Thursday, May 21, 2009

New analysis of maternal mortality finds health care, not abortion, key factor to save lives

Call for renewed WHA focus on improving women’s health care in developing world

The following MCCL news release was issued on May 21, 2009.

GENEVA, Switzerland – Improved medical care, not abortion, is the solution to the problem of maternal deaths in the developing world, according to a new analysis of World Health Organization and United Nations documents released today by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Global Outreach (MCCL GO). MCCL's international outreach, MCCL GO called for a renewed emphasis on improving health care for women as the only sure means of reducing maternal mortality.

“We have known for decades that most maternal deaths can be prevented with adequate nutrition, basic health care, and good obstetric care throughout pregnancy, at delivery, and postpartum,” said MCCL GO Executive Director Scott Fischbach. “Yet some in the international community have focused its resources primarily on legalizing abortion, in many cases at the expense of women’s lives.”

The analysis, “Does Legalizing Abortion Protect Women’s Health?”, compares the impact of improved medical care and legalized abortion on maternal mortality rates in several countries. Maternal deaths declined sharply in the United States, England and Wales through the 1930s and 1940s, for example, coinciding with advancements in antibiotics, penicillin and blood transfusions. This occurred long before the widespread legalization of abortion. Sri Lanka sharply reduced its maternal mortality rate by making professional midwives and supervisory nurse-midwives widely available in rural areas and by providing a steady supply of appropriate drugs and equipment, improved communication, transportation, and backup services. Sri Lanka does not have legal abortion except to save the life of the mother.

By comparison, according to the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), there has been no substantial decrease in maternal mortality or child mortality in the developing world since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. This is true even though, in that same period, more women have had access to legal abortion than ever before. For example, in India abortion is broadly legal, but maternal deaths are common due to dangerous medical conditions.

In the developing world, the danger of legalized abortion is profound, the analysis found. Fischbach explains: “Women generally at risk because they lack access to a doctor, hospital, or antibiotics before abortion’s legalization will face those same circumstances after legalization. And if legalization triggers a higher demand for abortion, as it has in most countries, more injured women will compete for those scarce medical resources. The number of abortion-related maternal deaths may actually increase.”

MCCL GO called upon the World Health Assembly to focus its resources on the improvement of women’s health care in the developing world.

“We urge the World Health Assembly to move ahead in areas where there is broad international agreement,” Fischbach added. “We can reduce maternal mortality in the developing world by half through access to safe blood, sanitary medical facilities, and basic health care and prenatal care. We call upon the WHA to save lives, not expend endless energy and resources in areas where there is profound disagreement, such as the legalization of abortion.”

A copy of the analysis is available by contacting