The precipitous closure of rural maternity services in industrialized countries over the past two decades is underscored in part by assumptions of efficiencies of scale leading to cost-effectiveness. However, there is scant evidence to support this and the costing evidence that exists lacks comprehensiveness. To clearly understand the cost-effectiveness of rural services we must take the broadest societal perspective to include not only health system costs, but also those costs incurred at the family and community levels. We must consider manifest costs (hard, easily quantifiable costs, both direct and indirect) and latent costs (understood as what is sacrificed or lost), and take into account cost shifting (reallocating costs to different parts of the system) and cost downloading (passing costs on to women and families). Further, we must compare the costs of having a rural maternity service to those incurred by not having a service, a comparison that is seldom made. This approach will require determining a methodological framework for weighing all costs, one which will likely involve attention to the rich descriptions of those experiencing loss.