Infant Mortality in the United States

Author: A.L.L.


American Life League

Artificially induced abortions predispose women to premature births in subsequent pregnancies. Professor Jeno Sarkany's study of perinatal and infant morbidity statistics revealed a striking increase in physically and/or mentally handicapped babies among those born to mothers who had had a therapeutic abortion previously.

                                                                                                        L. Iffy, M.D.[1]

Anti-Life Philosophy.

Anti-choice people are hypocrites, because they want to save fetuses but couldn't care less about prenatal or postnatal child care. Since anti-choice legislators consistently oppose any welfare spending for prenatal care at the state and federal level, the United States has a disgracefully high infant mortality rate compared to other developed countries.



In this country, the medical definition of "infant mortality" is death among infants less than one year old who were born alive in hospitals. The generally accepted definition of "infant mortality rate" is the number of infants per 1,000 who were born alive in hospitals but died before the age of one year.

Comparative International Rates.

Figure 56-1 shows that the infant mortality rate in the United States is about 11 per 1,000. This rate is higher than Canada's (at 7 per 1,000), and is also higher than most of the Western European countries, whose rates vary from Sweden's and Switzerland's 6 per 1,000 to Portugal's 15 per 1,000. FIGURE 56-1


Nation(s)                                                                            Infant Mortality Rates
                                                                                          (Per Thousand Infants)

HONG KONG, SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND                                         6
AUSTRALIA, AUSTRIA, BELGIUM, ITALY                                        8
FRANCE, UNITED KINGDOM                                                             9
UNITED STATES, GREECE, SPAIN                                                    11
PORTUGAL                                                                                           15
BULGARIA                                                                                            18
HUNGARY, POLAND                                                                          20
ROMANIA, SOVIET UNION                                                               25
NORTH KOREA                                                                                    32
COMMUNIST CHINA                                                                          34
VIETNAM                                                                                              51

Reference: Bureau of the Census, United States Department of Commerce. National Data Book and Guide to Sources, Statistical Abstract of the United States. 1990 (110th Edition), Table 1,440, "Vital Statistics, 1989, and Projections, 2000 Selected Countries." Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office. The definition of 'infant mortality' is the rate of disease-or sickness-caused deaths of infants up to the age of one year who were delivered alive in hospitals. Reasons for the Disparity.

The United States infant mortality rate is indeed higher than some other developed countries, but nowhere near as high as the shrill condemnations and extreme exaggerations that the anti-life groups would have us believe.

The reason that the United States lags behind some other developed nations in terms of infant mortality is not because we fail to lavish billions on prenatal and postnatal child care because we do.

There are three primary reasons why the infant mortality rate in this country is higher than some other developed countries. These are;

(1) Because the countries with lower infant mortality rates than the United States use a different criteria for measurement than this country does;

(2) because pregnant mothers in this country generally have higher rates of bad habits in the form of high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, and lack of exercise and good diet;

(3) because the primary cause of infant mortality and morbidity is prematurity, and the high abortion rate in this country combined with a high teen birth rate contributes significantly to a high rate of prematurity; and

(4) because the United States has a very large and diverse population, and therefore many people simply do not obtain the best medical care.

These four causes of infant mortality are described in further detail in the following paragraphs.

The Role of Medicine.

Medical science can only prevent so many infant deaths; the people have to do the rest. This is why Communist countries have such high infant mortality rates. Although pregnant women in Communist countries have relatively good prenatal habits, their diet is poor, and socialized medicine is a disgrace in these nations.

Organized medicine, working alone, can only bring the infant mortality rate down to about 15 per 1,000. The rest is really up to the health habits of the mothers. Japan does not need a Surgeon General's warning on its cigarette packages stating that smoking may cause birth defects; pregnant Japanese women simply do not smoke. And women in the Netherlands, when they find out that they are pregnant, simply do not use illegal drugs.

Cause #1 of High Infant Mortality Rate:Different Accounting Procedures.


The most important reason that our country's infant mortality rate is higher than that of most other developed countries is simply that accounting procedures vary widely from nation to nation.

The American Medical Association notes that, in the United States, premature babies with extremely low birthweights who have no chance at all of surviving are classified as "live births." Generally, a baby born after twenty weeks' gestation is counted in this category. In other developed countries, such babies are classified as "late fetal deaths."[2]

This disparity in accounting procedures alone, if corrected, would make the infant mortality rate of the United States comparable to that of Sweden or Japan.

More Low-Birthweight Survivors.

The table below reflects the increasing rates of survival of low-birthweight newborns in the United States. This table shows why a second anomaly in accounting procedures contributes to a higher infant mortality rate in this country.

As described above, even those babies born much too early to have any chance of survival count against the infant mortality rate in the United States. Therefore, a baby who is born at a very low weight, but who survives a week or more and then dies, counts in tabulations of the infant mortality rate.

