Pregnancy itself is not a harmless condition, women can die during pregnancy. The maternal mortality rate (the proportion of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth) is found by dividing the number of women dying from all causes related to pregnancy, childbirth, and the puerperium (the six-week period following childbirth) by the total number of live births, then multiplying by a constant factor, such as 100,000. The maternal mortality rate in the United States in 1920 was 680 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (Lerner & Anderson 1963). It had fallen to 38 deaths per 100,000 live births by 1960 and 8 deaths per 100,000 live births by 1994. Illegal abortion accounted for about 50 percent of all maternal deaths in 1920, and that was still true in 1960. By 1980, however, the percentage of deaths due to abortion had dropped to nearly zero (Cates, 1982). The difference in maternal mortality rates due to abortion reflected the increasing legalization of abortion from 1967 to 1973 that permitted abortions to be done safely by doctors in clinics and hospitals. The changed legal climate also permitted the prompt treatment of complications that occurred with abortions.


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