Flag of Malawi
(Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay)

Everybody wants to see maternal mortality as low as possible. So it was particularly alarming when the Daily Telegraph published an article earlier this year saying that there were some 12,000 annual maternal deaths related to backstreet abortions in Malawi.

This horrifying statistic was retweeted by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists with the added comment that “Restricting Access to #safeabortion Risks Lives”.

Given that even one maternal death is a tragedy, to have 12,000 such deaths in a country whose population is just under 20 million, would be devastating.

However, a new research paper published in a reputable peer-reviewed academic journal of public health has taken a deep dive into this claim about Malawian maternal morality from backstreet abortions, and it has found it woefully lacking in evidence. Having engaged in an in depth analysis of the relevant statistics, it concluded that claims of thousands of maternal deaths from unsafe abortions in Malawi “have no empirical foundation”.

To be successful in advancing a cause (any cause at all) it is vital that it is based on solid evidence. The pro-choice claim that restricting access to abortion is necessary to save maternal lives in Malawi (and elsewhere) has no basis in the new research. 

In the research article, Dr Miller concludes that:

resources aiming to reduce maternal mortality in Malawi should be spent primarily on improving access to basic emergency obstetric care and other infrastructural development: ‘It may be worthwhile to scale down implementation of less cost effective interventions … and to reallocate these resources to more cost effective options such as community based newborn packages, selected antenatal care, and skilled attendance [at birth]’”

If pro-choice people (and pro-life people too) want to make a positive impact on maternal healthcare in Malawi, they would do well to heed evidence based claims, and not sensationalist pro-choice slogans. 

Next time you are having a conversation with someone about how to improve maternal mortality, in Ireland or another country, it is worthwhile mentioning that any initiative to do so should be based on tangible, evidence based research and not on convenient slogans. Both women and their unborn children deserve better than unfounded rhetoric.