Cause of Women's Deaths Associated with Pregnancy

(Springfield, IL) -- In an effort to call attention to the impact of violence on public health, 160 experts contributed to the World Report on Violence and Health issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) last week. This fruit of three years of collaboration, unfortunately, fails to call attention to the growing body of evidence which shows that violent deaths among women are strongly associated with their pregnancies.

Sadly, at least in some countries, homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women and recently pregnant women.(1) According to one study of battered women, the target of battery during their pregnancies shifted from their faces and breasts to their pregnant abdomens.(2) This redirection of the assault suggests hostility toward the women's fertility.

Many women are coerced, pressured, or battered to submit to unwanted abortions by men who are opposed to birth (3). This may be a clue as to why a history of abortion is an important marker for increased risk of death from violence.(4,5)

A major record linkage study in Finland found that in the first year following a pregnancy event, women who delivered were half as likely to die as women who had not been pregnant while women who had abortions were 76 percent more likely to die.(4) The largest discrepancy was due to deaths from violence. The odds ratio of death for women who had abortions compared to delivering women was 4.24 for accidents, 6.46 for suicide, and 13. 97 for deaths resulting from homicide.

Another large study in the United States revealed that the elevated risk of death associated with a history of abortion persists for at least eight years.(5) After controlling for age and prior psychiatric history, a history of abortion was a statistically significant marker for 3.12 times higher risk of death from suicide and 1.93 times higher the risk of death from suicide. The elevated risk of death from violent causes was highest in the first four years following the pregnancy outcome.

While much attention is paid to the problem of unwanted pregnancies, comparatively little has been paid to the violent conflicts which erupt when pregnancies are wanted by women but not wanted by their partners. Other causes of unwanted abortions- -pressure from parents, medical personnel, or circumstances--can also result in grief, guilt, and a loss of desire to live (3), which may play a role in the higher rate of deaths due to suicide and accidents among women with a history of abortion.

These are just a few of the studies that irrefutably shown that abortion is a marker for violent death among women, yet this important marker was completely excised from WHO's report on violence. While we might expect WHO to ignore the violent deaths directly attributable to abortion's intended victims, unborn children, the additional coverup of the abortion link to violent deaths among women can only be explained by WHO's unswerving commitment to the population control agenda which seeks to perpetuate the myth that legal abortions are entirely safe.

The truth is that legal abortion, like illegal abortion, is a safety hazard, not a safety net. It involves innumerable risks to the physical and psychologocial health of women(6), whether they voluntarily choose abortion or submit to unwanted abortions.

It is particularly worrisome that easier access to legal abortion may increase the exposure of women to violence aimed at coercing them into the abortion wanted children. Women at risk of coercion are protected by laws banning or strictly regulating abortion. Legalization, on the other hand, makes it easier for coercing partners to find, obtain, and insist on abortion. But this is a reality that population control advocates refuse to entertain because the many do not actually care about women's individual rights, as is evidenced by their defense of China's draconian "one child" policy. Population control zealots are focused on global concerns, not individual rights. They pursue the goal of lower birth rates, especially among the poor, with a truly religious, dogmatic fervor. If the reduction in birth rates is due to the coercion of governments or the coercion of sexual partners, the result is the same. Population controllers will therefore shield the coercing parties and even defend them for their farsightedness.

Not all supporters of legal access to abortion, however, are rabid population controllers. To these moderates, who truly care about women, we appeal for support in the effort to educate the public about the inherent risks associated with unrestricted access to abortion. To these moderates we appeal for support for efforts that will protect those women who are at greatest risk of coercion or violence before or after an abortion. Moreover, to those who truly care about addressing the public health crisis related to violence against women, we appeal for their support for efforts expand screening and counseling programs for women with a history of abortion. Tens of thousands of post-abortive women who have suffered from grief, guilt, violence, and substance abuse have been well served by post-abortion counseling programs. These programs deserve to be expanded and supported.

REFERENCES (1) Horon IL, Cheng D . "Enhanced surveillance for pregnancy- associated mortality--Maryland, 1993-1998." JAMA. 2001;285(11):1455-9. (2) Hilberman E, Munson K. "Sixty battered women." Victimology 1977-78; 2:460-470. (3) Burke T, Reardon DC. Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion. Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 2002. (4) Gissler, M., et. al., "Pregnancy-associated deaths in Finland 1987-1994 - definition problems and benefits of record linkage," Acta Obsetricia et Gynecolgica Scandinavica. 1997; 76:651-7. (5) Reardon DC, Ney PG, Scheuren FJ,, Cougle JR, Coleman, PK, Strahan T. "Deaths associated with pregnancy outcome: a record linkage study of low income women," Southern Medical Journal. 2002; 95(8):834-41. (6) Strahan T. Detrimental Effects of Abortion: An Annotated Bibliography. 3rd Edition. Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 2002.

Source: The text above reflects the comments of David C. Reardon, Ph.D., director of the Elliot Institute and author of "Making Abortion Rare: A Healing Strategy for a Divided Nation" and co-author with Theresa Burke of "Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion."

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