How abortion hurts women

Medical, psychological evidence shows that abortion poses numerous risks

Editor’s note. While my family and I are on vacation, we are running some of our favorite NRL News Today stories from the last four months, entries from our “Roe at 40″ series, and an occasional update. The following is a shortened version of a new brochure produced by MCCL Global Outreach and the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund. It is being used to advocate for life at the United Nations and among the international community. The brochure and supporting documentation are available online at mccl.org/mccl-resources.html.

By Paul Stark

AbortionHurtsWomen-coverLegalized abortion is widely touted as beneficial to women, but a wealth of medical and psychological evidence suggests otherwise. Induced abortion poses both short- and long-term risks to the physical health of women. It can also seriously affect mental health.

Physical risks of abortion

Surgical abortion is an intrusive procedure that violently interrupts a natural biological process. Documented complications include hemorrhage, infection, cervical damage, uterine perforation, pelvic inflammatory disease and retained fetal or placental tissue. These complications can affect future fertility (see “long-term risks” below).

Abortion can also result in death. Large record-based studies from Finland, Denmark and the United States found that maternal mortality rates after abortion were significantly higher than after childbirth. Increased mortality rates persist at least 10 years following abortion.

Non-surgical abortions [or chemical abortions]

Non-surgical or drug-induced abortion (often called “medical” abortion) poses its own risks to the health of pregnant women. Complications include hemorrhage, infection, rupture of undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy and incomplete abortion (resulting in a surgical abortion) and have sometimes led to death.

A large 2009 study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology determined that drug-induced abortions (using mifepristone, or RU486, together with a prostaglandin, usually misoprostol) led to significant adverse events in 20 percent of cases—almost four times the rate of immediate complications as surgical abortions.

Long-term risks

Abortion can hinder future reproductive success. It substantially increases the risk of subsequent preterm birth, which seriously threatens the lives and health of newborn children. The risk of premature delivery increases with each additional abortion. Abortion is also associated with an increased risk of infertility, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and placenta previa.

Other long-term risks of abortion include breast, cervical and ovarian cancers. The connection between abortion and breast cancer is especially controversial. But it is clear that abortion can deprive a woman of the risk-reducing effect of a first full-term pregnancy. And physiological and epidemiological evidence indicate that abortion leaves a woman with more cancer-vulnerable breast tissue than if she had not become pregnant in the first place.

Dozens of studies support this link; a 1996 meta-analysis found a 30 percent increase in breast cancer risk among post-abortion women. Alleged refutations of this evidence have proven flawed.

Psychological risks of abortion

In addition to its risks to a woman’s physical health, abortion can have negative psycho-social consequences. A 2011 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems among women who had undergone abortions; nearly 10 percent of the incidence of psychological problems was directly attributable to abortion. These problems included anxiety, depression, alcohol use, drug use and suicidal behavior.

A large-scale Finnish study found that the suicide rate following abortion was nearly six times greater than the suicide rate following childbirth. Conversely, although abortion is sometimes justified on the basis of mental health, a 2013 study concluded that the termination of unintended pregnancies had no therapeutic psychological benefit.

Abortion can also damage a woman’s relationships with her partner and others and can adversely affect men and children. Many women and men now regret their decision to procure or encourage an abortion, and many seek support and help to deal with their grief.

Dangers should not be ignored

Not all women suffer as a result of induced abortion, but many do. The risks to physical and psychological well-being should not be ignored.