"This legislation is an important step in strengthening abortion regulations and protecting the health and safety of women," Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant announced recently.
Women's health and safety are important, we can all agree. So how is Governor Bryant attempting to strengthen them? By promising to sign into law a bill requiring doctors who perform abortions to be board certified and have hospital admitting privileges.
Which sounds fine. Laudable, even. Until you learn that the state of Mississippi has one abortion clinic. The sort-of good news is that all of the doctors working there are board certified. But only one of them has admitting privileges, because plenty of hospitals in Mississippi routinely refuse to grant them to doctors who perform abortions. I guess maybe we don't all agree about women's health and safety.
If Governor Bryant really cares about them, he has an odd way of showing it. Getting an abortion in America is already a very safe thing to do. I had to do some serious looking to find any statistics on the subject because it's so safe, no one's talking about it. As opposed to women in Africa, where 97% of abortions in 2008 were considered "unsafe" according to the World Health Organization. Or Latin America, where the unsafe rate in the same year was 95%.
Abortion rates in both Africa and Latin America went up between 2003 and 2008. And in North America, where the vast majority of abortions were already safe before Governor Bryant decided this was an issue of overwhelming concern to him? During the same period, abortion rates went down.
That's what happens all over the world. If abortion is illegal and unsafe -- and the two generally go together -- abortion rates don't go down. But the number of women dying as a result of this surgery is high, especially compared to countries with pro-choice laws. And where abortion is safe and legal, abortion rates are lower.
I finally found a figure for women in America dying as a result of having abortions. This kind of math is creepy, necessary, and occasionally surreal. According to the same WHO report, legal induced abortions in America are responsible for the deaths of 0.6 women per 100,000 procedures. In real-life terms (or as close as it's possible to get with this kind of figure), for every 100,000 abortions performed in America, not quite one woman dies.
Worldwide, on the other hand, "unsafe abortion accounts for a death rate that is 350 times higher (220 per 100,000)." Which is the kind of math that's just plain sad.
Undeniably, death rates are higher in places where abortion is illegal (and therefore unsafe). If you consider abortion a form of death, death rates are far higher in these places. Women have fewer abortions where they have more choice.
One more thing to keep in mind, when considering whom exactly Governor Bryant and his ilk pretend they're protecting, is maternal death rates associated with live birth. Bryant would undoubtedly insist that he's anti-choice because he cares about women and babies. So let's look at some other statistics. What about those women who make the choice to become mothers? How are they doing?
The American statistics in this department are depressing. According to a study published in the Lancet in 2010, America ranks 39th worldwide in maternal mortality, with a rate of 16.7 mother's deaths per 100,000 live births. Just to give you something to compare that to, the U.K. comes in at 23rd on the list, with 8.2 deaths per 100,000 live births. Number 1 is Italy, whose maternal mortality rate is 3.9 per 100,000.
It's time to ask Governor Bryant a few questions.
What is he doing to improve maternal mortality rates in Mississippi?
Since protecting the health of women and unborn children is apparently Governor Bryant's top priority, are we to assume that Mississippi offers free high-quality antenatal care to its female residents?
What details can Governor Bryant share about the committee he has no doubt organized to explore how Mississippi's maternal mortality rates can be brought to more closely resemble those of Italy, or even the UK?
Is he even aware of what Mississippi's maternal mortality rates are?
Why do women who are seeking abortions in Mississippi require board-certified doctors with hospital admitting privileges, when women giving birth (which is far more dangerous) don't?
Finally: How many women's lives is Governor Bryant's law saving every year?
I can answer that last one. Well, kind of.
Mississippi is home to just under three million people. Let's say an even three million, just to make the math a little easier.
Let's say that half of them are female.
Let's say that every single one of those female residents has an abortion every single year.
If that's the case, nine women would die every year. Nine.
Assuming that Governor Bryant's law has its desired effect of making abortion impossible in Mississippi, the female population should send him a symbolic nine thank-you letters every year, as a token of their appreciation.
Except that, as we've already seen, stripping women of the right to choose tends to kill far more women than that every year. So put away the postage stamps, folks.
In a slightly more credible scenario, and just to get some comparable figures, let's take that same rough approximation of the female population of Mississippi. We're pretending they're all fertile and heterosexually active. (Just go with it.) If all of them give birth once a year, how many maternal fatalities?
Well, at least Governor Bryant has his priorities straight.