The “WHO Global Action Report on Preterm Birth” estimates that more than 1 in 10 babies born in 2010 were born prematurely, that is, “before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed.” This represents an estimated 15 million preterm births, with 1 million deaths directly relating to prematurity.
Prematurity is identified as “the world’s single biggest cause of newborn death, and the second leading cause of all child deaths.” Premature births pose difficult challenges to parents, doctors and society at large, as premature babies often face a higher risk of lifetime disability, requiring lifelong care and medical support. According to the WHO report, preterm birth rates have increased in nearly all countries.
The reasons for this increase are not entirely clear. Recognizing the problem through improved data measurement likely plays a role, especially in developing countries. Underlying causes, however, may relate to the increased use of infertility treatments, higher frequency of caesarean births, higher rates of diabetes, and high blood pressure or infections among mothers.
But one important factor is consciously omitted in the list, abortion. The References section of the WHO report mentions two studies that demonstrate an increased risk of preterm birth associated with abortion. Yet the body of the 126-page long report is completely silent on abortion.
In a soon-to-be-released C-FAM briefing paper, Dr. Byron Calhoun, M.D. reveals a common trend in research literature on preterm birth to consciously exclude the link between abortion and preterm birth. No less than 127 individual studies of women from all around the world show that both induced and spontaneous abortion is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth. Several meta-analyses of multiple studies illustrate the same pattern. Multiple abortions can increase the risk of preterm birth by more than 200%. And yet none of this is mentioned in the WHO report.
Instead, attention is given to factors such as birth spacing and adolescent pregnancies which are associated with much lower increased risks of preterm birth. To address these, the report calls for more family planning and sexual education. Organizations like UNFPA and Women Deliver have already committed to ensure a constant supply of contraceptives in selected countries and to place family planning at the top of the international agenda to reduce preterm birth. One critic told the Friday Fax, “Rather than reducing the number of abortions, it seems, their strategy is to reduce the number of babies born. Fewer babies equals fewer born prematurely.”
This may improve the statistics, but factors highly correlated with incidences of preterm birth will remain unaddressed. Ignoring the link between abortion and preterm birth renders any analysis of preterm birth incomplete and perhaps ideologically so. Furthermore, it creates a gap in policy recommendations aiming to reduce the rate of preterm births. Providing women and the entire world community with accurate information about the link between abortion and preterm birth would be a helpful start.