Thursday, August 1, 2013

Abortion Restrictions, Maternal Death, and Abortion Rates. Do Abortion Laws Make A Difference?

Abortion advocates insist that restriction of abortion (1) will kill women and (2) won't reduce abortion. Both claims are false.

I will ignore the inflammatory nonsense that laws restricting abortion access have the malicious purpose of killing women. But do they have that unintended side effect? How could you tell? You could look at maternal death rates before and after significant changes in abortion regulation. But that could be inconclusive if changes in medical technology or practice occurred at the same time.

So let's do a simple comparison. Take the 10 states with the most restrictive abortion laws, and the 10 states with the least restrictive abortion laws, and compare maternal death rates. There could be other factors of course, but it's a starting point. NARAL already grades states by their abortion laws, so using their guidance we will pick LA, ND, MS, SD, KS, UT, ID, MO, NE, and KY as the 10 most restrictive, in that order, and CA, WA, CT, HI, MD, OR, ME, VT, NJ, and NY as the 10 least restrictive, in that order.

If abortion advocates are right that laws restricting abortion access kill women, we would expect a significantly higher maternal death rate in the states with restrictive abortion laws. What does the data show? No correlation.

State NARAL grade NARAL State Rank Maternal Mortality Rate Maternal Mortality State Rank Abortion Rate
Most restrictive abortion laws LA F 50 17.9 44 16.1
ND F 49 10.3 25 11.2
MS F 48 19 47 4.6
SD F 47 9 17 5.6
KS F 46 7.1 9 19.2
UT F 45 9.9 21 6.7
ID F 44 15 39 6
MO F 43 12.7 36 6.3
NE F 42 9 17 8.1
KY F 41 8.1 14 5.1
Median – restrictive F 45 9.9 21 6.3

Least restrictive abortion laws NY A- 10 18.9 46 37.6
NJ A- 9 16.5 41 31.3
VT A 8 2.6 2 12.5
ME A 7 1.2 1 11.2
OR A 6 6.5 8 17.3
MD A 5 18.7 45 29
HI A 4 13.9 37 22.6
CT A 3 7.5 11 24.6
WA A+ 2 9 17 18.3
CA A+ 1 12.5 35 27.6
Median – permissive A 5 9 17 22.6

US Overall D N/A 12.1 N/A 19.6

NARAL grades from
Maternal Mortality Rates (2001-2006) per 100,000 live births from
Abortion Rate per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 (2008 data) from

In fact both the restrictive states' median maternal mortality rate and the permissive states' median maternal mortality rate are below the national average. Maternal mortality rates are higher among African-Americans, so states with higher African-American populations have higher maternal mortality rates, regardless of abortion restrictions. Laws restricting abortion access don't kill women. There is no correlation.

What about abortion rates? Do abortion restrictions decrease the number of abortions? Look at the abortion rate column. Yes, there is a correlation between abortion restrictions and abortion rates. The 10 least restrictive states have a median abortion rate nearly 4 times the median abortion rate of the 10 most restrictive states.

In conclusion, restrictive abortion laws make no difference in maternal death rates, but they make a significant impact on abortion rates, just as pro-life activists have long believed.

Wesley Wilson is the President of Let Me Live, a nonprofit dedicated to saving babies by showing the beauty and value of life to women considering abortion. Please learn more about the Let Me Live pro-life billboard campaign. Donations are tax deductible. Please connect with us on Facebook or Twitter.

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