Since the rate of survival of low-birthweight infants past one week of age has increased dramatically over the last three decades (as shown below), and since these babies have dramatically higher infant mortality rates than heavier newborns, they contribute heavily to the overall national infant mortality rate. This means that, even if infant mortality is being reduced in other areas, these improvements are being partially offset by the increased survival rate of low-birthweight infants past the age of one week.


                                                 Survival Rate For Birthweight of

                                                   Under                            1,000 to
                                              1,000 Grams                  1,500 Grams

1961-1965                                    5%                                 39%
1966-1970                                  14%                                 62%
1971-1975                                  23%                                 78%
1976-1982                                  52%                                 80%
1983-1992                                  70%                                 85%

Reference. Bureau of the Census, United States Department of Commerce. National Data Book and Guide to Sources, Statistical Abstract of the United States. 1990 (110th Edition). Table 91, "Low Birth Weight and Births to Teenage Mothers and to Unmarried Women States: 1980 to 1987." Cause #2 of High Infant Mortality Rate:

Bad Habits During Pregnancy.


One of the four primary reasons that the rate of infant mortality is greater in the United States than in other developed countries is that, as a class, pregnant women in this country have disgracefully bad habits as a whole compared to pregnant women in the developed nations that have lower infant mortality rates. Many American women, infected with the idea that the fetus is basically worthless and that freedom is total, continue to smoke, drink, abuse drugs, and neglect prenatal care and good eating habits.

This is evidenced by the fact that rich and fatty foods, drugs, and alcohol are not generally available to women in developing countries. Additionally, women in poorer countries are generally in much better physical condition than American women. Americans in general have a higher percentage of overweight adults of both genders than any other country in the world, developed or undeveloped.

Alcohol and FAS.

One of the leading causes of prematurity and infant death is alcohol use by pregnant women, which commonly leads to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is not only the leading cause of infant mental retardation in the United States, but also causes about 8,000 babies to be born annually with serious physical handicaps.[3]

The actions of pro-abortionists regarding the use of alcohol by pregnant women is not only hypocritical, it is despicable. While they bemoan high infant mortality rates in the Unites States, the pro-aborts diligently work to ban all warnings to pregnant women on the use of alcohol.

For example, Human Life of Washington State placed a series of ads on Washington Transit Authority busses. These ads consisted of a photograph of a 17-week old preborn baby swimming in its mother's womb, and featured the caption "ENJOY LIFE. GOOD THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES." The objective of the ads was not to stop abortions, but to warn the public about the effects of alcohol syndrome, substance abuse, and diet on fetal development.

The Reproductive Rights Task Force of the Seattle Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) immediately initiated a telephone campaign directed against Washington Transit, claiming that the photos and ads were, in the NOW's lofty opinion, "too graphic."[4] The Washington Transit Authority quickly broke its contract with Human Life and obediently pulled the ads.

A NOW spokeswoman explained that "NOW works to promote and protect the human rights of women. It is in keeping with the work that we do that we protest advertising the intent of which is harmful to the health and well-being of women, and which deprives women of their full rights as human beings."[5]

When asked how the advertising was "harmful to the health and well-being of women," and how it "deprives women of their full rights as human beings," the NOW people refused to answer.

This is not an isolated incident.

When the New York State legislature passed a law requiring liquor shops to post signs about possible harm to preborn babies through Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the New York chapter of the NOW released a statement saying that "We are most uneasy about the step this legislation takes toward protecting the unborn at the expense of women's freedom."[5]

Cause #3 of High Infant Mortality Rate: Prematurity.


Premature births are the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. According to expert Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D., "Prematurity was a direct or contributory cause in over 50% of deaths during the first month of postnatal life. The death rate of premature babies ran about 30 times higher than among full-term infants. If premature infants survive, they face a higher frequency of mental retardation, neurologic diseases, and blindness."[6]

Abortion as a Cause of Prematurity.

The experiences of other countries have confirmed that surgical abortion is one of the leading causes of prematurity.

Over a single five-year period (1971 to 1976), Soviet infant mortality rates rose steeply from 22.9 per 1,000 in 1971 to 31.0 per 1,000 in 1976. Because the quality of Soviet medicine was steadily improving during this period, researchers found that the most likely explanation for this phenomenon is "...the high rate of abortion which may have caused a higher proportion of premature births in later pregnancies, and hence higher infant mortality."[7]

Although the former Soviet Union suffered an incredible 12.8 million abortions in 1965, this number increased to more than 20 million by 1985, meaning that more than three-fourth of all pregnancies in the Soviet Union end in surgical abortion.[8] The Soviet infant mortality rate peaked in 1976, when the abortion rate reached its current level, and then gradually sank as medical technology improved.[9]

The correlation between high abortion rates and high infant mortality rates in the Soviet Union has been confirmed by Hungarian researchers, who concluded that "Artificially induced abortions predispose women to premature births in subsequent pregnancies. Professor Jeno Sarkany's study of perinatal and infant morbidity statistics revealed a striking increase in physically and/or mentally handicapped babies among those born to mothers who had had a therapeutic abortion previously."[1]

Prematurity Caused By a High Teen Birth Rate.

