Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), was correct in citing the shameful facts about the high rates of preterm birth, infant mortality and maternal mortality in the U.S. in yesterday’s Huffington Post. But she could not have been more wrong about what’s causing these rates.
Citing no supporting evidence, she claims that “abortion care, no less than contraception, is an essential measure to prevent the heartbreak of infant mortality, and to prevent another tragedy as well — maternal death.”
It is certainly true that killing all children before they are born through abortifacient contraceptives and abortion will reduce preterm birth and infant mortality to zero, but short of that, one or more prior abortions actually increase rates of preterm birth and infant mortality. And maternal deaths? Women continue to die both from abortions and from contraceptive use (as do unborn children).
Here are the facts she did not disclose.
Maternal deaths from abortion
We have no real idea of how many women are dying every year from abortion in the United States. Byron Calhoun, MD explodes the myth that maternal mortality in childbirth is greater than from abortion. He explains:
Among the factors responsible are incomplete reporting, definitional incompatibilities, voluntary data collection, research bias, reliance upon estimations, political correctness, inaccurate and/or incomplete death certificate completion, incomparability with maternal mortality statistics, and failing to include other causes of death such as suicide.
There is no medical code for abortion, so a death related to a recent abortion may be classified as hemorrhage, infection, cardiac arrest or embolism, for example, and never be linked to a recent abortion. L.A. Bartlett et al. (2004) attempted to estimate the relative risk of maternal mortality from abortion and came up with these numbers: 1.7 deaths/100,000 abortions performed at 13-15 weeks’ gestation; 3.4 deaths/100,000 performed at 16-20 weeks’ gestation; and 8.9 deaths/100,000 performed at 21 weeks or later. Not huge, but not nothing either.
Ireland, where abortion remains illegal, ranked 1st in 2005 and 3rd in 2008 as having the lowest rate of maternal mortality in the world, according to UNICEF. The World Health Organization (WHO) identified Ireland as “the nation where women face the lowest lifetime risk of maternal mortality.” A 2013 study by B.C. Calhoun et al. examined the 40-year trends in maternal and neonatal health and abortion in Great Britain and Ireland. The maternal mortality rate in Ireland over the preceding decade was 3/100,000, compared to 6/100,000 in England and Wales.
Mika Gissler et al. looked at maternal deaths from suicide and other causes in the 12 months following birth or abortion in a huge register-linked study of women in Finland. The rate of suicide in the general population was 11.3/100,000 women. The rate in the first year alone after —
- Giving birth was 5.9/100,000 women
- Having a miscarriage, 18.1/100,000 women
- After an abortion, 34.7/100,000.
In other words, women who aborted were almost six times more likely to die by suicide than those who had given birth.
Rates of death from “accidents” were also far higher among the post-aborted women.
D. Reardon and P.K. Coleman published two register-linkage studies using data from almost one-half milllion women in Denmark in which they examined mortality rates associated with first pregnancy outcome among women who had their first pregnancy between 1980 and 2004. The results of the first study are:
Compared to women who carried their first pregnancy to term … the cumulative risk of death for women who had a 1st trimester abortion was significantly higher in all periods examined from 180 days (84%) through 10 years (39%). The risk of death was likewise significantly higher for women who had abortions after 12 weeks from one year (331%) through 10 years (141%) when compared to women who delivered a first pregnancy.
The second study, co-authored by Reardon, Coleman and B.C. Calhoun, MD, found that having only induced abortion(s) and perinatal loss(es) was associated with a three-times greater risk of dying from all causes, compared to having experienced only live births. In addition, the risk of death was six times greater among women who had never been pregnant compared to those who had only given birth.
David Reardon et al. (2002) examined the California records of 173,279 women who had given birth or had an abortion in 1989 and linked those names to death certificates between 1989 and 1997. After an abortion, compared to birth, the relative risk of death from suicide was 2.54, from cerebrovascular causes was 5.46, from circulatory diseases was 2.87, from AIDS, 2.18 and accidents 1.82.
A major study in Chile (2012) led by Elard Koch, a molecular epidemiologist, used 50 years of maternal mortality data to learn what factors accounted for the sharp decline in maternal mortality in that country. The researchers found that increased levels of maternal education, access to better nutrition and prenatal, perinatal and postnatal care, as well as improved sanitation all contributed to the 93.8% reduction in maternal deaths between 1960 and 2010. Abortion was NOT found to be a factor reducing maternal mortality. After abortion was outlawed in Chile in 1989, “the number of maternal deaths continued to decrease from 41.3 to 12.7 per 100,000 live births (69.2% reduction).
Prior “medical” (RU-486) induced abortion is a known risk factor for future ectopic pregnancies, which are generally fatal for embryos and the number one cause of maternal death in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Preterm birth and infant mortality
The American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs (AAPLOG) states that “139 statistically significant studies spanning 40 years demonstrate a statistically significantly associated increased risk for preterm birth with elective abortion.” AAPLOG summarizes the findings as follows: one abortion increases preterm birth (PTB) risk by 30 percent; two or more abortions increase the risk of PTB by 50 – 70 percent; and “two or more abortions dramatically increases the risk of VERY PRETERM BIRTH (1500grams, or less than 28 weeks gestation) by greater than 200” percent.
