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A Critical Issue in Africa
The death of a pregnant woman or new mother is often a preventable tragedy and comprehensive efforts to save the lives of all mothers and newborns must be a priority of governments. These critical life-saving efforts to save mothers’ lives, however, must not include legalizing abortion, the taking of human life.
Legal abortion does not equal safe abortion. Abortion is never safe for the child and often hurts the woman physically, emotionally, or psychologically and in some cases—can cause her death.
The following addresses some questions about maternal mortality and uses data obtained from the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Bank, and the WHO’s Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP), and is used by these groups for research on human reproduction. While these groups often promote abortion, a look at some of their data and information can be useful for the pro-life cause.
Questions and Answers
What is a maternal death?
According to the World Health Organization, “A maternal death is defined as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes.”1
This definition includes:
-deaths caused by complications from an existing health problem such as anemia, malaria, or heart disease known as indirect maternal death.
-deaths that are the result of pregnancy or delivery related causes such as bleeding, obstructed delivery, infection, or eclampsia/seizures are known as direct maternal deaths,
Some groups use alternative definitions that include these causes which raise the rate of maternal mortality:
-accidental or incidental deaths, those unrelated to pregnancy or childbirth, including deaths caused by violence of any type and those caused by economic, social, or cultural reasons.
-deaths of mothers that occur during the year following pregnancy for any reason.
Are maternal mortality ratios accurate?
1 World Health Organization, “International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. Tenth Revision,” 1992.
The numbers used in the ratio of maternal mortality are most often estimates often based on conjecture and extrapolation as well as a pro-abortion bias. Real numbers are rarely used. A report by the WHO, UNICEF, and UNFPA entitled Maternal Mortality in 2000, Maternal Mortality: The measurement challenge, states, “Maternal mortality is difficult to measure…” and further explains, “Moreover, even where overall levels of maternal mortality are high, maternal deaths are nonetheless relatively rare events and thus prone to measurement error.” 2
What is the reported estimate of maternal mortality?
The WHO estimates that in 2000, the last year for worldwide estimates: 3
What is the reported estimate of maternal deaths due to abortion?
The WHO estimates that in 2000, the last year for worldwide estimates: 4
How is maternal mortality used by pro-abortionists?
Abortion promoters often cite abortion deaths in the thousands per country and claim that abortion must be legal in order to save women’s lives. Yet, the facts do not support their claims.
Former New York City abortionist, Bernard Nathanson, who in the 1970’s was instrumental in securing support for legalized abortion in the USA, writes in his book Aborting America, that the numbers of women dying from illegal abortions in the US were falsified. He states:
“It was always five thousand to ten thousand deaths a year. I confess that I knew the figures were totally false….but in the ‘morality’ of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted.”5
In fact, in 1972, the year before abortion in the U.S. was legalized, the Centers for Disease Control (which was responsible for health statistics), reported that forty-one women had died due to illegal abortion— not the five to ten thousand abortion advocates claimed.6 Abortion promoters today continue to use this “numbers trick” that was so successful in the United States to legalize abortion. Once legal, the abortion industry went from the “back alley” to the front office changing only the fact that could now advertise openly.
2World Health Organization, “Maternal Mortality in 2000: Estimates Developed by WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA,” 2004, 4.
3World Health Organization, “Maternal Mortality in 2000: Estimates Developed by WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA,” 2004, 2.
4World Health Organization, “Unsafe Abortion- Global and regional estimates of the incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality in 2000- 4th edition,” 2004.
5Bernard Nathanson. Aborting America (New York:Doubleday, 1979), 193.
6Center for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics, Supplement to the Monthly Vital Statistics Report: Advance Reports 1986: Series 24, Complications of Data on Natality, Mortality, Marriage, Divorce, and Induced Terminations of Pregnancy, NO. 3, Vital and Health Statitics.
Does legal abortion mean safe abortion and less maternal death?
NO. While it is true that women sometimes die from illegal abortions, women die from legal abortions as well. Surgical abortion, legal or illegal, can cause deadly complications including blood loss, infection, and perforation of the uterus. Chemical/medical abortion methods such as RU486, which require two sets of pills and careful monitoring, can cause heavy bleeding. This is especially dangerous for poor women who are often anemic and malnourished. Severe bleeding is the most common cause of maternal death.
Poor medical conditions increase the likelihood of complications and death from every abortion. Conditions in developing countries that contribute to women’s deaths will not change with legalized abortion. Women will still lack basic medical and surgical supplies and access to health care that can save their lives.
How can maternal mortality be reduced?
Maternal mortality can be reduced in the developing world the same way it has been done in the developed world. The WHO reports that in the 1935-50s, maternal morality in the developed world dramatically decreased as obstetric techniques were developed and general health care improved.7 This significant decline—long before legal abortion— is attributed to access to health care including: penicillin, clean and available blood, and overall improved obstetric care. The same must happen today if maternal mortality is to be reduced. Pregnant women must have access to health care that addresses the causes of maternal mortality.
Solutions to save women’s lives begin with access to health care and include:
Access to sanitary delivery with a clean birthing kit to prevent infection
In rural areas of developing countries, most births take place at home, often lack medical assistance, and carry a high risk of infection. Clean delivery kits, which provide essential items to ensure a sanitary birth environment, are easy to use, inexpensive, and significantly reduce the rate of infection and mortality for both mother and child.
Access to skilled birth attendants
Due to the significantly high risk of complications that can occur at the time of birth, a skilled birth attendant is vital to ensure that any complications are detected early and managed in a timely way. A skilled birth attendant is a nurse, doctor, or mid-wife trained to handle routine deliveries, and to diagnose and refer women with complications to a medical center for emergency delivery or treatment such as repair of obstetric fistulas.
Trained birth attendants can also provide simple services such as nutritional supplements, health education, and clean delivery kits, and assistance during delivery that greatly benefit a mother’s health. However, due to the risk of complications during delivery, it is imperative that all pregnant women have access to skilled birth attendants who can recognize problems in
7 World Health Organization, “Maternal Mortality: A Global Factbook,” 1991.
pregnancy and delivery, and take the appropriate action to protect the lives and health of mother and child.
Access to basic and emergency obstetric care
According to the WHO, only 40 percent of women in developing countries deliver in a medical facility and 15% of all births involve potentially fatal complications.8 Access to centers that provide health care before, during, and after birth, as well as emergency obstetric care can significantly improve maternal health. Women’s lives are saved when they can be transported to a medical facility for childbirth, especially during an obstructed or complicated birth, to receive emergency life-saving medical intervention for her and her baby.
Access to clean blood
Access to medical facilities for transfusions of clean available blood will save thousands of women. Severe bleeding (hemorrhaging) is the leading treatable cause of maternal mortality. According to the coordinator of clean blood for the WHO: “The most common cause of maternal death is severe bleeding …in Africa, severe bleeding during delivery or after childbirth contributes up to 44% of maternal deaths. Many of these deaths could be prevented through access to safe blood.” – Dr. Nellam Dhingra, Coordinator of Blood Transfusion Safety at the World Health Organization9.
Repair for obstetric fistula
Access to emergency care also can prevent and treat obstetric fistula, a devastating condition caused by obstructed labor. Obstetric fistula affects about 2 million women in developing countries, predominantly low-income, and results in chronic incontinence for the mother and a stillborn baby, with an estimated 50,000-100,000 new cases each year.10 Without treatment, she is unable to control her body secretions, and is often abandoned by her family and ostracized by her community. This condition, which is both preventable and treatable, can be practically eliminated with improved obstetric care.
Governments need to invest in essential obstetrical care that values the lives of both mother and child. As the UN pushes governments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, pressure will increase to attain Goal # 5 of reducing maternal mortality by ¾ by 2015. Policies that government officials enact need to affirm the dignity and respect for the lives of both mothers and unborn children.
It should never be considered acceptable that in order to save women’s lives, their children’s lives are destroyed. Women deserve better than the violence of abortion as an answer to their needs for critical health care. Women deserve access to health care that will save their lives and the lives of their precious children.
8World Health Organization, “Reduction of Maternal Mortality: A WHO/UNFPA/UNICEF/World Bank Joint Statement,” 1999.
9 Testimony of Dr. Neelam Dhingra, Making Safe Blood Available in Africa. United States Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations. 109th Congress, 2nd session, June 2006.
10World Health Organization, “Obstetric Fistulae: A Review of Available Information,” 1991. WHO/MCH/MSM.