Study Saying Abortion Safer Than Childbirth Disputed

Bowling Green professor Priscilla Coleman calls the 'American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology' report deliberately misleading.

A study purporting that childbirth is 14 times more dangerous to pregnant women than abortion has been swiftly rebutted by an advocate for women’s health.

Priscilla Coleman, professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, is so intent on getting her own research on the health risks of abortion out to pregnant women and doctors that she has recently created a website for it.

There, she answers the report by Drs. Elizabeth Raymond and Robert Grimes in the June issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that claims to prove “the risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.”

Coleman’s critique calls the Raymond-Grimes study a “dangerous distortion” — and deliberately misleading.

Grimes and Raymond claim their study, “The Comparative Safety of Legal Induced Abortion and Childbirth in the United States,” also shows that childbirth triggered more problems than abortion in all 10 types of individual complications they examined. What’s more, the gap between childbirth’s risks to life and health and abortion’s appears to be growing.

In the first decade after abortion was legalized, they claim, childbirth was just seven times more dangerous. But abortion is getting safer, they explain, thanks to an increasing use of pharmaceutical rather than surgical abortions and increasing reliance on surgical — or Caesarean — childbirth, as well as the trend of women having babies at later ages.


Reliance on Government Data

But Coleman says there are a host of problems with the Raymond-Grimes study, first of which is its reliance on the Centers for Disease Control for its data. Because the CDC relies on reports from state governments, which in turn rely on reports from abortion facilities, its data “seriously under-represents abortion morbidity and mortality.”

Abortion businesses are not required to report abortions, and many states do not report abortion-related deaths at all. Even those that do report deaths from abortion complications report only the complication and not the abortion. Moreover, suicide deaths are rarely linked to abortion in these reports, nor are deaths resulting from “physical or psychological disturbances” several years after an abortion.

What’s more, her critique states, the Raymond-Grimes study does not consider the 13% of abortions occurring after the first trimester, where mortality rates range from 14.7 to 76.6 per 100,000 (for abortions done at 14 and 21 weeks, respectively).

Furthermore, says Coleman, Raymond and Grimes ignore the wealth of evidence that childbirth is “protective” against such things as breast cancer and suicide. Women who are pregnant, for example, or who have delivered live babies within the last 90 days, are 1/20th as likely to commit suicide as non-pregnant women of child-bearing age.

Coleman said a far more accurate way of comparing mortality rates combines the records of women’s reproductive history with mortality reports. Such a study in the United States showed women who had abortions to be 62% likelier to die within eight years than women who bore children. A Finnish study showed women who had abortions were four times likelier to die within a year than women who bore live children.


Pro-Abortion Bias

Coleman says Raymond and Grimes reveal their pro-abortion bias at the outset by deploring the spate of state legislation requiring abortion facilities to provide women seeking abortion a warning about the health risks.

In the latest issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, an editorial by Dr. Mitchell Creinin, a Pittsburgh specialist in those areas, endorses Raymond and Grimes’ report, however.

“Raymond and Grimes clearly summarize the facts: Abortion is safer than delivery. Regardless of personal views, every woman deserves factual medical information whenever she is facing a decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.”

Creinin also condemned legislators who have intruded on medical affairs, especially targeting the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from paying for abortions through Medicaid other than in cases of rape, incest or threats to the woman’s life. Why not similar restriction on tobacco, Creinin wondered, when it “kills 48,000 times more persons per year than abortion.”

Of course, he is not counting the fetuses.

“Individuals who oppose abortion rights,” he conceded, “believe every abortion is murder and would say that the mortality of the procedure is 100% for the fetus.” But there is no arguing with such people, he added. “The bottom line,” he insists, “is that each person in the United States does have the right to decide his or her destiny” — this time without any mention of the unborn.

In an interview, Grimes felt that Coleman may not have read his article “or is intentionally misrepresenting the science.”

Grimes defended the Center for Disease Control’s method of gathering abortion statistics and rebutted Coleman’s claim that both the CDC and his study underreport abortion deaths. “Underreporting of childbirth-related deaths is a larger problem,” he said, and, as a result, “abortion may be even safer relative to childbirth than reported in our study.” He also dismissed Coleman’s reliance on abortion impact studies from Finland, “a Scandinavian country with a population about the size of metropolitan Atlanta. The Finnish population is very different than the U.S. population, as is their health-care system. Extrapolating mortality data from Atlanta to the entire U.S. population would be inappropriate; the same is true for Finland.”

Coleman also has her supporters.

Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, noted the flood of uncritical news coverage given to the Raymond-Grimes study and recommended doctors and nurses study Coleman’s report so they can explain “the errant methodologies of this study” to “media-savvy pregnant women who question the safety of childbirth over abortion.”

Register correspondent Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.