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Should we Save the Lives of 23,440 Babies? Should we Save the Lies of 629 Mothers?

From 1995 to 2014, there were on average 184 American deaths from terrorist attacks per year.  This fact has led many pundits to declare a vital need to violate the U.S. Constitution and spend many billions of dollars — “whatever it takes,” in the words of Donald Trump — to prevent further attacks.

Consider that in 2012 (the last year for which data is available), 15.9 women died due to their pregnancy for every 100,000 babies born in the United States.  15.9 doesn’t sound like such a big number. But there were 3,952,841 births in the United States in 2012 … which means there were 629 women who died due to pregnancy in the United States that year.   That’s nearly four times the number of deaths by terrorism in a typical year.

This death rate can be lower.  We can say this with confidence because in the United States, the rate has been lower than it is now.  Look at this trend tracked by the Centers for Disease Control:

Trends in Pregnancy Related Deaths

According to the OECD, it’s possible for pregnancy-related mortality to go lower than this.  Here are the pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births in twenty-five other countries in 2012:

Australia 5.2
Austria 1.3
Belgium 7
Czech Republic 5.5
Denmark 1.8
Estonia 7.1
Finland 3.4
Germany 4.6
Greece 1
Hungary 10
Ireland 2.8
Israel 5.3
Italy 2.1
Japan 4.8
Korea 9.9
Netherlands 3.4
Norway 1.7
Poland 1
Portugal 4.5
Slovak Republic 3.6
Spain 2.2
Sweden 3.5
Switzerland 8.5
Turkey 15.4
United Kingdom 6.4


No, we can’t possibly stop every pregnancy-related death in the United States, just as we can’t possibly stop every terrorist attack.  However, these cross-national statistics indicate that the United States can do much better — and there are far more lives at stake than in terrorist attacks.

Consider that in 2013 (the last year for which data is available), 596.1 babies died for every 100,000 babies born in the United States.  If you think that sounds like a big number, consider further that there were 3,932,181 births in the United States in 2013.  There were 23,440 who died due to pregnancy in the United States that year.   That’s more than 127 times the number of deaths by terrorism in a typical year.

Of course some babies will always die.  But the infant mortality rate can be lower.  We can say this with confidence because when we look at OECD data, it becomes clear that many nations have a far lower infant mortality rate than the United States.  The following are infant deaths per 100,000 births in twenty-eight nations tracked by the OECD:

Australia 360
Austria 310
Belgium 350
Czech Republic 250
Denmark 350
Estonia 210
Finland 180
France 360
Germany 330
Greece 370
Hungary 500
Iceland 180
Ireland 350
Israel 310
Italy 290
Japan 210
Korea 300
Luxembourg 390
Netherlands 380
Norway 240
Poland 460
Portugal 290
Slovak Republic 550
Slovenia 290
Spain 270
Sweden 270
Switzerland 390
United Kingdom 380


We can clearly do better in the United States.  It’s possible for us to make changes that would save many thousands of American babies’ lives every year.  We could save mothers’ lives, too.  Why aren’t we talking about pregnancy-related mortality and infant mortality the way we talk about terrorism?

Some of our presidential candidates can’t stop talking about the terrorist threat to our lives — the word “terrorism” appears on one hundred and fifty web pages on Donald Trump’s website, shows up on two hundred and twenty-one pages on Ted Cruz’s website, shows up on one hundred and forty-three web pages on Hillary Clinton’s website, and appears on sixty-seven pages of Bernie Sanders’ website.

These same candidates don’t have much to say about infant or pregnancy-related mortality.  Bernie Sanders uses the words “infant mortality” on just two pages of his website.  The websites of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz don’t use the words “infant mortality” even once.  None of these four presidential candidates mentions pregnancy-related mortality even once.

What justifies this imbalance?  Do we care that little about mothers and babies?  Or is our attention to terrorism overblown?

7 thoughts on “Should we Save the Lives of 23,440 Babies? Should we Save the Lies of 629 Mothers?”

  1. Charles Manning says:

    Saving the lives you’re talking about won’t directly benefit wealthy people. But spending trillions to fight terrorism will.

  2. Stephen Kent Gray says:

    15.9 is just .4 more than Turkey’s 15.4 and 596.1 is just 46.1 more than Slovakia (Slovak Republic’s short name)’s 550. I don’t see a huge discrepancy between America and the next highest OECD nation here.

    1. Jim Cook says:

      That’s because you selectively picked Turkey and the Slovak Republic.

      1. Stephen Kent Gray says:

        There is on the other extreme the 1 of Greece and Poland as well as the 180 of Finland and Iceland. Where exactly on the spectrum of these OECD nations should America be? What magic numbers should America aspire to? How much is too much and how much is just enough?

        1. Jim Cook says:

          How much not-dead-babies is too much not-dead-babies?

  3. Dave says:

    I know you’re not talking about infant mortality but there may be a correlation; one wouldn’t necessarily know because the figures you give are not broken down by ethnicity. We do know that infant mortality is higher in the U.S. among Black and Hispanic people. Compare child-bearing deaths of mothers in the U.S. to South and Central American as well as African and African descended countries and we may look better. The comparison you give above is with white and some Asian countries.

    Concerns about terrorists are driven by the fact that someone is actually trying to kill us. I don’t think anyone is actually trying to kill young would-be mothers. Trying to kill the unborn is being met all over the country with efforts to stop it, to little avail. Apples and oranges. On the one hand nature runs its course and the maternal viability of different ethnicities is not well understood and difficult to control. Radical Islam seems a more controllable target so the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

    1. Jim Cook says:

      Saying you don’t understand something is not the same as not being able to do anything. Seems is the operative word for your perceptions. There is large variation within continents, undercutting your determinism.

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