Childbirth Is Dangerous; Abortion Is Not

Guns and FetusesThere is a great deal of pretending in public life. For example, people pretend to care about children who float away in balloons. But they don’t really. They like the drama. But they don’t know the kid or the parents. The kid is probably a brat and the parents, as we now know, are assholes. This situation is so much worse in politics. The Onion made fun of this recently in an article, Romney Drops By To See How Down-And-Out Family He Met On Campaign Trail Doing. As we all know, “humanizing” campaign stops are about as real as the Tooth Fairy. Think: Paul Ryan cleaning pots at a soup kitchen.

But the fakery goes much deeper than that. What I most hate are claims by politicians that they are helping rather than hurting. The common argument is that we need to gut welfare programs to protect the poor from the horrors of government dependence. You see, it is those meanie liberals who want to help the poor who are really hurting them. Of course, if conservatives really wanted to help the poor, they would provide universal healthcare for the poor; they would provide good (equalized) schools; they would provide free college. Think about it on the most basic level: if conservatives wanted to help the poor, they would at least provide good food for their children. But what did the conservatives in the House of Representatives just do? The moderates voted to cut nutritional assistance. The extremists voted against this because it didn’t cut enough. So I think we can reasonably conclude that when it comes to the poor, conservatives are only using claims of helping as an excuse for taking money away from them.

It would be a major mistake to think that conservatives only want to harm the poor. Since I’m not able to write a book here, I can’t list all the harm that conservatives would like to do. So let me just mention a convenient example: women. Over the past few years, we have seen campaigns that claim that abortion hurts women. The problem with this claim is that it is true, but misleading. Walking to the store kills women. More than 10 pedestrians are killed every day here in the United States. Walking, like just about anything else you do, can harm you. The question is not whether walking is a totally safe thing to do but rather if the risk is reasonable—especially compared to other options. (Similarly, about two people are stuck by lightning every day in the US, although only about 10% of them die.)

So what about all those dangerous abortions that conservatives are so worried are harming our women folk? Well, it turns out: not so much. Matt Yglesias alerted me to a paper published last year, The Comparative Safety of Legal Induced Abortion and Childbirth in the United States. And they found that women were 14 times as likely to die from childbirth as from a legal abortion.[1] But if the conservatives get their way, we can likely equalize those numbers—maybe even make abortion more dangerous. A liberal might say we could equalize the numbers by providing more prenatal care for poor people. But that might increase the danger faced by poor women as they travel to the doctor. Silly liberals.

I understand the best arguments against abortion. I don’t accept them, but I understand. There is no reasonable argument that a 16-cell zygote has equal rights to its human host. But at least I can interact with such arguments. The vast majority of the anti-choice community doesn’t make those arguments. Most of the arguments just come down to a puritanical belief that slutty girls should suffer. But the argument that these people are just looking out for the health of the women are contradicted by the science. It’s very simple:

Childbirth is dangerous.
Abortion is not.

Any questions?


Here is the abstract of the paper:

OBJECTIVE: To assess the safety of abortion compared with childbirth.

METHODS: We estimated mortality rates associated with live births and legal induced abortions in the United States in 1998-2005. We used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System, birth certificates, and Guttmacher Institute surveys. In addition, we searched for population-based data comparing the morbidity of abortion and childbirth.

RESULTS: The pregnancy-associated mortality rate among women who delivered live neonates was 8.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. The mortality rate related to induced abortion was 0.6 deaths per 100,000 abortions. In the one recent comparative study of pregnancy morbidity in the United States, pregnancy-related complications were more common with childbirth than with abortion.

CONCLUSION: Legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. Similarly, the overall morbidity associated with childbirth exceeds that with abortion.

[1] If you look around, you will find people claiming that far more women die from abortions than child birth. This is referenced to a journal Medical Science Monitor, but not to a specific article. Also, the same journal has published other questionable anti-abortion articles. Regardless, the discussion at Pregnancy Choices 4 Me indicates that previous studies were flawed because death certificates claimed the wrong cause of death in 73% of cases. Regardless of how accurate this is, it does not relate to the study discussed here. There is also the question of spontaneous abortions (miscarriages), which have nothing to do with abortion law and everything to do with increasing prenatal care.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Childbirth Is Dangerous; Abortion Is Not

  1. I will say this about the Catholic article by Erika Bachioci; it doesn’t fake the breast-cancer findings (basically that having kids reduces one’s risk slightly, and both women who don’t have kids and women who have abortions face the same risk) as anti-abortion advocates often do, and it throws in some arguments I hadn’t heard before.

    Unfortunately, while they are original arguments, they aren’t good ones. Take this sentence: "America’s reliance on abortion has relieved our culture of the costs associated with creating environments truly hospitable to women and their children."

    At first it seems to make partial sense. We don’t have a country hospitable to women and children. But the line suggests that if we banned abortion, and the birth rate went up, we’d all realize how important things like child-care and health-care and support for single mother are. Which is puffery.

    We have a much higher birthrate than Canada or Northern Europe, and their support systems for mothers are hugely better than ours. One reason among many being that those countries have a healthier attitude towards sex, and make birth control freely available to women of any childbearing age — two things the Catholic church is against.

    And while the American Catholic church has been good at supporting anti-poverty programs, their record is pretty cruddy in countries where abortion is all but unobtainable –such as Latin American ones. There, the Church openly censures priests and nuns who work too closely with left-wing groups, and usually cozies up with right-wing politicians whose neoliberal policies make poverty far worse.

    Ms. Bachiochi is no doubt thinking with a good heart, but her allegiance to Catholic dogma prevents her from using her head.

  2. @JMF – In general, the American Bishops have been good at arguing that abortion should be illegal but that we should do far more for women and children. I will give them that.

    But the big problem with most Christians (it is only formalized by the Catholics) is the idea that abortion is wrong but so is birth control. This all leads me to believe that what these people are really for is "woman control." And more generally: "poor control." If women [i]and[/i] men can’t control the children they have, they can’t improve their situations. Or at least it is much harder.

    They’re all evil. Even Thomas Aquinas thought that embryos had no soul. If the Catholic Church and Aquinas can disagree about this issue, it certainly can’t be clear that every sperm is sacred.

  3. For me, who grew up in a gruesomely nasty fundamentalist household, I always try to distinguish between fundamentalists and people with vaguely religious leanings. One group is horribly marred and wants to impose its abusive (abused?) viewpoint on everyone. The other does not, and they are the majority.

    Many people with vaguely religious leanings just appreciate the sense of belonging their faith gives them. Better substitutions for that need are conceivable.

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