The Corner

Guttmacher Fails to Debunk Chilean Maternal-Mortality Study

A recent study which demonstrates that abortion restrictions in Chile have not hurt maternal-mortality outcomes has received a considerable amount of attention. As I wrote previously, this study is very important for several reasons. It is methodologically rigorous, it analyzes reliable public-health data, and it looks at one of the few countries to place restrictions on abortion after a period of legalization. As such, it should come as no surprise that the Guttmacher Institute has revved up its spin machine in the hopes of discrediting the study. Unfortunately, Guttmacher’s response leaves much to be desired.

In their response to the study, Guttmacher makes several points. First they claim that abortion was restricted in Chile prior to the passage of a restrictive 1989 law. However, while there were some legal restrictions on abortion in Chile prior to 1989, abortions were still allowed for “therapeutic” purposes. The authors of the Chilean maternal-mortality study identify a hospital in Santiago that performed thousands of abortions in the months preceding the coup in 1973. Even taking Guttmacher’s claim at face value, the sharp decline in the Chilean maternal-mortality rate clearly shows that it is possible for developing countries to lower their maternal-mortality rates without legalizing abortion.

Second, Guttmacher questions the reliability of the public-health data utilized by the researchers. However, the researchers were diligent in using Chile’s public-health registry to combine a range of maternal death causes. Furthermore both the World Health Organization and the United Nations have deemed public-health data from Chile reliable. This charge from Guttmacher is especially ironic because in previous research on abortion in developing countries, Guttmacher has used surveys which greatly overestimate the incidence of abortion. For instance, a 2006 analysis by Guttmacher claimed that anywhere from 700,000 to 1,000,000 abortions were taking place every year in Mexico. After abortion laws were liberalized in Mexico, health data indicates that only between 10,000 and 20,000 abortions were performed there annually.

#more#Third, Guttmacher argues that the researchers fail to account for other factors which may have decreased the Chilean maternal-mortality rates. Not surprisingly, they argue that increases in contraception use played a role. The authors of the Chilean study acknowledge that this may be a possibility. However, only about one-third of reproductive-age women in Chile use hormonal birth control. As such, it is unlikely that contraception use played a substantial role in the decline in Chile’s maternal-mortality rate. Similarly Guttmacher also argues that the availability of the abortifacient misoprostol played a role as well. However, misoprostol became available during the 1990s, well after Chile’s maternal-mortality rate started falling.

Finally, Guttmacher claims that there is no body of evidence suggesting that restricting abortion improves women’s health. Guttmacher does acknowledge that some countries where abortion is restricted including Ireland, Poland, and Malta all have low maternal-mortality rates. However, they discount this, stating that women in these countries simply obtain abortions in neighboring countries. While this may be true, there is data which suggests that even taking inter-country travel in to account, women in these countries obtain abortion less often than their counterparts elsewhere.

What Guttmacher must find frustrating is that this research is significantly better than most of the other studies which analyze the impact of abortion policy on maternal mortality. The other studies simply compare mortality rates in countries where abortion is restricted to mortality rates in countries with permissive abortion policies. These studies fail to consider that many countries where abortion is illegal are located in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. These countries tend to have higher poverty rates, worse sanitation, and other problems which contribute to high maternal-mortality rates. It is no surprise this new research has Guttmacher analysts worried.

— Michael J. New is an Assistant Professor at The University of Michigan — Dearborn, a Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

Michael J. New — Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Origins of Progressive Agony

What has transformed the Democratic party into an anguished progressive movement that incorporates the tactics of the street, embraces maenadism, reverts to Sixties carnival barking, and is radicalized by a new young socialist movement? Even party chairman Tom Perez concedes that there are “no moderate ... Read More
Elections

How Will the Senate Races Break?

How will the Senate races break? We have less public polling to go on than in recent years, so answering that question is harder than ever. But the news is more optimistic for Republicans than it was a month ago.   Waves and Breakers Four years ago, I projected in mid September that if “historical ... Read More
PC Culture

Warren Is a Fraud

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) has been telling a story for years. It’s a deeply romantic story about her parents and their young love, fraught with the familial bigotry of an earlier time. Here’s how she told it this week in a video she released in preparation for her 2020 run: My daddy always said he ... Read More
U.S.

Two Minnesota Republican Candidates Assaulted

Two Republican candidates for state office in Minnesota have been physically assaulted in recent days, leading prominent Republican lawmakers to caution their Democratic colleagues against employing inflammatory rhetoric. Republican state representative Sarah Anderson was punched in the arm last week after ... Read More
Law & the Courts

A Christian Man Receives Justice

A good man’s legal ordeal is at an end. Yesterday, my friends and former colleagues at the Alliance Defending Freedom announced that former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran had reached a $1.2 million settlement, ending a case he brought after the city fired him for writing -- and distributing to a select few ... Read More