UK defies US by funding abortion programmesBMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7537.322 (Published 09 February 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:322
All rapid responses
The argument that 'safe and legal' abortion is necessary to stop
'thousands of women' dying at the hands of back street abortionists is
well-rehearsed but ill-founded.  Claims about death rates have always
been wildly exaggerated and this IPPF report of 19 million women deaths
and injuries is similarly based on non peer-reviewed ‘reports’ produced by
an abortion 'industry' which sees a huge potential market in the
developing world. It is sad that the BMJ, a supposedly peer-reviewed and
evidence- based journal, should willingly act as an uncritical conduit for
such groundless claims. But sadly, as with euthanasia, when it comes to
abortion the publication seems to be driven these days more by ideology
and political correctness than evidence.
Pro-abortion radicals have long argued that the right to abortion
should be guaranteed by international law because restricting abortion
leads to high maternal mortality. But nations with permissive abortion
laws do not actually experience lower rates of maternal mortality compared
to nations with restrictive abortion laws according to new data published
by the United Nations Populations Division. ‘The World Mortality Report:
2005’, which was published at the start of this year,  is the first
report of its kind produced by the UN Population Division. It measures
mortality, including maternal and infant mortality, for all the world's
According to the report, Russia, where abortion is legal, has a
maternal mortality rate of 67 deaths for every 100,000 births. The United
States, where there are almost no restrictions on abortion, has a rate of
17 deaths for every 100,000 births.
Both Ireland and Poland, favourite targets of the pro-abortion
radicals for their strong restrictions on abortion, have better maternal
mortality rates than Russia and the US. Ireland has the lowest rate of the
four countries with only 5 deaths for every 100,000 births. In Poland,
which like Russia was recently freed from communism, the maternal
mortality rate is 13 deaths for every 100,000 births.
Liberal abortion laws do not seem to decrease infant mortality either
even if one does not consider abortion to be an instance of infant
mortality. Ireland also has the lowest rate in this category with 6 deaths
for every 1,000 live births. Both Poland and the US have an infant
mortality rate of 7 deaths for every 1,000 live babies born. Russia has a
much higher infant mortality rate, of 12 deaths for every 1,000 live
We have of course been here before. Take for example the ‘pro-choice’
newspaper which claimed in 1989 that 600,000 Brazilian women died from
illegal abortions each year. A look at UN statistics reveals that there
were only 2,507 maternal deaths in Brazil in 1988 - from all causes!
But the figure spread like a virus in the minds of a gullible and
ideologically prejudiced public because it aided the abortion agenda.
Dr Bernard Nathanson, who was a major figure in the effort to
legalise abortion in the US and presided over 60,000 abortions before
having a change of heart, gives some insight into the reasons for the
disparity between the real and the claimed:
'...we emphasised the frame of the individual case, not the mass
statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always '5,000 to 10,000
deaths a year'. I confess that I knew the figures were totally false...
but the overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything
within reason that had to be done was permissible.'
Anyone who has worked in a developing country knows that poor people
choose to have large families because their future security depends on it.
But they also choose voluntarily to limit family size once they are sure
that their children will survive. The real answer therefore is to address
ignorance and poverty through improving the educational status and
economic well-being of women, to improve antenatal and medical care and
maternal-child health and to introduce family planning programmes rather
than a one-dimensional imposition of birth control through funding a
‘medical procedure’ which many people in developing countries find morally
The truth is that, throughout the world, abortion deaths have fallen
steeply in line with maternal deaths, owing to advances in medical
science. This trend has occurred regardless of whether abortion is legal
or illegal in particular countries.
I challenge the editors of the BMJ to come up with any reliable
evidence for the 19 million alleged deaths and injuries unthinkingly
propagated in this report; and long for the day when the British
government puts its time and effort into alleviating debt and poverty in
the developing world, eliminating the massive brain drain of health
professionals to the West and ensuring good antenatal care, immunisation
and maternal child health programmes for the world’s poor rather than
being obsessively committed to killing their children.
1. Eaton L. UK defies US by funding abortion programmes. BMJ
2006;332:322 (11 February)
3. Spare Rib. US Abortion Rights under Threat. Spare Rib 1989; p12
4. World Health Organisation. World Health Statistics Annual 1992,
Geneva: WHO, 1993
5. Nathanson B. Aborting America. Doubleday. 1979
Competing interests: No competing interests