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  • Paul Stark

What is the leading cause of death?

Abortion ends the life of a human organism—an individual member of the species Homo sapiens. Yet abortions are not classified as deaths in U.S. vital statistics. What would those statistics look like if this omission were corrected?

A team of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte decided to find out. "There is no credible scientific opposition to the fact that a new genetically distinct human organism begins with fertilization," James Studnicki, Sharon J. MacKinnon, and John W. Fisher explain in their paper, published in June 2016 in the Open Journal of Preventive Medicine. "Yet, despite the universal acknowledgement that the act of abortion results in a death, abortion is not reported as a cause of death in the vital statistics system in the United States. ... The exclusion of a major cause of death ..., especially one with large racial and ethnic disparities, should be a major concern to the scientific community and society as a whole." So the researchers, using data from 2009 (the latest year for which all the relevant information is available), considered abortion among other causes of death. They found that induced abortion was by far the leading cause of death (1.152 million deaths), easily surpassing heart disease (599,413 deaths) and cancer (567,628 deaths) and accounting for 32.1 percent of all deaths that year. Disturbingly, among African Americans, abortions made up 61.1 percent of total deaths; among Hispanics, they accounted for 64 percent. The researchers also calculated the "years of potential life lost," assuming an average lifespan of 75 years. In 2009, the study found, abortion resulted in 68.4 million years of potential life lost. That's 77.1 percent of all years lost in 2009. The second leading offender, cancer, cost 4.4 million years, which is just 4.9 percent of the total. Indeed, human beings who are killed in utero generally lose far more years of life than those who die from other causes. "When I was a fetus," writes philosopher Alexander Pruss, "I had more to lose by death than I do now. Thus, to have killed me then would, strictly speaking, have been a greater harm." The statistics, then, show that abortion is responsible for a mind-boggling number of lost human lives and years. If human lives matter, then these human lives matter. Abortion deaths, moreover, are entirely preventable. We ought to act accordingly to save lives. "The most sinister result of excluding abortion as a cause of death is that this crucial topic is 'scrubbed' from the purview of legitimate scientific inquiry," says Dr. Studnicki, the lead researcher. "As a cause of death, the major one for Hispanics and African Americans, abortion would be at the top of the scientific agenda in the U.S., and with a funding priority consistent with its importance. Imagine the urgent scrambling among federal health bureaucracies if some mysterious new virus or bacteria were killing more than a million children each year." But it's not just the sheer scale of abortion that separates it from other causes of death. Abortion, unlike natural or accidental death, is intentional killing. Cancer and heart disease are tragic and should be fought with compassion, but they are not injustices. Abortion is an injustice. It is a violation of the right of all human beings to life (the right not to be intentionally killed). Of course, as Dr. Studnicki and his colleagues acknowledge, the effort to stop the killing of unborn children—unlike work to combat other public health crises—is deeply controversial. Many people, understandably, feel like abortion is or could be in their own best interests. Unborn children are small and largely out-of-sight, and they can't speak for themselves. These factors make the mission of the pro-life movement more difficult, but also more necessary. Unborn children need a voice. The mortality numbers are not something we are free to ignore.

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