Legal abortion not needed to reduce mother death rate

Published: Thursday, May 27, 2010

By Barb Yagley

You need to have pretty thick skin to be pro-life publicly nowadays.

So hats off to the Canadian government, which may not embody the Culture of Life, yet rejected abortion as a solution to problems. Last month at the G8 conference, the Canadian government put forth its proposal for reducing maternal and child morbidity in the developing nations. Canada shocked the other G8 nations when its International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda said, “Canada’s contribution to maternal and child health may involve various interventions ... however, Canada’s contribution will not include funding of abortions.”

Canada’s decision prompted the usual extreme reaction from abortion advocates, including our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who patronized the Canadians by saying, “Well, I’m not going to speak for what Canada decides,” then proceeded to tell them what to do. She continued, “but I will say that I’ve worked in this area for many years. And if we’re talking about maternal health, you cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.”

Sadly, but predictably, Clinton disregarded the facts. In April 2010, a group of researchers from the University of Washington published an analysis of maternal mortality. They found that the world’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) declined from 422 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 251 per 100,000 live births in 2008. While still too high (representing an estimated 342,000 women), the decline, which was unexpected, occurred independent of the availability of abortion. According to these researchers, over half of the deaths occurred in just six of the 181 countries studied. Of these six countries, India and Ethiopia allow abortion for social reasons; Pakistan and Nigeria allow it for health reasons. Only the Congo and Afghanistan ban abortion. Conversely, several countries with the lowest rate of maternal death have strict restrictions on abortion. For example, Ireland, Poland and Malta have lower maternal mortality rates (6, 7, and 6, respectively) than the United States, 17. The countries showing the most improvement in MMR during the past 25 years either severely restrict abortion (Egypt, Bangladesh, the Philippines) or had enacted permissive laws prior to 1980 (China, Romania, India). The world doesn’t need legalized abortion to achieve low MMR.

The U.S. government, by asserting that nations need to eliminate pregnancy to reduce maternal mortality, and backing up the rhetoric with funds for groups working to overturn other countries’ abortion bans, demonstrates rigid ideology and overreaches to the point of interference. The Canadian government chose to focus on strategies that truly improve the lives of women and children, the strategies to which all could agree (like safe water, basic medical care, prenatal care and skilled birth attendants). Canada has more respect for the sovereignty of the nations it is trying to help by respecting these nations’ anti-abortion laws, unlike in Washington.

Barb Yagley of Troy, is president of the Central Oakland Right to Life and a post-abortive woman.