Another contributor to prematurity is the very high (and steadily increasing) rate of teen pregnancy in the United States, which is generally not as severe a problem in Japan and most other developed nations. This trend is paralleling that of an increasing number of women over 35 having their first babies in this country. These two parallel phenomenon have been increasing while teen births and after-35 first births are relatively rare in other countries.

In the United States, one out of eight babies are born to teenaged mothers. 7 percent of these babies are low birthweight less than 2,500 grams. And all low-birthweight babies account for about seven percent of all births in this country.

Cause #4 of High Infant Mortality Rate: A Large and Diverse Population.


In general, there is a very tight correlation between a larger population and increasing infant mortality rates for both developed and undeveloped countries, if all other factors are held equal.

Regardless of the type of government, a larger and more diverse population is more difficult for government agencies to educate, reach and provide for. A country with a population of less than ten million will be able to efficiently ensure that all of its pregnant mothers receive good prenatal care. In a country that covers three million square miles, and has a population of more than a quarter of a billion, the story is different. Native populations, and areas that have been depressed for decades (such as Appalachia) have very high infant mortality rates that are reflected in national averages.

These points are supported by the infant mortality rates shown in Figure 56-2.



[A medium text size on your computer's 'view' setting is recommended, otherwise, the table may be discombobulated.]

                                                              1989 Infant
                                                           Mortality Rate                1989
Country                                                 (Per 1,000)               Population

Japan                                                               5                        123,220,000
Hong Kong                                                      6                            5,709,000
Sweden                                                           6                             8,401,000
Switzerland                                                      6                             6,611,000
Canada                                                            7                          26,311,000
Denmark                                                          7                            5,130,000
Netherlands                                                      7                           14,790,000
West Germany                                                 7                          60,977,000
Australia                                                          8                           16,452,000
Austria                                                             8                             7,586,000
Belgium                                                            8                             9,888,000
Italy                                                                 8                           57,588,000
France                                                              9                           55,994,000
United Kingdom                                               9                            57,028,00
East Germany                                                 10                          16,586,000
Greece                                                           11                          10,041,000
Spain                                                             11                           39,417,000
UNITED STATES                                        11                         248,231,000
Czechoslovakia                                              13                          15,658,000
Cuba                                                             14                           10,482,000
Portugal                                                         15                          10,460,000
Puerto Rico                                                   16                             3,301,000
Bulgaria                                                         18                             8,973,000
Chile                                                              18                           12,827,000
Taiwan                                                          18                           20,233,000
Hungary                                                         20                           10,567,000
Poland                                                           21                            38,170,000
South Korea                                                  24                            43,347,000
Romania                                                        25                            23,153,000
Soviet Union                                                  25                          288,742,000
Yugoslavia                                                     25                            23,725,000


UNITED STATES                                         11                          248,231,000
Soviet Union                                                  25                          288,742,000
Mainland China                                              34                      1,112,299,000
Brazil                                                             67                          150,750,000
Indonesia                                                       80                          187,651,000
India                                                              91                          833,422,000

Reference: Bureau of the Census, United States Department of Commerce. National Data Book and Guide to Sources, Statistical Abstract of the United States. 1990 (110th Edition), Table 1,438, "Population and Area, By Region and Country: 1980 and 1989, and Projections, 1990 and 2000," and Table 1,440, "Vital Statistics, 1989, and Projections, 2000 Selected Countries." Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office. 
The definition of 'infant mortality' is the rate of disease-or sickness-caused deaths of infants up to the age of one year who were delivered alive in hospitals.

This figure shows that the United States ranks number 18 in the world in its infant mortality rate. However, among all nations with a 25 per 1,000 infant mortality rate, the United States ranks best as a large nation. The only other nation with an infant mortality rate at or less than 25 per 1,000 which has a population in the range of the United States' is the former Soviet Union, which has a rate more than twice that of the United States.

Disparities Among Ethnic Groups.

One reason that Sweden, Japan, and Canada have lower infant mortality rates than the United States is because they have a much lower ratio of high-risk minority groups in their populations than does the United States.

In 1987, the infant mortality rate in the United States was 8.6 per 1,000 for Whites and more than double that figure 17.9 per 1,000 for Blacks. Pro-abortionists tend to write this disparity off as a result of an "incurably racist system." However, rather than being a result of poor prenatal care or discrimination due to race, researchers suspect that this high infant mortality rate among Blacks is due to genetic factors.

