Abortion Cited As Leading Cause of Death in Unwanted Pregnancies

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The number of women who die as a result of unintended pregnancies continues to steadily increase, with the largest single mortality factor being unsafe and unsanitary abortion procedures, a study by the Global Health Council concludes.

The organization on Wednesday released what it touts as the most comprehensive worldwide analysis of maternal mortality rates directly resulting from unintended pregnancies. The study was based on public health records from 227 countries that were compiled over a six-year period from 1995 to 2000.

Part of the motivation for the study was the 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development, at which countries agreed to provide funding to improve reproductive health services. Nils Daulaire, who is president of the Global Health Council, said the study points to where those efforts have failed.

According to the study, 687,595 women died between 1995 and 2000 from a multitude of problems, but the largest single factor leading to deaths was abortion. The study shows deaths from abortions gradually rose over the six years studied, averaging nearly 75,000 deaths per year worldwide.

"More than half of all unintended pregnancies were terminated by abortions," Daulaire said. "It really drives home the point: If you want to end abortion, you have to end unintended pregnancy."

African nations by far had the highest death rate for women who chose to have an abortion, while North America had the lowest rate. In Africa, 185,204 women died, compared to 111 in the United State and Canada. Asian nations had the most maternal deaths from abortions, at 240,190, but because the population is much larger, the percentage rate was smaller.

The Global Health Council figures show that of the world's nearly 1.4 billion women of childbearing age, there were slightly more than 200 million pregnancies each year. Of that, about 339,000 or 28 percent were unintended.

"This is an avoidable tragedy," Daulaire said. "We can do far more than we've done over the last six years to prevent unintended pregnancies. It's also clear that it's not just the United States, it's the world community that's responsible for this."

Daulaire said the countries generally agreed at the 1994 U.N. conference that it would take about $17 billion to provide basic health services for developing nations. Broken down, that means each person on the planet would have to contributed $3.

Alexander Sanger, chairman of the International Planned Parenthood Council, said the lack of necessary funding is a hindrance to providing women with the health care they need.

International Planned Parenthood has a presence in about 160 nations, Sanger said, with the goal of improving medical standards. He cited inadequate services as the major factor in maternal mortality rates.

"Women who resort to abortions in third-world countries are often desperate," he said. "They're going to untrained practitioners in unsanitary conditions and dying as a result, usually from infection."

Sanger said countries that outlaw abortions force women to seek "underground" practices, which he added are usually unsafe.

"We would recommend abortion be made legal because under those circumstances it has a better chance of becoming safer for women," he said.

The Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, said that approach is misguided. Not only did he question the veracity of the study, he also claimed it was a tactic to shape the debate on global population.

For Euteneuer, the most alarming statistic is the 441,282 people who died from abortions -- many in countries where the procedure is illegal. He questioned Sanger's solution of legalizing abortion, claiming the procedure is not as safe as Sanger suggested.

"These countries need to enforce existing laws and put abortionists in jail because they're killing women," he said. "They also need to provide adequate health care for women when they are pregnant."

Euteneuer said Human Life International has tried to take the lead by educating women who are pregnant. The organization has offices in 36 countries that offer guidance and other services.

As for the report itself, Euteneuer said he was suspicious because it was funded by the Packard Foundation, which has a self-described mission to "slow the rate of growth of the world's population." That factor alone, Euteneuer said, should raise some eyebrows.

The report, however, does not recommend anything more than providing the necessary funding to developing nations for health services. If such steps are taken, Daulaire said, it would be easy to reverse the current trend.

"There is no substantive, technical or programmatic reason why the numbers that are cited [in the study] could not be reduced by 90 percent over a very short period of time," he said.

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