The World Health Organization (WHO) has just released its latest estimates of maternal mortality, "Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015." Millennium Development Goal (MGD) 5A sought to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015. The world did not meet that target, although it made significant progress.
While acknowledging that "accurate measurement of maternal mortality levels remains an immense challenge," WHO estimates that the global maternal mortality ratio (MMR; maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) fell almost 44 percent over the last 25 years. Nevertheless, approximately 303,000 maternal deaths occurred in 2015. About 99 percent them took place in developing regions, with 66 percent occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. The MMRs were highest in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Southern Asia. Among countries, Nigeria and India had the most maternal deaths, while Sierra Leone had the highest MMR.
The new data further discredit the claim that legalizing abortion is necessary to reduce mortality rates. For example, Ireland, Poland, Malta, Chile, Kuwait, Libya and the United Arab Emirates ban most or all abortions and have very low MMRs (all but one have a lower MMR than the United States). And of the nine countries that actually achieved MGD 5A, a majority of them did so while generally prohibiting abortion. Maternal mortality simply does not depend on the legality or availability of abortion. It depends, instead, on the quality of maternal health care before, during and after childbirth. Women's lives are saved by improving care—not by legalizing or promoting abortion.
The WHO report concludes: "Among countries where maternal death counts remain high, the challenge is clear. Efforts to save lives must be accelerated and must also be paired with country-driven efforts to accurately count lives and record deaths." The Sustainable Development Goals now aim to reduce the global MMR to 70 by 2030. This is possible—but only if we focus on the measures that actually save lives.