Way More Women Still Die From Childbirth Than Abortion


Anti-choicers enjoy pressuring women into giving birth by listing the various (fake) ways you can die from abortion. But having a baby is riskier than not having a baby, even in 2013.

This well-researched Slate piece on maternal death outlines how far we’ve come since last century: about 15 women in the U.S. die in pregnancy or childbirth per 100,000 live births today, but 100 years ago it was more than 600 women per 100,000 births. Still, giving birth is still the sixth most common cause of death among women age 20 to 34 in the United States. That means it’s safer to take birth control if you’re under 35 than to risk getting pregnant, which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “pro-life.”

Abortion, on the other hand, is one of the safest medical procedures ever; there’s less than 0.5% risk of major complications and there’s no proven correlation to cancer or mental health (despite anti-abortion advocates’ claims). The risk of death associated with abortion increases with the length of pregnancy, but there’s only one death for every one million abortions at or before eight weeks. (Fifty-eight percent of abortion patients say they would have liked to have had their abortion earlier than they did; it’s hard to get it done when you’re broke and there are no affordable providers in your area.)

Fewer women die from childbirth today thanks to modern medicine, but doctors used to be the problem, not the solution. Rich women were actually more likely to die in childbirth than poor women because their doctors were so fatally inept:

For most of European and U.S. history, midwives had attended births. Some were incompetent, some were skilled. The best ones wrote and read reports on techniques and treatments, and there’s some evidence they were becoming better trained and having better outcomes during the early 1800s. Doctors had little to do with childbirth—they were all men, and it was considered obscene for a man to be present at a birth.
As the profession of medicine grew during the 1800s, though, doctors started to edge their way into the potentially lucrative business of childbirth. The first ones were general practitioners who had no training and little experience in childbirth. It was considered a low-status specialty and wasn’t taught well or at all in most medical schools.
In the delightfully named book Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, Randi Hutter Epstein describes the state-of-art treatment: “Before forceps, babies stuck in the birth canal were dragged out by the doctor, often in pieces. Sometimes midwives cracked the skull, killing the newborn but sparing the mother. Sometimes doctors broke the pubic bone, which often killed the mother but spared the baby. Doctors had an entire armamentarium of gruesome gadgets to hook, stab, and rip apart a hard-to-deliver baby. Many of these gadgets had an uncanny resemblance to medieval torture tools.”

Now, a hospital birth is safer than a home birth — although “no birth” is your safest bet.


Image via Getty.

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