CDC Abortion Mortality Reports Flawed: New Study and Head of CDC’s Admission

New Study Finds Women Are Three Times
More Likely To Die After An Abortion

CDC Admits Its Abortion and Childbirth Mortality Statistics
Are Not Comparable

Springfield, IL (Sept 9, 2005) ‑‑ International health experts have published a new study disclosing that 94 percent of maternal deaths associated with abortion are not identifiable from death certificates alone.

Proper tracking of pregnancy associated deaths, they report, requires the linking of death certificates to the deceased women’s medical records. Only in this way, they conclude, can accurate information about recent pregnancies be determined — information that is frequently missing from death certificates and autopsies.

The study, completed by researchers from the National Research and Development Center for Welfare and Health in Finland, shows that the long held presumption that abortion is associated with fewer deaths than childbirth does not hold up once the pregnancy history of women is actually investigated using record linkage.

Previously, it has been widely assumed that the mortality rate associated with abortion was only one-sixth that of childbirth. But those estimates were based primarily on information gathered only from death certificates or other public records.

Proper identification of pregnancy history, the researchers found, reveals that the death rate associated with abortion is actually three times higher than that of childbirth.

Could Allow States to Regulate Abortion

The findings of this epidemiological study may have a profound impact on the abortion debate in the United States, according to some legal analysts.

“The claim that abortion was safer than childbirth, at least early in pregnancy, was accepted as a crucial fact in Roe v Wade,” said Walter Weber, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice, who specializes in abortion law. “In fact, the Court concluded that the states had authority to regulate abortion to protect women’s health only at the point at which death rates associated with abortion exceeded those associated with childbirth, which at that time was assumed to be around 12 weeks of gestation.”

This recent study is just one of a series of studies done among women in Finland and California demonstrating an elevated risk of death following abortion, a risk that exceeds that of both non-pregnant women and women whose pregnancies are allowed to follow their natural course.

According to Weber, these studies provide a new basis for states to regulate abortion even within the judicial reasoning of Roe.

The argument over risks of death following abortion versus childbirth won’t be settled overnight, however. Planned Parenthood and the closely-allied Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) continue to promote the message that abortion is safer than childbirth.

Their argument is based on comparing the nationally reported rates of death for childbirth to the rate of death associated with abortion that is reported by the National Institutes of Health’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC). But both sets of numbers are drawn principally from death certificates.

Even before this latest study discrediting the accuracy of accessing pregnancy associated deaths from death certificates alone, the CDC’s reports on abortion associated deaths had been severely criticized by abortion opponents.

One of the chief complaints was that the top physicians in the CDC’s abortion surveillance unit had clear conflicts of interest since they were not only outspoken advocates for expanding abortion services but also, when not on government payroll, practicing abortion providers.

Mark Crutcher, president of Life Dynamics, has charged that CDC’s abortion surveillance unit was set up by abortion advocates within the CDC not to oversee abortion but to defend and promote abortion.

“When it comes to abortion, CDC stands for Center for Damage Control,” wrote Crutcher.

A recent law review article examining the implications new data on elevated death rates following abortion also criticizes the CDC’s resistance to adopting the new record linkage techniques.

According to the lead author, Dr. David Reardon of the Elliot Institute, the CDC abortion surveillance team has yet to apologize for and repudiate a blatantly misleading study its team authored in 1982 that asserted they were successfully identifying at least 90 percent of deaths associated with abortion.

“This report was particularly dishonest in that they misappropriated a little-known statistical comparison test, and violated each of the test’s three preconditions for validity, simply to dismiss calls for better investigations,” Reardon said.

He said that the work of Kevin Sherlock, a writer and reporter who specializes in public record research, proves that the CDC’s abortion mortality statistics are essentially meaningless.

Sherlock’s independent review of death certificates, with cause of death verified by autopsies and court records regarding malpractice claims, confirmed at least 140 abortion related deaths for the decade of the 1980s, which is thirty percent more than the total reported by the CDC.

“That a single investigator could document thirty percent more deaths than the entire CDC abortion surveillance unit should give everyone pause,” Reardon said.

CDC Director Admits Numbers on Death Rates Not Comparable

In light of the studies documenting higher death rates associated with abortion, combined with renewed criticism of the CDC abortion surveillance unit itself, top CDC officials appear to be backing away from their past claims.

In response to a letter from Weber questioning the appropriateness of comparing maternal mortality statistics for childbirth with CDC’s reported mortality statistics for abortion, Dr. Julie Louise Gerberding, director of the CDC, wrote in July of 2004 that maternal mortality rates and abortion mortality rates “are conceptually different and are used by the CDC for different public health purposes.”

In other words, the CDC numbers relied upon by Planned Parenthood and AGI are not truly comparable.

According to Reardon, this is why the record-linkage studies based on data collected in Finland and California are so important.

“These studies represent the first time that the measurements of deaths associated with abortion and childbirth have been taken using a consistent and uniform standard,” he said.

While it is still unclear how this new information will ultimately affect abortion access, there is no doubt that it intensifies the social, legal, and medical debates surrounding it.


Gissler M, Berg C, Bouvier‑Colle MH, Buekens P. Methods for identifying pregnancy‑associated deaths: population‑based data from Finland 1987‑2000. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2004 Nov;18(6):448‑55.

Sherlock K. Victims of Choice. Akron, OH, Brennyman Books, 1996.

Reardon DC, Strahan TW, Thorp JM, Shuping MW. Deaths associated with abortion compared to childbirth: a review of new and old data and the medical and legal implications. The Journal of Contemporary Health Law & Policy 2004; 20(2):279‑327.

Letter from Walter M. Weber to Tommy C. Thompson, Secretary DHHS.  April 30, 2004.

Letter from Julie Louise Gerberding, Director CDC to Walter M. Weber, July 20, 2004.


CDC Abortion Mortality Reports Flawed: New Study and Head of CDC’s Admission — 2 Comments

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