Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day Hangover: When Pro-Life is Pro-Choice

Quick. What's the leading cause of death in pregnancy? Cardiovascular collapse? Embolism? Botched delivery?

No. It's botched love.

According to the authors of a longitudinal study conducted at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, homicide is the leading cause of death in pregnant women. The study's authors reviewed 651 autopsy charts from the District of Columbia Chief Medical Examiner’s Office for cases from 1988 until 1996. They found that homicide accounted for nearly 43% of deaths among pregnant women.

The younger the woman the greater the risk.

Who's doing the killing? The study doesn't give clues. But when the Journal of the American Medical Association published the study, it ran an accompanying editorial that called non-lethal violence in pregnancy common. It cited other studies indicating that when any woman is murdered, 8 times out of 10 it is by her intimate partner. JAMA encouraged gynecologists and obstetricians to routinely screen pregnant couples for homicide potential.

Now, what is significant here other than the cold, scary facts?

When doctors worry about the leading causes of death in pregnancy, they should worry about more than just biological causes. Ditto, perhaps, for worry about the causes of birth defects. Because not only are 43% of deaths in pregnancy murders, 25% of pregnant women are physically abused while pregnant. (That last statistic is from the American College of Obstetrics.) With violence rates that high, it's hard to imagine that every birth defect is evidence of bad genetic luck.

Which leads me to ask, not entirely facetiously, whether being pro-life and pro-choice are one and the same.

It all has to do with the “life is sacred” point of view. You see, the violence and murder in pregnancy statistics make atrociously clear that sometimes a woman doesn't hear, "Great, Hon!" in response to "Sweetheart, guess what?" Think what you will about abortion. But especially for very young women, the only way to save a life­ -- her own life ­-- may be to make decisions quickly, privately, self-protectively, and in the nick of time.

This was originally a Vermont Public Radio commentary.

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  1. Holy crud, thanks so much for waking me up to these facts! I had an idea about the 8 out of 10 murdered women stat but it never occurred to me to apply that to pregnant women. Yes, it is imperative to parse out these stats. Pregnancy isn't dangerous in general, unless, of course, your significant other IS.

  2. When will the religious right understand that there are no perfect solutions in an imperfect world?

    I don't imagine it's ever easy to have an abortion, but it's sometimes the least of all the evils.

    I'm glad you posted this.