Dr Elard Koch“Safe abortion” has always been a deceitful term, since it is lethal for the unborn child. It is used as propaganda to push for legalisation of abortion in developing countries, on the ground that since abortions are happening anyway they ought to be brought within the health system and made safe for the mother. It thus becomes part of a high-minded campaign for “safe motherhood”. But evidence is coming to light that safe childbirth owes nothing to legalised abortion.

In Chile, for example, maternal mortality declined over the last century regardless of whether abortion was legal or illegal, reports C-FAM. Between 1960 and 2000 the rate dropped from 275 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births to 18.7 deaths even though Chile tightened its restrictions on abortion in the late 1980s.

Dr Elard Koch, a biomedical researcher at the University of Chile, puts the dramatic fall down to a “breakthrough” in the public health system and primary care since 1960 (before abortion was liberalised) and a more educated population. Many primary health centres were built where women could have medical checks during pregnancy and access to skilled birth attendants.

Statistics released the World Health Organization (WHO) support such conclusions. In South America, according to WHO, Chile boasts of the lowest rate of maternal mortality, whereas Guyana, which significantly liberalized its laws in the mid-1990s citing concern over maternal deaths, has the highest.

This news follows a report from the World Economic Forum in December which showed that countries with restrictive abortion laws are often the leaders in reducing maternal mortality. Ireland, which is under pressure to change its Constitutional protection of the unborn child, leads the world in maternal health performance, with 1 death for every 100,000 live births. Poland, which has tightened its abortion law, ranks 27 on the WEF list with 8 deaths per 100,000. In the United States, where there are virtually no restrictions on abortion, the ratio is 17 deaths per 100,000. C-FAM cites other examples from its analysis of the WEF report which prove the point.

The point being, that pregnancy care, skilled birth attendants and emergency obstetric care should be the focus of safe motherhood campaigns, not legal abortion. It is also obvious that development assistance that really delivers primary health care and education will provide the basic conditions for maternal health. It might be quicker to kill babies, but it won’t make the odds of a safe delivery better for mothers in general.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet