Friday February 19, 2010

Experts Disagree with Ignatieff: Abortion Doesn’t Reduce Maternal Mortality

By Patrick B. Craine

OTTAWA, Ontario, February 18, 2010 ( – In advocating support for abortion in the Third World, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, and those backing him up, have argued that abortion is a necessary component of reproductive health and that “safe abortion” is essential to reducing maternal mortality. But the question has been raised, is this true? Many experts would reply in the negative, pointing out that the reality in the Third World is that access to abortion is actually linked to greater maternal mortality.

Ignatieff has lambasted Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government for their decision not to consider abortion in their newly-announced effort to advance maternal and child health care as president of the G8 this year. “We want to make sure that women have access to all the contraceptive methods available to control their fertility because we don’t want to have women dying because of botched procedures, we don’t want to have women dying in misery,” Ignatieff told reporters at the beginning of February.

Supporting Ignatieff’s abortion push, Liberal MP Keith Martin, a medical doctor, claimed in a press release last week: “There is no more effective way to enable countries to improve their economy, reduce social costs, save lives, and indeed improve their environment than by enabling people to access a full spectrum of family planning options.”

However, other experts are saying that there is significant evidence across the globe that reductions in maternal mortality have been won, not through access to abortion, but through basic medical support for pregnant women, as Harper has envisioned. Numerous countries have successfully cut maternal death after criminalizing abortion, and numerous others have suffered even more heavily from maternal death after bowing to pressure to legalize abortion.

Dr. Rene Lieva, a medical doctor based in Ottawa, pointed out to the National Catholic Register that the maternal mortality rate in El Salvador dropped by half after abortion was recriminalized in 1998.

Dr. Ian Gentles, vice president and research director of the De Veber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research in Toronto, highlighted the situation in Poland in a Monday op-ed for the Calgary Herald. He points out that Poland banned abortion 20 years ago, after communism fell, but maternal deaths have dropped by more than 40 per cent since then.

“Why has Poland made such strides in improving maternal and infant health?” he asks. “Certainly not by spending a lot of money, because the money simply isn’t there. The only change that could have had such a dramatic impact is the documented decline in the induced abortion rate.”

The World Economic Forum issued a report in December which showed that countries with more restrictive abortion laws have generally lower maternal mortality rates than those with more permissive laws. Ireland – the only other European country, besides Poland, where abortion is illegal – boasted the best ratio, with only 1 death per 100,000 live births. This far outpaced the United States, where abortion is fully legal, which documents 17 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

The situation in Africa also provides a good example of the connection between restrictive abortion laws and low maternal mortality. According to a 2009 World Health Organization (WHO) report, Mauritius boasts the lowest maternal mortality on the continent, while also being one of the most protective of the unborn. The same WHO report showed that countries such as Ethiopia, which have been pressured to legalize abortion, have not been successful in reducing maternal death. In fact, Ethiopia’s rate is 48 times greater than that of Mauritius.

South Africa, which has had one of the most permissive laws in Africa since 1996, saw maternal deaths increase twenty percent from 2005-2007. Even the International Planned Parenthood Federation has acknowledged that part of this “surge” is “due to complications of abortion,” even though abortion is legal.

Chile is a good example of a country that has significantly cut its maternal mortality, while also having tightened its abortion laws, which it did in the 1980s. In 1960, the country’s maternal mortality rate was 275 deaths per 100,000 live births, but by 2000 this had dropped to 18.7 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to statistics from the WHO, Chile has the lowest maternal mortality in South America, while Guyana has the highest. Notably, Guyana made its abortion laws more permissive in 1995 due to concerns over maternal mortality.

Dr. Elard Koch, a noted Chilean epidemiologist, attributes Chile’s success to the country’s promotion of “safe pregnancy” measures, such as “prenatal detection” and access to professional birth attendants in a hospital setting.

Dr. Donna Harrison, a diplomat for the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, has been highly critical of the Western push for abortion in the Third World. As C-FAM reported earlier this month, she argues that bringing abortion into countries without adequate maternal health care exacerbates the problem because the health systems don’t have the resources to properly handle abortion complications.

In a December paper submitted to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Dr. Harrison offered manifest evidence of the link between abortion and dangerous complications. She called it “unconscionable” that the United Nations Population Fund and the WHO would promote abortion drugs such as mifepristone and misoprostol as “‘safe’ abortifacients in medically resource poor nations.”

She points out that the “interventions known to reduce maternal mortality” are “prenatal care, skilled birth attendants, antibiotics and oxytocics.” She argues that “it is scientifically, medically and morally unacceptable to divert resources from interventions proven to reduce maternal mortality to the provision of abortion, under the guise of ‘decreasing unsafe abortion’.”

See related coverage:

Chilean Maternal Mortality Study Undercuts Pro-Abortion Claims

New Paper Links UN Promotion of “Safe” Abortion to Maternal Deaths

Permissive Abortion Laws May Be Hazardous To Mothers’ Health, Per New Report

UN Health Data Show Liberal Abortion Laws Lead to Greater Maternal Death