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Setting the Record Straight on Pregnancy and Murder

April 9th, 2009 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

In “Oklahoma Legislator Wants to Give Pregnant Women a License to Kill,” I briefly discussed the inaccurate impression left by a KOCO report on a bill being offered by Rep. Mike Thompson.  The KOCO report quoted a YWCA representative, Josh Beasley who claimed that “domestic violence is the second leading cause of death to (pregnant) women nationwide.”  In emails I pointed out the extreme inaccuracy of that statement and that it would create a misimpression among KOCO’s readers and listeners if not corrected.  Neither KOCO nor Mr. Beasley chose to correct the record. 

So I will.

In 1987, the Centers for Disease Control started gathering statistics on the causes of death among pregnant women and those who die within one year following birth or termination of a pregnancy.  A study of that data, published in the American Journal of Public Health shows that, from 1991-1999, a total of 4,200 deaths to these mothers were “pregnancy related,” meaning in some way caused by the pregnancy (Am. J. Public Health, 2005; 95, 471-477).  Of those, 1,933 deaths were due to injuries, or about 215 per year.  And of those injury-related deaths, 879 were due to car accidents and 617 were homicides.  So, over the time studied, about 67 pregnant women per year were the victims of homicide related to their pregnancies.

Deaths to pregnant women were overwhelmingly caused by factors other than homicide.  Well over half were attributed to “complications of pregnancy.”

To give some perspective, about six million women become pregnant in this country every year.  Of those, about 467 die for any reason related to their pregnancies.

But of course, none of the above prevented various news outlets and NOW from totally misrepresenting the facts.  NOW, for example ran an article headlined “Murder: The Leading Cause of Death for Pregnant Women (NOW, 4/23/03).”  Well, no actually it’s not.  In fact, homicide made up 8.4% of the total.  About 43% of deaths were not pregnancy-related.  Of those that were, 54% were due to complications of pregnancy.

In 2005 and again in 2007, ABC News chipped in with some misrepresentations of its own.  In the latter article, citing the Journal of Public Health study referred to above, ABC News informed its readers that “31% of all pregnancy deaths between 1991 and 1999 were the result of homicide.”  Again, no they weren’t.  Thirty-one percent of deaths due to injuries were homicides.  As stated above, that’s a small percentage of the total.

And, in the KOCO piece, it’s exactly that qualifier – due to injuries - that Josh Beasley omitted.  That qualifier of course makes all the difference in the world.  It’s the difference between 2,276 deaths in a nine-year period and 617 deaths.

As we’ve seen so often, selling news can be more important than reporting facts.  And it seems there’s nothing to grab headlines like another false claim of female victimization.

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