Lengthy Study of Denmark Pregnancies Shows Higher Mortality Associated with Abortion than with birth

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D.

Priscilla K. Coleman, Ph.D.

The claim is made so often by representatives of the abortion industry and their allies in the press that many people assume that it is true that abortion is safer than childbirth.  But does the data really show that?  

A new study out of Denmark that followed a whole nation of women for 24 years found some very different results.  If you’re a young pregnant woman, it turns out that you’re more likely to be alive in ten years if you give birth to that first baby than if you aborted that child.

The article, “Short and long term mortality rates associated with first pregnancy outcome: Population register based study for Denmark 1980-2004,” by researchers Priscilla K. Coleman and David C. Reardon, is published in the September 1, 2012, edition of the international peer-reviewed journal Medical Science Monitor.

Coleman and Reardon looked at the medical records for the entire population of women born in Denmark from 1962 and 1991 who were still alive as of 1980. They found that of these women, 463,473 had a first pregnancy between 1980 and 2004. 

Residents in Denmark all have unique identification numbers that can be linked across different government data sets. By linking records from Denmark’s fertility and abortion registries to death registry records, the researchers examined death rates following the first pregnancy outcome for all these women.

Death rates were charted at 180 days following each woman’s first pregnancy outcome; one year later; and in each of 10 subsequent years.

The study found that over the span of ten years, death rates for women who aborted their first child were higher than they were for women who gave birth to that child.  This was true whether measured by year or cumulatively, whether early abortions or “later” abortions (defined as after 12 weeks).

For example, in year one following their first pregnancy, the mortality rate for women giving birth was 17.9 per 100,000.  But for those women having an early abortion, it was 33.8 per 100,000–nearly 89% higher.  Mortality rates for aborting women were 88% higher at two years, 107% higher at five years, and even 10 years after the event, 18% higher.

The small numbers of women aborting after 12 weeks made it difficult to generate statistically significant rates, but these were in every case also higher than they were for women giving birth.

In summary: The data clearly show that abortion comes with a higher mortality rate for women, showing not just a higher initial rate, but a higher risk over that first decade. 

When it comes to the likelihood of a mother’s being alive ten years later, abortion is clearly not safer than childbirth.  [1]

The authors offer three possible theories as to why this is so, suggesting that perhaps all three play some part.

The first, what has been called the “healthy pregnant woman effect,” offers that healthier women are both more likely to conceive and carry a child to term.  This might explain slightly higher mortality rates among miscarrying women if that data holds up.  

The second theory proposes that full-term pregnancy brings with it certain health benefits which themselves reduce the risk of death, e.g., physiological changes that reduce the likelihood of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.  Behavioral and lifestyle changes, such as reduced risk-taking behaviors, may themselves be relevant factors here.

The third theory is that pregnancy losses like abortion may contribute to either physiological or psychological changes that increase the risk of substance abuse, post-traumatic stress, overall reduced general health, and suicide.   It is worth noting that other studies have found increased risks of exactly many of these factors.

Why is this study important? Professor Coleman, one of the co-authors,  offers three reasons.

1) Record-based studies provide complete reproductive history data for all residents. There are very few record-based studies of mortality risks associated with reproductive loss available in the published literature.  Without data-linkage to complete reproductive histories (as in this study), results are highly unreliable as prior research suggests as many as 73% of all pregnancy associated deaths are not apparent from death certificates.

2)This study eliminates the potential confounding effect of unknown prior pregnancy history by examining mortality rates associated with first pregnancy  outcome alone.

3) No previous record-based studies have compared early induced abortions to later abortions. There is consensus that late-term abortions are associated  with more physiological risks and higher rates of maternal mortality in the short term compared to early abortions. However, longer term mortality risks have not been previously examined with record-based data.

The paper can be downloaded for free at www.medscimonit.com/fulltxt.php?ICID=883338.

[1]   Mortality rates for women having miscarriages were also generally higher than for women giving birth, but still usually lower than for women aborting their first child. The authors caution that data on miscarriages may not be as exact as data on birth and abortions, since their data only covered those miscarrying women who visited hospitals.

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