For years, the abortion industry and its proponents have insisted that abortion is very safe, even safer than childbirth. One problem: this is a myth, a woefully unsupported myth.
Contrary to this myth, abortion – the deliberate interruption of the natural, healthy physical process of pregnancy by use of metal instruments, poisonous drugs, and/or powerful suction machines – is decidedly not good for a woman's health. Here at the ACLJ, we have just filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the U.S. Supreme Court exploding the myth of safe abortion. Joining our brief are two medical organizations, the American Academy of Medical Ethics and the American College of Pediatrics. Also signing on to our brief are more than 200,000 ACLJ members.
On March 4th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of June Medical Services v. Gee, a challenge by Louisiana abortionists to that state’s requirement that abortionists have admitting privileges at a hospital. In their challenge, the abortions allege, “Legal abortion is one of the safest procedures in medical practice.” Our pointed response: “This is false.” As we document in our amicus brief, abortion is in fact a procedure “fraught with hazards.”
Our brief makes a particular point of rebutting the phony claim that abortion is safer than childbirth, explaining that “the premises underlying this myth are embarrassingly inadequate.” Here is a short summary:
The abortionists’ claim rests on a comparison of data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on “abortion mortality” (maternal deaths from abortion divided by the number of abortions done) and “pregnancy mortality” (maternal deaths during or within a year of pregnancy from any cause related to pregnancy or the management of pregnancy divided by the number of live births). Sounds simple, right? Wrong! Consider:
If a woman dies from abortion, she is also counted as a pregnancy death. Yes, that’s right, the pregnancy mortality statistic includes deaths from abortion. As we explain:
This point bears emphasis: when a woman dies from abortion, that death counts both as an abortion mortality and as a pregnancy mortality. With such an approach, the results are mathematically stacked against childbirth ever being deemed safer than abortion: even if every single woman in a single year who had an abortion died from the procedure, and only one woman that year died from a miscarriage or complication of childbirth, the total number of deaths in the “pregnancy mortality” category for that year would still be higher than the total deaths in the “abortion mortality” category. This makes comparison of the two figures positively absurd.
Or, as the CDC more delicately phrased it, the two statistics are “conceptually different” and “used . . . for different public health purposes.” But that’s not all.
The pregnancy mortality rate doesn’t measure deaths “per pregnancy” but instead “per live birth.” That means the pregnancy mortality rate is artificially inflated. As we explain:
the relevant maternal population arbitrarily excludes those who experience miscarriages and stillbirths, except that if such women die, their deaths are nevertheless included in the maternal mortality totals. Thus, the relevant baseline population is reduced by excluding cases of pregnancy losses (no live birth), yet the total number of deaths still includes those maternal deaths resulting from these very same excluded – uncounted – pregnancies.
For example, even though many women survive ectopic pregnancies, the supposed pregnancy mortality rate for the subset of all ectopic pregnancies will be infinitely high. There will be some maternal deaths in the numerator but no live births in the denominator, yielding an infinitely large fraction. Obviously, this is a completely misleading, useless, statistic. But this same error will in turn infect and distort the overall pregnancy mortality rate by adding to the numerator (deaths) while not adding to the baseline denominator (live births). This is no trivial distortion: historically, ectopic pregnancies have been the leading cause of deaths in the first trimester.
The CDC’s statistical method thus counts all maternal deaths, whether there is a live birth or not, but only counts live births to calculate the mortality rate. That’s the kind of thing that would get you a bad grade on your math test. Yet here the matter is far more serious, as the CDC’s method inevitably overstates the chance that a pregnant woman will die. But there’s more.
The pregnancy mortality rate does not reflect the stage of gestation. Many maternal deaths are associated with early miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. Once an expectant mother passes those early stages, she no longer faces a risk of death at that stage.
obviously, for example, a woman entering her second trimester faces zero risk of a first-trimester death from ectopic pregnancy, yet the undifferentiated pregnancy mortality rate incorporates those first-trimester deaths. . . . [Thus,] it makes no sense to compare abortion mortality with pregnancy mortality throughout pregnancy; the figures would have to be adjusted to subtract out deaths occurring at stages of pregnancy that have already passed. Yet pregnancy mortality statistics do not make this adjustment and thus are not properly comparable to abortion mortality statistics.
Abortion deaths are underreported, perhaps vastly so. As we note, a study in Finland found “an astounding 94% of abortion-associated deaths were not identified from death certificates or cause-of-death registries alone.” As we document from several sources, the same problems plague abortion records in the United States. We just do not know how many women are dying from abortion because their deaths are often not listed as abortion deaths. Our brief observes: “One simply cannot make a fair assessment of abortion deaths without knowing how many there were.”
Abortion mortality statistics likely will not include many delayed deaths that result from abortion. Published studies show that women who have abortion have a higher rate of dying from any cause, including suicide and other fatalities, than do women who give birth.
A fair comparison of abortion with continued child-bearing, like a fair comparison of smoking with nonsmoking, would have to take into account not just immediate consequences, but also all other statistically significant increased death risks.
And on top of everything else, we cite study after study attesting to the adverse, sometimes fatal, aftermath of abortion for women.
Plus, there are the eyewitness accounts. Our ACLJ amicus brief lists hundreds of cases of abortion patients being carried off in ambulances across the country, often at rates of three to five dozen or more incidents each year, from 2011-2019. This is just the tip of the iceberg – the few cases where someone witnessed the incident and there was a published account. Planned Parenthood itself conceded, as a federal appeals court noted in a prior case, that more than 200 women must be hospitalized after abortion each year, in Texas alone!
In June Medical, Louisiana is defending modest efforts to set minimum safety standards for abortion providers, to protect the women seeking abortions. No matter one's position on abortion, at least one should support basic safety requirements, especially in light of the serious health hazards we document in our brief.
We urge the Supreme Court to affirm the ruling of the Fifth Circuit, the federal appeals court that upheld the Louisiana abortion regulation. A ruling by the Supreme Court is expected in late June.
You can learn more about this case and our prior brief that successfully urged the Court to take up this case here.
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