A wealth of media outlets have cited a 2012 pro-abortion study which claims that abortion is up to 14 times safer than childbirth. Yet, as Dr. John Ferrer pointed out in his article for the Equal Rights Institute, no other study has ever been able to confirm this finding, and the 2012 study is highly unreliable.
The study in question, authored by two pro-abortion researchers, is called “The comparative safety of legal induced abortion and childbirth in the United States.” And though it’s been heavily quoted by the media, it’s also heavily flawed.
“It’s a pretty radical claim to say that abortion is 14 times safer than childbirth,” Ferrer said. “It’s so radical, there’s only one source that claims they can prove it. It’s a journal article from abortion-choice researchers Elizabeth Raymond and David Grimes (hereafter, ‘RG study’).” Ferrer notes that Grimes is “one of the biggest names in the pro-choice lobby.”
He explained, “There is a reason, however, why no other study claims to demonstrate … this ’14 times safer’ claim. “They can’t reproduce the results, so no other study has been able to corroborate that enormous claim. The RG study might be the most famous, and most widely cited paper on the subject, but despite its popularity, it’s pretty much useless.”
Incomparable Data on Abortion vs. Childbirth
According to Ferrer, the RG study relies on abortion numbers from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, but those numbers do not include statistics from Maryland, Washington D.C., or New Hampshire. They also lack information from two of the areas with high abortion numbers and nearly no pro-life laws: California and New York City. None of these locations have reported abortion statistics to the CDC in years, but they do report all childbirths and related maternal deaths. The reporting of childbirths and related deaths is mandatory, but the reporting of abortions and abortion-related deaths is not. In addition, not all states that do report their statistics require abortion facilities to report all of their information. There is no federal law requiring the reporting of abortions or abortion complications.
“The two data sets RG compares differ dramatically; one covers everything meticulously, and the other is filled only at the whim of individual organizations,” said Ferrer. “There is no meaningful or valid comparison of the two that can be made.”
But the problem doesn’t stop there. Not only are abortion-related deaths not required to be reported, but if they are reported, they can be reported as maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth. The example Ferrer gives is a woman who dies from hemorrhaging after taking the abortion pill. Her abortion may be recorded as a miscarriage and her death listed as childbirth complications, skewing the data.
In addition, while the RG study included births that did not take place in a legal clinical setting (such as home births), it excluded non-clinical abortions. At-home births using hypnosis or acupuncture increase the risks associated with childbirth. And at-home abortions, which are becoming more common with the abortion pill regimen, as well as criminal misconduct abortions, increase the associated risks.
Furthermore, Ferrer explained that it was “irresponsible” of researchers to avoid acknowledging the existence of both inherent and chosen risk. Some mothers will risk personal injury to ensure their baby is born healthy and safe, such as women with cancer. That would increase her risk of death. He further noted that some complications during pregnancy could also be linked to previous abortions. Past abortions increase the risks of complications and death in future childbirth, and also put women at higher risk of ectopic pregnancies, which can be deadly for the woman. According to the American Pregnancy Association, women who have undergone “several induced abortions” are at increased risk for ectopic pregnancy in the future.
Manipulation of the statistics
In addition to all of this, Ferrer also faulted the study for manipulating the statistics. “For example,” he wrote, “compared to abortion mortality rates, the ‘maternal mortality rate’ in the RG study is inflated.”
“The CDC maternal mortality rate,” Ferrer explained, “takes all birth-related deaths (the numerator) and divides them by only live births (the denominator), so all stillbirths and miscarriages are only addressed in the top number and not the bottom. The result is an inflated mortality rate from childbirth but not abortion.”
It’s important to note that the CDC compiles data to “identify all deaths occurring during pregnancy or within 1 year of pregnancy,” which means that women who died of causes unrelated to pregnancy, such as car accidents, are included in “maternal deaths.” This inflates the maternal mortality rate for childbirth that the study uses. However, the researchers behind the study decided to exclude deaths after an abortion that were unrelated, which they did not do when women died of unrelated causes after giving birth. For example, said Ferrer, if a woman contracted MRSA at the abortion business and died, she would not be included in the RG study data.
“The study,” he said, “is careful to avoid false positives for abortion cases, presumably since those would undermine its argument, but not so careful with childbirth cases.”
He continued, “This double-standard is all the more troublesome because if the same measure were used for both childbirth and abortion then abortion would appear two to four times deadlier than childbirth. Abortion correlates with higher rates of murder, drug-related death, and suicide, but the RG study excludes those cases from the data while including those cases in the data on childbirth. It’s a flagrant double-standard that, by itself ruins the credibility of the RG study.”
The study is titled, “The comparative safety of legal induced abortion and childbirth in the United States,” which Ferrer argues is “false advertising.”
“Even if Raymond and Grimes were to prove their case, showing that abortion generates fewer maternal deaths than does childbirth, they would still need to expand their study to include at least a representative set of other health risks before the paper could live up to its title,” he wrote. “As it stands, the title of the article claims more than it is designed to prove.”
Ferrer calls the RG study “bad science,” because not only does it use incomplete data on abortions and inflated data on maternal deaths, it did not review multiple studies. Instead, it relied on CDC and Guttmacher data only. “It does not have the marks of serious scholarship, except that it’s published in a research journal,” he wrote. “It’s no surprise, then, to see primary sources and original research discrediting the RG study (such as the 2013 study by Byron Calhoun and undercutting testimony by the CDC in federal court.”
The study is also not verifiable or repeatable. Not a single other researcher has been able to verify the claim that abortion is 14 times safer than childbirth, said Ferrer. Yet, multiple studies have found the opposite to be true. Ferrer points to a study out of Denmark that showed an increased mortality rate in post-abortive mothers compared to mothers who gave birth. Another study in Finland found that women who underwent abortions had a six times higher suicide rate, four times higher rate of accidental death, and 10 times higher rate of death by homicide.
“In short, anyone claiming to have statistical proof that abortion is broadly safer than childbirth is wrong,” said Ferrer.
Until abortions and abortion-related injuries and death are adequately reported, it is impossible to accurately compare the safety of abortion versus the safety of childbirth.
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