Ireland reported a prematurity rate of 5.48 percent in 2003. The total prematurity rate in the United States was approximately six percent before 1970 — before abortion became widespread. The U.S. preterm birth (PTB) rate had risen to 12.6 percent by 2007, and the rate among African Americans in the U.S. was over 17 percent. The higher rate of preterm births among African Americans parallels their higher than average abortion rate, although factors such as nutrition, poverty and access to care may also play a role.
In a literaure review, J.M. Thorpe, Jr. et al. (2003) found induced abortion as a risk factor for subsequent preterm birth.
B. Rooney and B.C. Calhoun, MD looked at two very large studies (from Australia and Germany) showing an increased risk of preterm and very preterm birth following induced abortion. The German study, with over 106,000 births, reported these findings: The odds ratio for very preterm birth ( <32 weeks) after one induced abortion (IA) was 2.5, after two IAs, the odds ratio was 5.2, after three or more IAs, the odds ratio for preterm birth was 8.0.
A 2007 article by B.C. Calhoun et al. reported the costs of excess preterm and very preterm births attributable to induced abortion. IA increased the early preterm delivery rate by 31.5 percent. IA resulted in 22,917 excess early preterm births (<32 weeks) annually and a yearly increase in additional initial neonatal hosptial costs of $1.2 billion.
P-Y Ancel et al.’s EUROPOP study (2004) concluded that one IA increased the risk of very preterm birth by 50%, and two IAs increased the risk by 80 percent.
A 2006 report of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) lists a prior first trimester induced abortion as “an immutable medical risk factor associated with preterm birth.” African American women have three times the rate of early preterm birth compared to white women.
Poland’s induced abortion rate dropped 98 percent between 1989 and 1993, following the enactment of a restrictive abortion law. Between 1995 and 1997, the rate of extremely preterm births (before 28 weeks’ gestation) dropped 21 percent.
It’s important to note that increased rates of contraceptive use inevitably lead to increased rates of abortion (the phenomenon of risk compensation). Guttmacher Institute reports that about half of women with unplanned pregnancies and 51 percent of women seeking abortions were using contraception in the month they became pregnant. One large-scale study, by J.L. Dueñas et al. (2011), looked at rates of contraceptive use and abortion in Spain between 1997 and 2007. They found that a 63% increase in contraceptive use was accompanied by a 108% increase in the abortion rate. But women also die from contraceptives alone.
Maternal injury and deaths from contraceptive use
Women — even healthy young women — die from using contraception. Pills and other hormonal contraceptives delivering estrogen plus progestin can cause blood clots, leading to pulmonary embolisms, heart attacks and strokes. Bayer’s Yaz, for example, has caused at least 100 known deaths in the U.S. As of March 2014, Bayer has settled 8,250 lawsuits for $1.7 billion and is expected to have to pay out a total of $2.54 billion for clot-related injuries and deaths.
A 2009 article in the “British Medical Journal” by A. Van Hylckama et al. found that Yaz (with drospirenone) and other contraceptives using “3rd generation” progestins increase by up to seven times the risk of developing blood clots.
The Ortho Evra patch is responsible for at least 40 known deaths, delivering 60% more estrogen than pills and increasing by 300 percent the risk of blood clots.
Merck settled 1,700 lawsuits (out of about 4,000) for injuries and deaths related to NuvaRing in early 2014. A study by O. Lidegaard et al. in 2012 found a 6.5 times increased risk of blood clots compard to nonusers.
Women are also at increased risk of breast, cervical and liver cancer due to the use of combined oral contraceptives (COCs). The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared COCs to be a Class 1 carcinogen in July 2005. “Class 1” means COCs and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) using similar synthetic hormones in lower doses are known to cause death in humans.
J. Dolle et al. (2010) found both contraceptive use and prior induced abortion as factors increasing the risk of breast cancer.
Mirena, the levonorgestrel-releasing IUD: More than 70,000 adverse events have been reported to the FDA, including at least 5,000 cases where Mirena moved out of place and 1,322 cases of uterine puncture. Migrating IUDs can result in sepsis and death. Over 2,000 lawsuits have been filed by Mirena users or their loved one in the U.S. alone.
Progestins in hormonal contraceptives thicken cervical mucus and are known to impede both sperm, ova and even newly conceived embryos, raising the risk of ectopic pregnancy — the number one cause of maternal mortality in the first trimester of pregnancy.
So the “premature birth crisis” and the high maternal death rates in the United States are not, as Ms. O’Neill claims, “directly linked to our failure to provide adequate contraception and abortion care.” In fact, one might fairly say that premature births and maternal deaths are instead linked to the excessive use of contraception (which enables casual and risky sexual behaviors) and, with the all-too-frequent failure of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, leading to high rates of abortion.
LifeNews.com Note: Susan Wills is the assistant director for education and outreach, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.