Will outlawing abortion increase maternal mortality resulting from clandestine abortions? A study by a professor of family medicine at the University of Chile (the country has tight pro-life laws) suggests that the answer is no:
From a public health view, restrictive laws are hypothesized to cause a dissuasive effect on the population, similar to restrictions on tobacco or alcohol consumption. We observed that reduction of maternal mortality in Chile was paralleled by the number of hospitalizations attributable to complications of clandestine abortions. While over 50% of all abortion-related hospitalizations were attributable to complications of clandestine abortions during the 1960s, this proportion decreased rapidly in the following decades.
Indeed, only 12-19% of all hospitalization from abortion can be attributable to clandestine abortions between 2001 and 2008. These data suggest that over time, restrictive laws may have a restraining effect on the practice of abortion and promote its decrease. In fact, Chile exhibits today one of the lowest abortion-related maternal deaths in the world, with a 92.3% decrease since 1989 and a 99.1% accumulated decrease over 50 years. [ . . . ]
A plausible hypothesis after the Chilean study is that abortion restriction may be effective when is combined with adequately-implemented public policies to increase educational levels of women and to improve access to maternal health facilities. A restrictive law may discourage practice, which is suggested by the decrease of hospitalizations due to clandestine abortions estimated in Chile. [ . . . ]
Our study confirms that abortion prohibition is not related to overall rates of maternal mortality. In other words, making abortion illegal does not increase maternal deaths: it is a matter of scientific fact in our study.
Nevertheless, although our study definitively ruled out any deleterious influence of abortion prohibition on the maternal mortality trend, it cannot be immediately concluded that solely making abortion illegal is a direct causal factor for decreasing maternal mortality by itself.
The reduction in the maternal mortality trend in Chile is controlled by other factors, especially the educational level of women that positively influences other key variables, such as access to maternal health facilities, sanitary services and reproductive behaviour.