What the Mexican Health System is Doing Right – Protecting Women’s Health and Limiting Abortion

Commentary by Clarke Forsythe, the Senior Counsel at Americans United for Life and author of “Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade.” Follow him @ClarkeForsythe.

An important new medical study from Mexico, published this month in the British Medical Journal Open, found lower maternal mortality (death rates) in Mexican states with more protective abortion laws.

The researchers looked at the maternal mortality ratio over a 10-year study period (2002-2011) in 31 states and the Federal District, which allowed for some important comparisons because of differences in pro-life legal protections.

The Federal District has legalized abortion up to 12 weeks, while the other 31 states prohibit or limit abortion to some degree. The researchers do not conclude that the more protective laws directly caused the lower rate of maternal deaths; instead, they attribute the reduced deaths to factors in the “less permissive” states, including clean water, sanitation, “skilled attendance at birth,” and “female literacy.” Women fared better in those states where life was also protected when the other health factors were also present.

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The new study (a “population-based, natural experiment”) is also a valuable survey of recent, related literature on the topic of women’s health and abortion law. This is an important contribution to the ongoing international discussion about how to meet the United Nation’s goal of reducing the maternal mortality rate in members states by 75 percent by 2015 because some have claimed that legalizing abortion will reduce maternal mortality.

As the authors note, the study builds on the positive findings from recent studies from Ireland and Chile that indicate better maternal health trends are possible in states which prohibit or limit abortion when other health care factors are present. And it also undercuts that notion that legalizing abortion reduces maternal mortality.

In short, while abortion advocates try to argue that women “need” abortion to protect their lives, the data from Mexico tells another story. Although a number of factors contribute to women’s health, the Mexico study indicates that women had lower death rates in locations where laws put limits on abortion.

Americans United for Life, the legal arm of the pro-life movement, works to ensure that all are welcomed in life and protected in law through a Mother-Child strategy in pro-life model legislation found in “the playbook,” Defending Life.

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