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Oxford doctor shows numbers for deaths from backstreet abortions in Malawi are “misrepresented or even fabricated”

An Oxford University researcher and medical doctor has found that figures from the World Health Organisation and other leading medical bodies, which purport to show that large numbers of women die from backstreet abortions in Malawi, are “demonstrably… misrepresented or even fabricated”.

In a recent paper, Dr Calum Miller, NHS doctor and research associate at the University of Oxford specialising in abortion policy, has found “how frequently and demonstrably [statistics purporting to show large numbers of women are dying from backstreet abortions] are misrepresented or even fabricated”.

In his paper, Dr Miller specifically draws attention to errors from the World Health Organization as well as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. He writes:

“[T]he International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics claimed that unsafe abortions accounted for 13% of global maternal mortalities. They cite the World Health Organization, which in fact says 4.7-13.2% – the lower estimate, and even mean estimate, being omitted by FIGO”.

Misrepresented or even fabricated

“Moreover, the study on which this figure is based explicitly says that this statistic includes deaths from ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, and a number of other conditions. The WHO misrepresented this statistic from the study, even though the study was conducted by its own researchers. To claim that 13% – or even 4.7-13.2% – of maternal deaths are attributable to unsafe induced abortion alone is a clear misrepresentation of the facts”, he said.

While the WHO, in this case, misrepresented the facts by conflating deaths from ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage with induced abortion, in other cases, Dr Miller found that certain organisations and medical bodies completely fabricate evidence.

“The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recently tweeted a claim from The Telegraph that 12,000 women in Malawi die from unsafe abortions each year. But the latest estimate for total maternal deaths in Malawi each year is 1,150 – less than 10% of that figure”.

He goes on to say that “the latest evidence (now 15-20 years old) suggests that only 6-7% of these deaths are due to miscarriage and induced abortion combined. Hence, the RCOG has overestimated the number of deaths at least one-hundredfold. Such radical overestimates are not uncommon. In the paper, I point to various studies suggesting that the majority of these 6-7% are in fact due to miscarriages, not induced abortions”.

The number of women who die from unsafe abortions is vastly over-reported

Dr Miller has published this paper in response to one of the key arguments in favour of introducing abortion into those countries where it remains illegal. That is, by making abortion illegal, women will cease to die from unsafe abortions. However, as Dr Miller has shown, the number of women who die from unsafe abortions is vastly over-reported.

Dr Miller also suggests making abortion legal does not in fact improve maternal mortality, specifically drawing attention to Chile and Poland “whose abortion mortality and maternal mortality continued falling after abortion was criminalised”.

Earlier this year, lawmakers in Malawi rejected a Bill that would have made abortion legal up to birth. Proponents of the law argued that it was needed to prevent unsafe abortions.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “Dr Miller has done an excellent job in highlighting these claims. It seems that you only need to scratch the surface to see that this particular claim, which is used so often in support of abortion, is simply not true. It makes you wonder what else supporters of abortion make up to further their cause”.

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