Using the World Health Organization’s 2005 maternal mortality statistics, and this summary of abortion laws, I put together the chart below, which I ordered from lowest to highest maternal mortality rate. The figure I used for maternal mortality was the official number or estimate, although many countries had a wide “range of uncertainty” (for instance, Laos had an official MMR of 660, but the range was from 190-1600). You can read more about what the different numbers and letters mean in the abortion laws portion of the chart by clicking on the above link, although they are pretty self-explanatory, with Y meaning abortion is legal, 1 meaning legal in the first-trimester only, R is legal but with significant restrictions, etc.
The abortion laws portion transferred easily to the spreadsheet, but the MMR portion did not, so I entered those numbers in by hand (so I possibly made some typographical errors — you’re welcome to double-check me). Since they were both in alphabetical order, I then had to go through and match up the lists, because some countries were listed on one but not the other. There were also several countries that were named differently in the two lists (the Republic of Congo vs. Congo, as an example), and many of these I deleted, not realizing that they were actually listed, only further down on the list. I did not take the time to go back and figure out which ones I could have matched up, so I know the list is slightly incomplete (probably fewer than half a dozen countries in this group, although probably another half-dozen or so were deleted that could not have been matched up — Vatican City, for one). I divided the list into six roughly equal portions, to make it easier to see the abortion laws of the countries.
Then, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I organized the countries by type of abortion law. Unfortunately, they often don’t fit into nice, neat little packages, so while I tried to group them, it was quite difficult. Where they were the same (for instance, no legal abortion; or only for the life of the mother; or legal for any reason), I kept them together; where they were similar (YYNNNNN and YY?NNNN), I put them under the same heading, but with a blank line between. Some countries allow abortion only to save the mother’s life and health while other countries allow abortion only to save the mother’s life and in cases of rape. Since these both had two “yeses” I put them under the same heading, but with two or more blank lines between, to show that they were separate. While I tried to be consistent, it’s possible that there are numerous inconsistencies in there, but I mostly erred on the side of assuming a restricted abortion status for question marks. There were some weird things in there — Mozambique, for instance, which supposedly allows for abortion “on demand,” but it is not legal in cases of rape, fetal defect, or for “social” reasons. I don’t know if that’s a typo — nor do I know the difference between “demand” and “social” reasons for abortion.
So, those are the facts. Why am I presenting these facts? To show that there’s more to maternal mortality than just restrictive or relaxed abortion laws, because I’ve heard numerous abortion advocates talk about liberalizing abortion laws as if it is some sort of magic panacea for maternal mortality. But if you look at the group of countries where abortion is legal on demand, you’ll see that the MMR ranges from 3-830/100,000; and countries where abortion is absolutely outlawed (or illegal except in restricted circumstances) the MMR ranges from 8-1100/100,000. Some people look at the problem of “unsafe abortion” and try to remove the “unsafe” part of it. But abortion is a symptom of a problem. The root causes of abortion run far deeper than just legality and illegality. Just making abortion “safe” does little to help the underlying causes of why women seek abortions. If a child is being raped by her uncle, giving her an abortion and then returning her to the same conditions will not really help her, because she’s just being returned to that abuse (and will likely get pregnant again, and “need” another abortion to solve her “problem”). Ditto women in abusive relationships (married or unmarried), or those that abuse drugs or alcohol.
Unsafe abortion is unsafe, whether legal or illegal; and there are far better things to do for women than to promote the legalization of abortion, especially where it is inherently unsafe: working on the infrastructure so that health services are more available and reliable, improving food and water supplies, increasing the number of midwives, educating the populace (in general, as well as in particular about safe vs. unsafe health practices, including sticking non-sterile objects into your uterus to try to terminate a pregnancy), etc. It falls under the category of “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Far too much time and energy is focused on “giving people fish,” and not near enough is focused on improving quality of life, which will help in many more and more far-reaching ways. An example — giving someone a condom may help that person keep from conceiving a baby one time. But they need condoms every time, so it is a continual and ongoing need and expense. Teaching a couple how to avoid pregnancy using ways that do not require ongoing expense (fertility cycles, cervical mucus to tell if she’s ovulating, etc.) can help even when condoms are not available. Giving people food is good; giving people the ability to grow their own food is better. Changing “unsafe abortion” by taking away the “unsafe” part may save some women’s lives; but changing “unsafe abortion” by taking away the real or perceived need for the “abortion” part will save even more lives, of both mother and child. This involves more than just drugs and technology and “things.” Changing men’s hearts so that they do not demand sex from their wives, nor rape children or women, nor are in other ways oppressive or abusive, but are good and godly men and husbands is the real answer, but those kinds of changes are not exactly easy to implement. There are similar changes that may need to take place in women, but it will take more than just throwing money and abortions at the problem, to make the real problem go away.