There are approximately 400,000 births plus legal abortions in the five Nordic countries annually. During the 1970s the number of maternal deaths ranged from 14 to 33 per year, the overall mean rate being 7.2 per 100,000 births. The rates declined somewhat from 1972 onwards, but otherwise there was no demonstrable change in frequency with time. Mortality rose steeply with increasing maternal age, with a rate of 28.5 for mothers over 35. The two most frequent causes of death were pre-eclampsia/eclampsia and hemorrhage, comprising 17.0 and 14.2% of the total, respectively. Legal abortion carried less risk of death than did pregnancy continuing to birth. Among the countries, Denmark and Sweden had the lowest average maternal mortality rates. The distribution of causes showed a predominance of abortion and thrombosis in Finland, and of hemorrhage and infection in Norway, but neither singular causes nor age-specific birth distributions can explain inter-country differences.