Childbirth More Dangerous Than Abortion?

Believe it or not, having an abortion can be safer than childbirth. I know that for even the most pro-choice of us all that statement can seem pretty incredible, but a recent study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology grounds the assertion in reality. Specifically, one woman died in childbirth for every 11,000 babies born, compared to one of 167,000 women who died due to abortion complications between 1998 and 2005. This means that women are 14 times more likely to die during childbirth than they are likely to die during an abortion. While chatting with Parlourista Hills about these claims she asked, “how can that be”?  The answer boils down to two main points: 1) Abortion is a much safer procedure than we’ve been led to believe; and 2) Childbirth is much more dangerous than we’ve been led to believe.

Blame it on Hollywood dramas, misinformation passed along by word-of-mouth, or those scary-looking protesters outside of your local Planned Parenthood – the common perception of abortion is a scary, high-risk, surgical procedure performed by a doctor much like the sadist dentist from Little Shop of Horrors. However, when we’re talking legal abortion by an authorized medical professional, that picture couldn’t be further from the truth. Not to diminish the gravity of one’s decision to terminate her pregnancy, nor to trivialize the range of emotions one might feel before, during and after an abortion, but getting your tonsils taken out might be more involved than having an abortion (I can only speak to the latter as I’ve never had a tonsillectomy).

An early-term abortion carries so little risk, that you can choose an abortion by medication – taking a couple of pills in your home, eschewing the stirrups, paper gowns, and eerie sterility of a doctor’s office. An in-clinic or surgical abortion involves no scalpel, no anesthesia (unless you request it), and no IVs. After you’ve taken as much time as you need to gather yourself, ask questions and schedule a follow-up appointment, you can get on with your day (although most may just want a hug and a nap). Of course the earlier you seek an abortion, the less risk is involved compared to a later termination. However at that point, you’ve probably already experienced some complications in your pregnancy, which influenced your decision.

It’s amazing how women have been giving birth since the beginning of time in some of the harshest environments, sometimes alone and with little to no comfort. That’s why I’m sure it’s hard to believe that childbirth is still a dangerous act given modern medicine’s practice of hooking expectant moms up to all kinds of machines that beep and hum. “The US spends more money on mothers’ health than any other nation in the world, yet women in America are more likely to die during childbirth than they are in most other developed countries,” says a BBC report. We’re not talking towels and hot water anymore so the thinking goes that childbirth ought to be relatively safe, however those nine months leave a wide window of opportunity for something to go wrong.

Childbirth is dangerous for American women overall, with nearly 500 dying during childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications and 1.7 million women suffering adverse effects to their health due to pregnancy-related complications each year. Those are crazy figures but it is even more perilous for African-American women. According to Amnesty International, African American women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than white women (check out this infographic to learn more). Now it’s my turn to wonder, “how can this be?” It’s because we are more likely to fare poorly in the two most important factors related to maternal mortality – the mother’s health before pregnancy and the quality of health care received during pregnancy.

No one is saying it’s better to get an abortion just because it might be safer than childbirth. However, it is important that we tell the truth about the relatively low-risk associated with abortion to ensure the procedure remains safe and legal. It’s equally as important to point out the risks associated with childbirth so that we call attention to the health and racial disparities that cause so many women in the US to die doing what should be natural and glorious.

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