Let’s call the pro-lifers what they are: Pro-death


On the 45th anniversary of Roe v Wade, it’s time to highlight a hidden truth: restricting abortion means more maternal deaths

Ever since the anti-abortion movement claimed the “pro-life” label in the 1970s, the battle over reproductive rights has taken an apocalyptic tone. If the anti-abortion side is pro-life, then the other side – the millions of women who rally every January to keep abortion legal and safe – must be composed of the gaunt, gray-winged handmaidens of death.

This polarizing rhetoric turns every clash between the two sides into a prelude to Armageddon, the final showdown between life and death, good and evil. When charged with caring only for life in its fetal form, the anti-abortion side hoists its mythological claim that abortion is a risk factor for breast cancer, lifelong depression and suicide. Thus they can say that they do not only save fetal lives, but the lives of the women who carry these fetuses.

On 22 January, on the 45th anniversary of the legalization of abortion, supporters of women’s rights need to go beyond refuting false claims about the dangers of abortion.

We should take back the mantle of life.

There is mounting evidence that it is not abortion, but the lack of access to abortion that is a deadly threat to women. This conclusion comes from careful state-by-state monitoring of maternal mortality, including deaths occurring at birth and around the time of birth. The less access to abortion, the greater the chance that women will die in childbirth or pregnancy.

Maternal mortality has long been considered a third world problem, almost unthinkable in a society, like ours, that spends $3.3tn a year on healthcare. So it was shocking, in the late 2000s, when public health researchers began to see an uptick in US maternal mortality, and to some even more shocking that the excess deaths were concentrated in the states imposing the highest number of restrictions on access to abortion.

Texas, for example, saw its maternal mortality rate more than double between 2010 and 2014, as the state closed more than half of its abortion clinics and severely cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Thanks to Texas and a few other states with strong “pro-life” lobbies, mostly in the south, the US now bears the ghastly distinction of having the highest maternal mortality rate of all the world’s wealthy democracies.

What does the presence or absence of abortion services have to do with the chances of a woman’s surviving pregnancy and childbirth? No one knows exactly what’s going on, but most people seem to agree that the relationship is indirect: states that make abortions hard to get also tend to be stingy about health services like prenatal and postnatal care, hence less likely to catch the escalating blood pressure or anomalous bleeding that can presage a woman’s death.

The Guardian for more

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