Friday February 12, 2010

Chilean Maternal Mortality Study Undercuts Pro-Abortion Claims

By Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. and Piero A. Tozzi, J.D.

NEW YORK, NY, February 12, 2010 (C-FAM) – Preliminary findings by a prominent biomedical researcher examining the dramatic decrease in maternal mortality, over the past fifty years in the Latin American nation of Chile, appear to undercut claims by global abortion lobbyists that liberal abortion laws are necessary to reduce maternal mortality rates.

According Dr. Elard Koch, an epidemiologist on the faculty of medicine at the University of Chile, Chile’s promotion of “safe pregnancy” measures such as “prenatal detection” and accessibility to professional birth attendants in a hospital setting are primarily responsible for the decrease in maternal mortality. The maternal mortality rate declined from 275 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1960 to 18.7 deaths in 2000, the largest reduction in any Latin country.

Because Chile is a nation that protects unborn life in its penal laws and constitution, the decline is therefore not attributable to access to legal abortion. In fact, the preliminary study shows, maternal mortality in Chile declined over the last century regardless of whether abortion was legal or illegal. Chile tightened its restrictions on abortion in the late 1980s.

According to Dr. Koch, “From 1960 onwards, there has been a breakthrough in the public health system and primary care” in Chile, with resources devoted to the development of “highly trained personnel, the construction of many primary health centers and the increase of schooling of the population.” Education appeared to be a primary factor in the country’s improved maternal health. Chile today touts a maternal health record comparable to those of developed nations.

Statistics released the World Health Organization (WHO) support such conclusions. In South America, according to WHO, Chile boasts of the lowest rate of maternal mortality, whereas Guyana, which significantly liberalized its laws in the mid-1990s citing concern over maternal deaths, has the highest.

Indeed, perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of the decline of maternal death rates in the developed world, a peer-reviewed article by Irvine Loudon appearing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000 confirms that the “sudden and dramatic decline in maternal mortality rates, which occurred after 1937, took place in all developed countries and eliminated the previously wide country-level differences in national mortality rates. The main factors that led to this decline seem to have been successive improvements in maternal care.”

As with Chile today, these strides in the developed world occurred at a time before access to abortion had been liberalized. Thus it appears that improving access to quality maternal health care, rather than permissive abortion laws, is what drives reductions in maternal death during pregnancy and delivery.

Maternal health experts such as noted obstetrician Donna Harrison, MD, point out that introducing abortion in a developing world setting without first improving basic maternal health care increases the risk of maternal death since health systems cannot adequately respond to complications from invasive surgical procedures such as abortion. Indeed, nations such as South Africa, which has one of the continent’s most liberal abortion regimes, has seen an increase in maternal deaths attributable in part to complications arising from legal abortion.

Dr. Koch presented his initial findings at the inaugural meeting of the International Working Group for Global Women’s Health Research last month in Washington, DC.

This article reprinted with permission from