This thesis is most strongly supported by a study performed by Dr. Joel C. Kleinman of the National Center for Health Statistics, who has shown that, although pregnant Hispanic women have on the average prenatal care that is poor as that received by pregnant Black women, they have a lower infant mortality rate than Blacks and an even lower infant mortality rate that Whites.[10]

This long-term survey also suggests that high-income pregnant Black people who have excellent prenatal care also have a much higher infant mortality rate than any other group with the same high level of prenatal care, thus indicating that a genetic predisposition to higher infant mortality might be the answer to such a dichotomy.

On 'Anti-Choice' Legislators.

Pro-abortionists love to crow about how so-called 'anti-choice' legislators vote against aid to pregnant women and against help for children once they are born.

Strangely, the pro-aborts never seem to produce any documentation for this claim. Instead, they focus on the voting records of one, or at most two or three, 'anti-choice' legislators who happen to be standing in the way of one of their current pro-abortion goals. This manipulation is not surprising, in light of the fact that this catchy sloganistic phrase is dead wrong.

If the voting records of strong pro-life United States Congressmen and Senators are compared against those of pro-abortion legislators, the percentage of pro-lifers voting for any given prenatal program is much higher than that of the pro-aborts.

Extensive surveys have also shown that pro-lifers in general are more concerned than pro-abortionists about important social issues, such as child abuse, drug abuse, alcoholism, homelessness, hunger, racism, and even overpopulation. In fact, according to Gallup polls, pro-lifers are much more likely to oppose the death penalty than pro-abortionists.[11]

For detailed information on the voting records of United States Congressmen and Senators, contact the local chapter of National Right to Life (NRLC state chapter addresses and telephone numbers are provided in Chapter 20 of Volume I, "Pro-Life Organizations").


The 'infant mortality' argument used by pro-abortionists is a classic 'red herring,' designed to divert attention away from the real focus of discussion abortion! If pro-abortionists can get people to talk about issues that are only tangentially related to abortion, they will have accomplished their mission.

What the pro-abortionists are trying to say with this slogan is that it is better to kill millions of babies in the womb instead of letting a few thousand die after they are born.

When confronted with this argument, pro-lifers should not get involved in a heated and detailed discussion, or the pro-aborts have won. All a pro-lifer need do is point out that, if the pro-abort wants to talk about infant mortality, the mortality for infants entering abortion mills is one hundred percent!

References: Infant Mortality Rates.

[1] L. Iffy, M.D. "Abortion Laws in Hungary." Obstetrics and Gynecology, January 1975, pages 115 to 116.

[2] Interim Meeting Coverage. "Data May Be Skewed: AMA Hears Report on Worldwide Infant Mortality." American Medical News> January 13, 1992, page 30.

[3] "Pro-Life Ad Pulled From Seattle Buses." Portland, Oregon Catholic Sentinel. November 3, 1989, page 22.

[4] Living World, Volume 5, Number 2, page 28.

[5] Angela Hornsby. "Drinking Warnings Required." The Oregonian, Tuesday, June 25, 1991, page A10.

[6] Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. Induced Abortion: A Documented Report. January 1973, page 43.

[7] Wall Street Journal, June 20, 1978. Quoted in National Right to Life News, October 1978, page 2.

[8] Father Paul Marx. Confessions of a Pro-Life Missionary. 1988, 353 pages, hardback, softback. Published by Human Life International, 7845-E Airpark Road, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20879. Telephone: (301) 670-7884. Also see Jodi L. Jacobson. "Coming to Grips With Abortion." Pages 114 to 131. In the Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 1991 Report. W.W. Norton Publishers, London, 1991. Also issued as Worldwatch Paper #97, The Global Politics of Abortion.

[9] Bureau of the Census, United States Department of Commerce. National Data Book and Guide to Sources, Statistical Abstract of the United States. 1990 (110th Edition). Table 91, "Low Birth Weight and Births to Teenage Mothers and to Unmarried Women States: 1980 to 1987." This fascinating book, available in hardback or softcover format, statistically analyzes every detail and aspect of American life. Additionally, it covers statistics on American and foreign infant and child mortality rates. It may be ordered from the United States Government Printing Office or may be purchased from the many government bookstores located in cities throughout the nation.

[10] Spencer Rich. "Death Rate for Infants in U.S. Drops to Record Low." The Washington Post, August 31, 1990, page A10. Also see "Puzzle in Infant Mortality." The New York Times, August 21, 1990, page C5.

[11] James Davison Hunter. "What Americans Really Think About Abortion." First Things, June/July 1992, pages 13 to 21.

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This is a chapter of the Pro-Life Activist's Encyclopedia published by American Life League.