mortality is Worse in Washington, D.C. than Syria. Abortion Access is One Reason Why” contains the most insupportable errors I think I have ever seen in one article.
Hawkins, an associate professor at Boston College’s School of Social Work, not only compares unrelated patient groups and makes sweeping assertions, she ignores facts to create a conclusion of her own making.
First, Hawkins uses the country of Syria as a starting point. She argues that due to war time conditions, Syria’s maternal mortality rose from 26 deaths to 31 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2007 and 2015 (According to the data she uses, her dates are in error. The statistics she uses actually fit the 2007 to 2017 time period—a ten year time period).
She then compares this number from Syria to the average number of maternal deaths in Washington, D.C. (for the 8-year time* period she cites) which is 33 deaths per 100,000 live births. Hawkins then presents shocking statistics. African-American women in Washington, D.C. die at a much higher rate –59.7 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017–than Panama’s rate at 52 deaths per 100,000 live births or the U.S. current rate of 19 maternal deaths per 100,000.
So, why the huge disparity?
She argues that it’s because of a lack of abortion access.
But Hawkins fails to note, or acknowledge, several critically important things.
The deaths she includes in the statistics for both the U.S. and around the globe include those following an abortion. Note the statistics she uses for worldwide maternal deaths come from the United Nations’ World Health Organization (W.H.O.) which defines maternal deaths as: “Maternal mortality ratio is the number of women who die from pregnancy-related causes while pregnant or within 42 days of pregnancy termination per 100,000 live births.” [emphasis mine]
But also compare this definition with the one used by the Centers for Disease Control for all U.S. deaths which includes Washington, D.C.: CDC defines pregnancy-related death “as the death of a woman during pregnancy or within one year of the end of pregnancy from a pregnancy complication; a chain of events initiated by pregnancy; or the aggravation of an unrelated condition by the physiologic effects of pregnancy.” [emphasis mine]
The W.H.O. uses statistics that chart deaths up to 42 days after a pregnancy-related complication. The CDC charts deaths up to a year following a pregnancy-related complication.
Obviously, the CDC’s definition will create a greater number of deaths per 100,000 live births, skewing any comparisons.
The issue is not that maternal mortality has risen in the last few decades. It is why—and the increase is not for the reason that Hawkins insists is the primary cause: the lack of abortion access.
First, Hawkins fails to note the elephant in the room—Washington, D.C. is home to one of Planned Parenthood’s mega-clinics. In fact, in the Washington, D.C. area, a woman has the option of visiting any one of nearly a dozen locations where she can obtain an abortion. So, lack of access in Washington, D.C. cannot be the cause.
Second, compounding the issue in Washington, D.C., is that two hospitals closed maternity wards. A third restricts the number of Medicaid patients it will accept.
In addition, the higher African-American population and higher poverty rate combined with a lack of access to immediate medical care creates conditions that make a greater incidence of maternal mortality likely— if not guaranteed.
Third, the medical conditions that contribute greatly to maternal mortality, such as diabetes and high-blood pressure, have a higher impact on African-Americans at a much higher rate than other population groups. While maternal mortality among blacks is higher among African-Americans nationwide for the reasons listed, it is particularly high in Washington, D.C. for a myriad of reasons—none of which involve abortion access.
The real numbers are that eighteen women died from pregnancy-related complications in Washington, D.C. between the years 2012-2016. Of those 18, 17 of them were African-American, one was Hispanic. The total number of live births in Washington, D.C. in 2016 was 20,000.
But Hawkins ignores these very real contributing factors that have nothing to do with abortion and uses the “study” she led to push abortion.
She does a horrible disservice to the very women she claims to want to help. She ignores the real issues behind the maternal mortality statistics: lack of early prenatal care, lack of access to emergency care, and a high incidence of certain life-threatening medical conditions among specific populations.
According to the CDC, 3 in 5 maternal deaths could be prevented here in the U.S. with early prenatal care. But this is the kind of genuine medical care that Planned Parenthood and abortionists do not provide.
However, many of the pro-life pregnancy centers across the U.S. do provide early confirmation through ultrasounds, provide prenatal vitamins, parenting classes, practical/material help and can connect clients to doctors in the area who take Medicaid—all for free.
I know what it’s like to have the life-threatening medical condition pre-eclampsia during each of my pregnancies. I know several women who almost died from the same condition. Just like diabetes, pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are leading causes of death among African-American women but it can often be treated with regular prenatal care.
Abortion is not medical care and for the woman who wants to keep her baby, pushing for abortion access does not provide for her prenatal care, pay for her medical care during her pregnancy or ensure that she has the medications she needs during her pregnancy. It certainly doesn’t provide follow-up care after birth.
Once again, an abortion proponent takes a real problem and offers a wrong-headed, life-destroying “solution.”
*Hawkins says eight-years but the statistics she uses fit the ten year timeframe of 2007-2017.