Abortion: Complications
Challenge & Response

by Jay Johansen
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We received a communication challenging the validity of a reference to an article in a medical journal in our "Abortion: Complications" article. As we try to be meticulously accurate, I investigated the matter.

Let's start at the beginning. The statement in the original article was: "Obstetrics and Gynecology (May, 1985) admitted that today's abortion-related deaths may be under-reported by as much as 50 percent."

The objection we received was as follows (this is the complete text):

Your obgyn 1985 cite is wrong. The article says, and I quote, "Intensive surveillance of maternal mortality in two states has demonstrated that maternal deaths may be underreported by 45 to 50%." Two articles are cited: the title of one is "The Risk of Childbearing Re-evaluated", which tells even people who don't bother to read it that it's addressing all maternal deaths, not just those related to abortion. The ObGyn article calls for changing all maternal deaths to be tracked in the same way in which abortion-related maternal deaths are tracked. I'll check your site in a few days to see if a correction has been made.
So I read the OB-GYN article. It turns out that this article does not present any new evidence on this subject, it simply quotes two articles that had appeared previously in other journals.

The first of these is "The Risk of Childbearing Re-Evaluated", in the American Journal of Public Health,, 1981, 71:712-716. As the objection indicates, this article deals, not just with deaths from abortion, but with all maternal deaths. Indeed, the bulk of the article deals with deaths related to live birth. Nevertheless, they do mention abortion-related deaths: "Intensive nationwide surveillance of abortion-related deaths ... showed that only 52 percent of abortion-related deaths were so reported by state vital records ..."

Conclusion: The author of the original article was sloppy in giving this secondhand reference rather than referring back to the original article. But it is clear that he did, indeed, read the original article, as his statements of fact reflect the original and not the secondary quote. But the text in the quoted article was ambiguous. So while we may criticize his scholarly writing style, his facts are correct.

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Posted 9 Sep 2000.

Copyright 1995,2000 by Jay Johansen
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