Is Abortion 14 Times Safer Than Childbirth?

Pregnancy and childbirth are not easy. Besides the effects on the mother’s body, her career plans, her relationships, and her identity, there are also health factors to consider. In a small minority of cases, pregnancy-related complications directly threaten the mother’s life. Many abortion-choice advocates are well aware of that danger. Some even claim that abortion is safer than childbirth, up to 14 times safer.[1] Where do they get this idea? Are they right? Is abortion 14 times safer than childbirth?

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes.

It’s a pretty radical claim to say that abortion is 14 times safer than childbirth. It’s so radical, there’s only one source that claims they can prove it. It’s a journal article from abortion-choice researchers Elizabeth Raymond and David Grimes (hereafter, “RG study”).

This article has become one of the most popular citations regarding “safe abortion.” It’s easy to read (five pages), easy to access (free online), it’s written by one of the biggest names in the pro-choice lobby (David Grimes), and it cites recognized resources (CDC and Guttmacher). Whenever people say, “Abortion is 14 times safer than childbirth” they are referencing the RG study (like Reuters, USNews, FoxNews, DailyKos, Time, Reddit, Public Radio, Huffington Post, Relias Media, and Slate).

There is a reason, however, why no other study claims to demonstrate that this “14 times safer” claim. They can’t reproduce the results, so no other study has been able to corroborate that enormous claim. The RG study might be the most famous, and most widely cited paper on the subject, but despite its popularity, it’s pretty much useless.

Now I know people on the internet can exaggerate things, but I’m picking my words carefully here. The RG study has bad methodology and weak evidence, it’s poorly researched and argued, it doesn’t support its conclusion, and it isn’t even titled correctly.

This paper is pretty much useless because it’s irreparably flawed. But even in the wider world of abortion statistics and medical research, beyond just the RG study, there are major limitations in data collection making it virtually impossible to say honestly, that abortion is demonstrably safer than childbirth.

In this article, I’ll begin by looking at the shortcomings of the RG study in more detail. Then, I’ll examine the broader trends that undermine our ability to draw sweeping conclusions about the relative safety of abortion. Finally, I’ll talk about how this should affect pro-life policies and conversations.

Debate vs. Dialogue: How Do They Differ?

John Ferrer debate

John Ferrer debates David Smalley on the problem of evil for The Bible & Beer Consortium.
Photo by Hillary Morgan Ferrer. Used with permission.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes.

Debate is fun for me, but I’m odd like that. I’m an academic and ethics teacher, so I’ve debated abortion formally and informally, in academic settings and elsewhere. The subject arises most every time I’m in a panel discussion, too. In that time, I’ve come to learn that debating is radically different from casual conversation. It’s miles apart from almost every kind of interaction we can have on campus, around the lunch table, walking to class, or hanging out over coffee.

Even with all that debate experience, I’m still a novice when it comes to casual conversations about abortion. I’m a little weird like that. Thanks to Josh, Tim, and the rest of the ERI team, I’m learning how to not be weird. One advantage of my experience, however, is that I can help explain the pitfalls of debating abortion, especially when the other person just wants a dialogue. I know those pitfalls by experience; I’ve tripped across almost all of them. I’m painfully aware that academic debate is entirely different from the street-level, day-to-day conversations regular people have about an issue.

Debate can be incredibly valuable in formal settings, in classes, or on certain websites that facilitate that sort of structured exchange. Most of the time, however, people aren’t looking for a debate, and so we can overpower and ruin a conversation if we try to force it into that mold. I’d like to offer some counsel on how to distinguish debate from dialogue so you can keep your conversations healthy and persuasive.

What’s Wrong with Saying “Fetus”

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes.

Discrimination? Microaggression? Propaganda? These are common labels against pro-lifers. Anyone arguing for the rights of the unborn can expect to be characterized as enemies of women, of liberty, and of human rights. Sometimes we can learn from these accusations and pick better terms or listen with more charity. Other times, these labels just don’t fit. Or worse, they are baseless slander.

I would like to suggest that the abortion debate is riddled with a problematic term: “fetus.” At best, this term is a harmless shorthand way to refer to a “human fetus,” “fetal human,” or the “child-in-utero,” and other non-discriminatory terms. At worst, and it’s often used this way, it’s a misleading rhetorical move designed to instill dehumanizing prejudice against the unborn. Either way, we can do better.

Some may call the term “fetus” a “microaggression,” although I’m not a big fan of that concept.[1] My grievance with this term is that it’s typically a subtle but deliberate spin in verbiage intended to relocate the discussion away from any possible implication of human rights. The net effect of that rhetoric, if left unchecked, is a dehumanizing prejudgment about the status of the unborn, as if this “fetus” isn’t really a human being. This use of terms can even be a kind of discrimination. It isn’t discrimination in the sense of breaking a law or violating someone’s civil rights. But it does qualify as verbal discrimination because it is dehumanizing and prejudicial language.

Nevertheless, despite my complaints, I don’t think this term is a huge deal. I’m not trying to make it out to be more than it is. But I do run into this issue often enough that I have to say something about it.