Is Abortion Safe?

Physical Complications*

Despite the use of local anesthesia, a full 97% of women having abortions reported experiencing pain during the procedure, [81] which more than a third described as "intense," [82] "severe" or "very severe." [83] Compared to other pains, researchers have rated the pain from abortion as more painful than a bone fracture, about the same as cancer pain, though not as painful as an amputation. [84]

Studies also reveal that younger women tend to find abortion more painful than do older adults, [85] and that patients typically found abortion more painful than their doctors or counselors expected. [86] The use of more powerful general anesthetics can reduce the pain, but significantly increases the risk of cervical injury or uterine perforation. [87]

Complications such as these are common, as are bleeding, hemorrhage,[88] laceration of the cervix, [89] menstrual disturbance, [90] inflammation of the reproductive organs, [91] bladder or bowel perforation, [92] and serious infection. [93]

Even more harmful long term physical complications from abortion may surface later. For example, overzealous currettage can damage the lining of the uterus and lead to permanent infertility. [94] Overall, women who have abortions face an increased risk of ectopic (tubal) pregnancy [95] and a more than doubled risk of future sterility. [96] Perhaps most important of all, the risk of these sorts of complications, along with risks of future miscarriage, increase with each subsequent abortion. [97]

The particular type and severity of complications depend a great deal on the experience of the abortionist and the particular abortion method used. Given that most abortions are performed at abortion clinics rather than by a woman's regular ob-gyn, [98] the doctor performing the abortion is likely to be a stranger of whose skill and experience a woman knows very little. [99] Such things as an inadequate gynecologic examination prior to the operation, the carelessness of the abortionist, or the retention of fetal and placental tissue can all bring on complications. These kinds of complications can usually be treated and generally subside (though not always), [100] but few women ever return to the clinics for crucial post-operative examinations. [101]

There is strong evidence that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. A study of more than 1,800 women appearing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1994 found that overall, women having abortions increased their risk of getting breast cancer before age 45 by 50%. For women under 18 with no previous pregnancies, having an abortion after the 8th week increased the risk of breast cancer 800%. Women with a family history of breast cancer fared even worse. All 12 women participating in the study who had abortions before 18 and had a family history of breast cancer themselves got cancer before age 45. [102]

Of course, death of the mother is the most serious of all complications. Over 200 women have died from legal abortions since 1973. [103] The risk of death increases according to the duration of pregnancy [104] and the complexity of the abortion technique employed. [105]

* In most of the discussions below, the abortions referred to are surgical abortions. Chemical methods being relatively new and rare, most studies over the past twenty or so years usually tracked only complications for surgical methods. Complication rates for chemical techniques may be somewhat different; for example, while there is little risk of perforation and laceration with a chemical method, pain and bleeding will probably exceed that of surgical methods. Chemical methods also bring unique risks of their own (see pp. 9-12, 23).

Clinical research provides a growing body of scientific evidence that having an abortion can cause psychological harm to some women. "Women who report negative after-effects from abortion know exactly what their problem is," observed psychologist Wanda Franz, Ph.D., in a March 1989 congressional hearing on the impact of abortion. "They report horrible nightmares of children calling them from trash cans, of body parts, and blood," Franz told the Congressional panel. "When they are reminded of the abortion," Franz testified, "the women re-experienced it with terrible psychological pain ... They feel worthless and victimized because they failed at the most natural of human activities -- the role of being a mother."[106]

The emergence of chemical abortion methods poses a new possibly more devastating psychological threat. Unlike surgical abortions, in which women rarely see the cut up body parts, women having chemical abortions often do see the complete tiny bodies of their unborn children and are even able to distinguish the child's developing hands, eyes, etc. [107] So traumatic is this for some women that both patients and researchers involved in these studies have recommended that women unprepared for the experience of seeing their aborted children not take the drugs. [108] Long-term psychological implications of this experience have not been studied.

Researchers on the after-effects of abortion have identified a pattern of psychological problems known as Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS). Women suffering PAS may experience drug and alcohol abuse, personal relationship disorders, sexual dysfunction, repeated abortions, communications difficulties, damaged self-esteem, and even attempt suicide. Post-Abortion Syndrome appears to be a type of pattern of denial which may last for five to ten years before emotional difficulties surface. [109]

Now that some clinicians have established that there is an identifiable patterns to PAS, they face a new challenge. What is still unknown is how widespread psychological problems are among women who have had abortions. A Los Angeles Times survey in 1989 found that 56% of women who had abortions felt guilty about it, and 26% "mostly regretted the abortion."[110] Clinicians' current goal should be to conduct extensive national research studies to obtain data on the psychological after-effects of abortion.[111]

With the growing awareness of Post Abortion Syndrome in scholarly and clinical circles, women with PAS can expect to receive a more sensitive appreciation of the suffering that they endure. Fortunately, a growing network of peer support groups of women who have had abortions offers assistance to women who are experiencing emotional difficulties.

Many post-abortive women have also been speaking out publicly about their own abortion experiences and the healing process they went through.. Women or family members seeking information about this particular outreach can contact American Victims of Abortion, 419 7th Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C., 20004.

Despite all their talk about "choice," those at abortion clinics who counsel women on their options often act as if abortion is a woman's only realistic alternative. This simply isn't so.

Throughout the United States, there are nearly 3,000 Crisis Pregnancy Centers staffed by volunteers ready to provide real help to women facing unplanned or untimely pregnancies. [112] In addition to providing pregnancy tests and counseling, these centers often offer a full range of services, helping women obtain housing, maternity and baby clothes, baby equipment, pre- and post-natal medical care, legal assistance and financial support, information about adoption, and even advice on how a woman in school can continue her education. [113] Offering real and tangible assistance, these centers have helped thousands of women to realize that they didn't have to choose between their own lives and the lives of their unborn babies.

Unlike their counterparts at the local abortion clinic, the volunteer counselors at your Crisis Pregnancy Center do not have a vested financial interest in the ultimate decision you make. Their concern and commitment are genuine, so you can count on them to stick by you through the tense and sometimes difficult months ahead.

If you picked up this pamphlet at your local Crisis Pregnancy Center, you already have some idea of the quality of people who work there. But if not, you can look in the Yellow Pages under the heading "Abortion Alternatives," or call, toll-free, 1 (800) 848-LOVE, any time, day or night, to find the nearest Crisis Pregnancy Center in your area. You'll find someone who genuinely cares about what happens to you and your unborn baby.

Reference Page, Abortion Some Medical Facts