International Studies

Prof. Victoria Christman and Becca Buse '19

Research Project: Pro-Choice for Life? A Statistical Analysis of Abortion Law and Maternal Mortality

Rebecca Buse ’19, International Studies
Victoria Christman, Associate Professor of History

How Law Impacts Abortions

Buse and Christman are conducting research on the effects of laws regarding access to legal abortions. “In particular, we’re interested in examining the overall statistics of mortality rates, maternal and fetal, in countries that prohibit legal abortions,” says Christman. “We’re attempting to use that information to assess what would happen to similar mortality rates in the U.S., should Roe vs. Wade be overturned.”

Information Readily Available, Sometimes Flawed

For the most part, the team found that it’s easy to locate sources about abortion laws and restrictions on women. “The challenging part was finding a connection between the articles and our specific topic,” says Buse. “Another difficult aspect was that our research is ongoing and a current event, so we were in constant search for policy changes and news articles that are released.”

Christman says it was quite easy to find literature on this topic regarding Latin American countries (some of which have the most restrictive policies in the world). “But we’ve come to realize that all figures are flawed when they concern a practice that’s illegal (i.e., such as abortions in countries where they are banned), because people tend to underreport such illegal activity.”  

Surprising Discoveries

One of the most unexpected things Christman has learned so far is how this topic is handled in some Latin American countries. “Although there are penalties that can be imposed for women who seek an illegal abortion (usually up to 8 years in prison), courts have been more likely to apply murder charges, which carry far more extensive sentences (30 to 40 years in prison).”

Buse was most surprised that there are so many different laws around the world. “Another discovery was realizing all the different ways women can be denied abortions: parental authorization, health issues, economic reasons, and especially religious background,” she says. “I also was struck by my lack of knowledge of abortions law in the U.S. I thought I knew U.S. abortion laws but I was amazed how the laws vary by state.” 

A Complex Topic

The team hopes the research will help people think about the abortion debate in more holistic terms. “Americans tend to feel very passionately about this issue, and often in a rather polarized way:  they are either pro-life or pro-choice,” says Christman. “Our research suggests that it’s far more complicated. If as many or even more lives (maternal and fetal) are lost when abortions are outlawed, then it doesn’t seem that it really promotes life or saves lives. We’re attempting to figure out how those figures look when abortions are legal compared to when they are illegal.” 

A Concentrated Learning Experience

Buse appreciates how she could focus on this project while working with a faculty member and having no other conflicts and distractions. “During the school year, I’m busy with classes and activities and have little time to dive deep into research,” she says. “The summer was a wonderful time to strengthen my confidence as a student and researcher.”

Buse and Christman hope to share their research at the upcoming Faculty Research Symposium and Student Research Symposium.

If you’re considering summer research, talk to a professor about your ideas and try to make it happen. Research can be difficult to start, but it’s worth your time and effort. I’ve gained a lot of skills and confidence by working one-on-one with a professor.

—Rebecca Buse