A 2013 study from The Linacre Quarterly challenges the myth that women are 14 times likelier to die from childbirth than abortion. Dr. Byron Calhoun, vice chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of West Virginia, writes of several factors that “make a valid scientific assessment of abortion mortality extremely difficult.”

One problem in the United States is that only 26 states require abortion facilities to report complications to the Centers for Disease Control, meaning that current American statistics are based on estimates. Moreover, the two agencies that the CDC uses for its maternal mortality numbers base their findings on different data sources that provide conflicting results. A large problem in developing countries is the keeping of incomplete records of maternal mortality, which makes it impossible to collect reliable data.

There are also problems with defining what constitutes a pregnancy or abortion-related death. Pregnancy-related deaths encompass maternal mortality from the start of childbirth until 42 days after delivery, while abortions are only be performed and attributed as a cause of death from the second half of the first trimester until the third trimester. Maternal mortality is highest during the first six weeks of pregnancy, before the mother usually knows that she is pregnant and therefore before she can obtain an abortion.

Abortion-related deaths are also frequently reported as being caused by the direct complication of the abortion such as embolism, sepsis, or hemorrhage, rather than the abortion itself. Also, long-term sequelae of abortions associated with mortality such as substance abuse, future complicated pregnancies, and suicides are not captured in the statistics. Some agencies also combine numbers of deaths due to therapeutic abortion with those due to miscarriage or even pregnancy.

When the data is analyzed, comparisons are made between all deliveries (including Caesarean sections) and “uncomplicated” abortions only. If Caesarean sections are excluded from the comparison, the risk of abortion-related mortality is two times higher. The number of pregnancy-related deaths is also inflated because the rate is calculated by dividing by the number of live births as opposed to the total number of pregnancies.

Calhoun cites a set of Finnish studies by Gissler et al. that tracked abortion-related deaths up to one year after the procedure. These studies found a higher mortality rate among post-abortive women than women who gave birth. A Danish study by Coleman et al. found that women who gave birth had a lower mortality risk than women who were never pregnant and women who had abortions.

In an email interview with The Interim, Natalie Sonnen, the executive director of Life Canada, states that Canada has had the same problems with incomplete reporting affecting the accuracy of abortion statistics (provided by the Canadian Institute for Health Information). These misleading statistics, however, have serious effects on pregnant women. “A stat that erroneously claims childbirth to be more dangerous than abortion could actually sway a young mother already filled with fear about her situation to have an abortion,” said Sonnen. Meanwhile, it gives abortion advocates reason to claim abortion is “a better, safer choice, when in reality it is a totally invasive and unnatural event for which the human body could never be prepared.”