Childbirth is at least 14 times more dangerous than abortion, as shown by data from the U.S. A 2012 study found that the pregnancy-associated mortality rate among women who delivered live babies was 8.8 deaths per 100,000 live births (average per year, between 1998 and 2005). The mortality rate for induced abortion over the same period was 0.6 deaths per 100,000 abortions. However, maternal mortality rates in the U.S. have gotten far worse – 26.4 deaths per 100,000 live births were recorded in 2015 (some but not all of the increase may be attributable to improved reporting), even while rates continue to decline in other developed countries. There is no evidence of increased abortion-related deaths in the U.S.
Out of 4.2 million pregnancies (2008 data) that end in live births in the U.S. each year, 700 women die (2017 data) and over 2 million women suffer pregnancy complications, 20,000 of them life-threatening (2008 data). In comparison, only 5 or 6 American women die from abortion each year, even though at least 1 in 5 pregnancies end in abortion.
The huge difference between the safety of childbirth and abortion is repeated in all other countries where abortion is legal. The reason why the “abortion is dangerous” myth exists is because the anti-choice movement misinterprets studies that seem to show that women who have abortions are more likely to die afterwards, compared to women who give birth. A key example is a 2004 Finnish study often cited by anti-choice activists, which found that women who have abortions are more likely to die from any cause up to one year later, compared to those who give birth – in particular, a risk of death by suicide is usually cited, even though another study did not find this correlation.
The key point is that correlation does not equal causation – which means it could be other factors that lead to an increased risk of death, not the abortion itself. Women who have abortions should never be compared to women with wanted pregnancies who give birth, as they are two quite different groups. The latter tend to be in more stable and healthy life situations, while women who choose abortions are often doing so because of challenging life circumstances, such as poor health, age (too young, too old) poverty, partner abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, psychological issues, or other problems. It is these factors that lead to an increased risk of death for women who have abortions, not the abortion itself. (Also, the increased risk of death is quite small).
Obstetrics & Gynecology, The comparative safety of legal induced abortion and childbirth in the United States. Raymond & Grimes (2012)
National Public Radio – U.S. Has The Worst Rate Of Maternal Deaths In The Developed World (2017)
British Journal of Psychiatry, AC Gilchrist et al, Termination of pregnancy and psychiatric morbidity (1995)
Centers for Disease Control, Pregnancy Related Deaths (2017)
CDC’s Abortion Surveillance System FAQs (2013)
Guttmacher Institute, Induced Abortion in the United States (2017)
American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Pregnancy-associated mortality after birth, spontaneous abortion, or induced abortion in Finland, 1987-2000 (Gissler et al., 2004)
Pro-Choice Action Network, Beware of meaningless studies by anti-choice researchers (2003)