WHO's coding rule no. 12, together with its recommendation no. 7, states that deaths due to medical and surgical treatment must be reported under the complication of the procedure and not under the condition or reason for treatment. In effect, this makes abortion a "ghost" category under which it is impossible to code a death. Medical coders have, in fact, relayed that any attempt to code a death due to abortion under an abortion category yields a "reject message" from the computer programs provided by the National Centre for Health Statistics of Washington D.C., a division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. (This computer program is now used in Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and will be introduced in the British Isles this January.) .... Only a minute number of abortion-related deaths actually qualify to be declared under abortion, i.e. those for which the medical certificate of death categorically and unequivocally gives abortion as the underlying cause of death. If abortion is mentioned anywhere else on the death certificate, on the underlying cause line, the death gets coded as an accident of some kind, a sudden or unexpected death, an illness (like septicaemia—blood poisoning) or an injury, etc.
The Centers for Disease Control, from which we get our "official" tally of abortion deaths in the US, gets the bulk of its abortion death information from the NCIS, which, as WHO's coding rules dictate, will flag virtually no deaths as abortion deaths even if the abortion is noted on the death certificate!
On the WHO-prescribed medical certificate of death form, there is a confusing (and optional) maternal death question that reads as follows: "If deceased was a female, did the death occur either during pregnancy (including abortion and ectopic pregnancy) or within 42 days thereafter? Yes, No."
Thus any death of a pregnant woman, or of a woman who was known to have been recently pregnant, gets coded as "maternal mortality," even if her death had nothing to do with the pregnancy (i.e. automobile accident), or if her death was due to an induced abortion.
In Statistics Canada's Causes of Death publication for 1995, under those categories in which medical coders have admitted to tabulating abortion-related deaths, there are 1,026 deaths of women between the ages of 10 to 50. The categories given by coders include misadventures during surgical and medical care; accidental cut, puncture, perforation or haemorrhage; accidental poisoning by urea, saline solution, prostaglandins, anti-infectives, sedatives and anaesthetics; postoperative shock; postoperative haemorrhage; postoperative infection; convulsions; injuries to abdominal organs/blood vessels; and late and adverse effects of the above.
This means that any researcher trying to determine how many women died from abortion complications would have to search for codes for all of these causes of death, then investigate each to see if abortion was involved.
Response to the unearthing of the inaccurate recording of abortion deaths has been encouraging. The International Statistical Institute, based in The Netherlands has agreed that intervention is required. It stated in its letter "The problem … originates from the coding rules issued by the World Health Organization. Since they issue erroneous coding rules, they are responsible for correcting them. ISI would certainly endorse such an approach."
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