Legalizing abortion makes African women less safe. Maternal mortality stats prove it

Nov 29, 2023 by

from LifeSiteNews.

Abortion mortality in many pro-life sub-Saharan African countries makes up a tiny proportion of maternal deaths, despite claims that it is a leading cause.

A common argument for legalizing abortion is that women will get abortions either way, and if abortion is illegal it is unsafe, and women will die as a result. Therefore, it is better to legalize abortion even if you oppose it morally. This argument is supposed to be powerful because it doesn’t rely on any controversial position regarding the rights of the child or the moral permissibility of abortion.

Since a key function of law is to ensure the safety of citizens, it is argued that the law should safeguard women by allowing them to obtain abortions legally (and therefore, it is assumed, “safely”). The “right to life” argument has even been reversed to apply to women: if women die from unsafe abortion, their right to life has been violated by the state’s prohibition on abortion – and consequently that prohibition should no longer stand. It is claimed that legalizing abortion will reduce (maternal) deaths from abortion and, since abortion is counted among maternal deaths, reduce maternal mortality overall.

Traditionally, pro-lifers have responded with a moral argument: even if abortion bans were ineffective and caused women to die, they would still be just, since they uphold in law the equal value – and the right to life – of unborn children. We would never use this reasoning for any other ostensible serious human rights violations – partly because the empirical claim of ineffectiveness is prima facie highly implausible, but centrally because the law must as a matter of human dignity recognize personhood and the basic rights that go with it, however  ineffective enforcement might be. Similar arguments for keeping the slave trade legally regulated, for example, were made and rightly rejected.

Recent cases of legalization

Evidence from Mozambique since legalization (2014) is sparse, but nationwide reviews of its maternal deaths suggest that abortion deaths fell by 82% in just five years from 2007 to 2012, prior to legalization – falling from 4.1% to 1.4% of maternal deaths. Rwanda legalized abortion on broad socioeconomic grounds in 2012. But this took abortion-related deaths from consistently around 3% of maternal deaths to 5.7% in 2012 and 7.0% in 2013. Ethiopia legalized abortion similarly in 2006; I have shown elsewhere in detail that there is no evidence this resulted in any decline in abortion-related maternal deaths. In fact, during the period of legalization, and for a decade after, morbidity from abortion increased significantly, as did the number of women obtaining illegal abortions. This is a good illustration of why the economic argument for legalizing abortion fails: not only did Ethiopia have to spend more on treating complications of unsafe abortion, but they were additionally burdened with the cost of 300,000 legal abortions. For a poorly resourced healthcare system, these additional costs can cause great suffering and loss of life.

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