Study: Making Abortion Illegal Doesn’t Increase Maternal Mortality

International   |   Andrew Bair   |   May 9, 2012   |   2:00PM   |   Santiago, Chile

A new study conducted on behalf of the Chilean Maternal Mortality Research Initiative (CMMRI) reaffirms that legalized abortion does not reduce the rate of maternal mortality. To the contrary, since Chile enacted a law protecting unborn children in 1989, the maternal mortality rate has dropped significantly.

The study included analysis covering 50 years of maternal mortality data (1957-2007) from Chile’s National Institute of Statistics. The analysis found that the most important factor in reducing maternal mortality is the educational level of women. “Educating women enhances women’s ability to access existing health care resources, including skilled attendants for childbirth, and directly leads to a reduction in her risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth,” according to Dr Elard Koch, epidemiologist and leading author of the study.

Abortion advocates have long held that legalized abortion reduces the rate of maternal mortality arguing that women will turn to dangerous, illegal abortions. However, maternal mortality is determined to a much greater extent by the overall quality of maternal health care than by the legality of abortion. Chile prohibited abortion in 1989 and its maternal mortality rate has continued to decline, as this most recent study confirms.

According to the World Health Organization (Trends in Maternal Mortality), the Central American nations of Nicaragua and El Salvador, in which abortion is completely illegal, have both seen a 44% drop in their maternal mortality ratios since 1990. During the fifty-year study period in Chile, the overall Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) dramatically declined by 93.8%, from 270.7 to 18.2 deaths per 100,000 live births between 1957 and 2007, making Chile a model for maternal health in other countries.

“In fact, during 2008, the overall MMR declined again, to 16.5 per 100,000 live births, positioning Chile as the country with the second lowest ratio in the American continent after Canada and with at least two points lower MMR than United States” said Koch.

South Africa legalized abortion on demand in 1997. Since then, maternal mortality in that country has risen significantly according to the World Health Organization. The maternal mortality ratio is now estimated at 410. The MMR of Canada, which permits abortion on demand, increased 94 percent from 1990 to 2008. The MMR of the United States, which also permits abortion on demand, increased 96 percent. It’s clear, legalizing abortion does nothing to ameliorate high maternal mortality rates.

“Definitively, the legal prohibition of abortion is unrelated to overall maternal mortality rates” emphasized Koch.

In response to the landmark Chilean study, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists told it members: “For several years there has been a very urgent plea from international agencies and “authorities” for world wide easy access to legal (called “safe”) induced abortion, on the grounds that this will result in a marked decrease in maternal mortality (and all of us agree that maternal mortality world-wide must be aggressively confronted). Here is a new study from Chile that confirms that increased access to abortion is NOT the answer to decreasing the MMR. Education of women is one very important answer.”

Donna J. Harrison, M.D. of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, added, “Dr. Elard Koch has published a very important scientific article giving evidence that abortion prohibition does not increase maternal mortality. On the contrary, maternal mortality in Chile decreased after abortion was made illegal. This is important evidence that abortion does not improve maternal health, and that a conscientious objection to providing abortion can be made on the grounds of good medical care.”

Related web sites:

Read the study –

Factsheet on Maternal Mortality from NRLC & MCCL: