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American women die of pregnancy-related complications at rates exceeding those of 50 other nations. Our maternal mortality rate is disgraceful.

CONTRIBUTED - Dr. Samuel Metz In the United States, where pregnancy is a life-threatening condition, abortion can be life-saving.

American women die of pregnancy-related complications at rates exceeding those of 50 other nations. Our maternal mortality rate is disgraceful: 18 of every 100,000 American pregnancies end in the death of the mother, worse than any nation with drinkable water.

In contrast, abortion is safer. How much? The mortality risk of an elective first-trimester abortion in the U.S. is 50 times less than carrying a pregnancy to term. Abortion is safer than a routine colonoscopy.

Legislators, like those in Missouri who want to outlaw abortions, cannot claim "concern for the health of the mother." In fact, the dismal difference between the danger of carrying a pregnancy to term and the safety of an elective abortion reverses the abortion debate. "Concern for the health of the mother" requires improved abortion access for women choosing the medically safest route.

This is true in every state. Even women in California, boasting the nation's lowest maternal mortality rate, are 10 times more likely to die in pregnancy than from an abortion.

Other states are worse. Women in Georgia and Louisiana are 150 times more likely to die from their pregnancies than from an abortion. Oregon's maternal mortality rate, despite being better than the national average and much better than Georgia's, is three times higher than California's.

What do these terrifying statistics mean for states prohibiting abortion except when the mother's life is endangered or, as in Alabama law, "to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child's mother"?

An elective first-trimester abortion is always in the mother's best medical interests.

Oregon passed an Equal Rights Amendment, stating unequivocally that women enjoy the same rights as men. Our Legislature does not require women to surrender legal control over their medical decisions when pregnancy begins. Pregnant women in Oregon who accept the significant medical risks of pregnancy may carry their pregnancies to term. Those who do not accept these significant risks are free to seek the safer alternative.

An elective first-trimester abortion is safer than pregnancy in every state in the union. Allowing abortion when the mother's life is endangered legalizes abortion for every woman seeking one in the first three months of her pregnancy. It must be a heartless legislator indeed who would forbid abortion to save the life of the mother. Unhappily, the United States has many heartless legislators.

Oregonians take pride in protecting women's rights. But complacency is dangerous. We must actively resist efforts within our state that would move medical responsibility for the lives of pregnant women from women to legislators. And we can't stop at our border. We must support efforts in other less fortunate states to assure that pregnant women may take their own medical risks and make their own medical decisions.

Dr. Samuel Metz lives in Southwest Portland.


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