Monday 29 July 2013

Myth exposed: that "risk of death from childbirth is 14 times higher than with abortion"

Prof. Byron Calhoun, pro-life doctor
Fr John Fleming, SPUC's bioethical consultant, has sent me kindly his review (below) of an article by Professor Byron Calhoun, a leading pro-life OB/GYN from the US:

Abortion Myth Exposed:
“Risk of death from childbirth is 14 times higher than with abortion”!

In his systematic review of the evidence for claims made by some scholars that women are much 14 times more likely to die as a consequence of childbirth as compared to abortion, Byron Calhoun (Professor & Vice Chair, Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, West Virginia University-Charleston) exposes the poverty of actual evidence to support any such claims.[1] 

Professor Calhoun draws attention to the claim, recently made in the academic literature, that “The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than abortion”.  He describes such a claim as “unsupported by the literature” and that “there is no credible scientific basis to support it.”

This robust criticism of a claim that has been made in similar form from time to time by pro-abortion advocates over the last 40 or more years, is an important reminder to us all that argument in the abortion debate has often enough strayed from an evidenced-based account to wishful thinking or mindless advocacy.

In this paper Professor makes a number of crucial points where evidence is concerned and justifies them by use of the best objective information to hand.  There are, he says “numerous and complicated methodological factors that make a valid scientific assessment of abortion mortality extremely difficult”.   

Among the problems he identifies, where the US is concerned, are these:
  1. Such abortion data that we have is unreliable with the evidence showing that up to 50% of abortions in the US is not reported;
  2. The collection of data by the two data collecting agencies is unreliable;
  3. Because abortions are underreported disease states and other consequences of abortion simply do not appear in the death records and thus are “invisible in epidemiological research”; and
  4. Most aborted women do not return to clinics for follow-up care and assessment.
Where the international stage is concerned, Professor Calhoun points out that similar problems are present “due to poor quality reporting and definitional issues”.  He identifies “maternal deaths”, “late maternal deaths”, “pregnancy-related deaths”, and “pregnancy-associated deaths” as variously defined being used to identify “abortion-related deaths”.

There is so much more he has said in this crucially important paper than this brief review can cover. However, when addressing the matter of the most recent research evidence available which has credibility, Professor Calhoun points out that comparative data between the Republic of Ireland on the one hand, and England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on the other, shows that the countries with legal abortion actually had a higher maternal mortality than the Republic of Ireland which has not until now, permitted legal abortion.

He concludes his review by pointing out the need for accurate data collection before any statements about abortion and maternal mortality can be sensibly made; where the US is concerned he appeals for a quality national healthcare database which includes “all reproductive outcome variables and associations: including elective abortions”.  Crucially, such a database “must also provide open access to all researchers to evaluate this critical women’s health issue.”

[1] Byron Calhoun, “The maternal mortality myth in the context of legalized abortion”, The Linacre Quarterly 80 (3) 2013, 264-276

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