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Is Abortion Safer than Childbirth?

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

We hear it all the time from abortion supporters: “Abortion is safer than giving birth!” Sometimes they’re very specific: “having an abortion is 10 times safer than having a baby.”

Is it true? Is abortion safer than childbirth?

The simple answer is no, because every abortion results in the death of a human being. But even looking solely at the maternal mortality rate, there are no accurate records of how many women’s deaths are caused by abortion, so the answer is that no one knows.

So why do abortion supporters keep asserting that abortion is safer than childbirth?

While the claim that abortion is safer than childbirth has been around since Roe vs. Wade, today most abortion supporters are knowingly or unknowingly referencing a study conducted in 2012 by abortion proponents Elizabeth Raymond and David Grimes. The study purports to show that abortion is 14 times safer than childbirth. No other study has come close to replicating the results, but their one study is continually held up as proof. (Recently, it was referenced by at least half a dozen pro-abortion amicus briefs filed with the Supreme Court in the Dobbs case concerning Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.)

The most obvious problem with Raymond and Grimes’ study is that it simply compares records of maternal mortality and records of abortion-related maternal deaths and does not account for variables in how the two sets of data are collected. State and local governments are required to report births and any related deaths to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but they are not required to report abortions.

The study calculated the risk of childbirth by taking the CDC’s recorded maternal mortality numbers for women who had live births and dividing it by the number of live births recorded by birth certificates.[1] The study then calculated abortion-related maternal mortality by taking the number of abortion-related deaths reported to the CDC and dividing it by the number of abortions estimated by the Guttmacher Institute, since many states do not keep records of abortions. It then compared the resulting rates and found that a woman was 14 times more likely to die following childbirth than following abortion.

Since the number of maternal deaths associated with either abortion or childbirth is very small, about 1 in 5000, even a tiny error in the numbers can greatly skew the statistics. Raymond and Grimes based the denominator of the abortion side of their comparison on nothing more than an estimate. The numerator is even flimsier.

Maternal deaths attributed to abortion are recorded at the discretion of the doctor who writes the death certificate. Moreover, since a woman’s abortion usually does not show up in her medical record, the doctor may not know that a woman had an abortion that caused the condition that killed her. For instance, if a woman dies from sepsis caused by an abortion, the death certificate is likely to say that sepsis was the cause of death, possibly with a reference to miscarriage. The abortion is unrecorded and, even if the certifying doctor knows of the abortion, there is no legal reason for him to record it. What if a woman dies from hemorrhaging in the days or weeks after taking the chemical abortion pills? Would a doctor know that it was an abortion rather than a miscarriage? Would he record the cause of death as abortion or as hemorrhage?

In sum, both numbers that Raymond and Grimes used to calculate the abortion-related maternal death rate are based on mere conjecture. And this is what most abortion-is-safer-than-childbirth claims are based on.

[1] Overall maternal mortality is calculated by counting all maternal pregnancy-related deaths, regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy, for up to a year following the pregnancy, divided by the number of live births. This means that a woman who dies for any reason connected to pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, or post-partum is counted in the maternal mortality rate.

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