Editor’s Note 9/8/21: The author has added a paragraph and made minor edits under the section “Manipulated Statistics” to clarify the relationship between the CDC and RG data sets.
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. 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.