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Abortion Complications

What physical and psychological risks do women take when they have an abortion?

The range of possible complications may surprise you. Roughly one million American women each year submit to abortion, making it one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures. But abortion is not without risk — to our bodies, our minds and our emotions:

"I had an abortion at 17 and it was the worst thing I ever did. ... I was two months gone when I realized. I went to my mum and she said, without pausing for breath: 'You have to get rid of it.' She told me where the clinic was and then virtually pushed me off. She was so angry. She said I'd gotten myself in this mess, now she had to get me out. But she didn't come. I went alone. I was terrified. It was full of other young girls, and we were all terrified and looking at each other and nobody was saying a bloody word. I howled my way through it, and it was horrible. I would never recommend it to anyone because it comes back to haunt you. When I tried to have children, I lost three — I think it was because something happened to my cervix during the abortion. After three miscarriages, they had to put a stitch in it."   ~ Sharon Osborne (TV personality and wife of Ozzy Osborne) in Sharon Unxpurgated, (Dec 18, 2004, Associated Newspapers, Ltd)

Physical

Women face a number of possible physical complications as a result of legal abortion including hemorrhage requiring transfusion, perforation of the uterus, cardiac arrest, endotoxic shock, major unintended surgery, infection resulting in hospitalization, convulsions, undiagnosed ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, cervical laceration, uterine rupture, and death. (Warren Hern, Abortion Practice, 1990, p. 175-193.)

Seventeen percent of women participating in a study on the effects of abortion reported they have "experienced physical complications (e.g., abnormal bleeding or pelvic infection) since their abortion." Based on reported abortion statistics, this represents 200,000 women annually experiencing physical complications after an abortion. (Brenda Major, Archives of General Psychology, 2000)

Abortion can adversely affect later pregnancies. A recent literature review concluded that abortion is a risk factor for placenta previa (where the placenta implants over the cervix, causing hemorrhaging) and preterm delivery with subsequent pregnancies. (John Thorp, Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey, 2003).

Research has found women having abortions are more likely to have a low birth-weight baby in a later pregnancy. (Weijin Zhou, International Journal of Epidemiology, 2000 and Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1999.)

Abortion can increase your chance of having an ectopic (or tubal) pregnancy in the future. (Anna Kalandidi, British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1991 and Ann A. Levin, American Journal of Public Health, 1982)

Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found having multiple abortions increases a woman's chance of having a miscarriage in a later pregnancy. (Ann A. Levin, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1980, subscription required)

All women, especially young teenagers, are at risk for damage to their cervix during an abortion, which can lead to complications with later pregnancies. (Kenneth Schultz, The Lancet, 1983)

Abortion puts a woman at increased risk for complications in later pregnancies. Medical research states, "Complications such as bleeding in the first and third trimesters, abnormal presentations and premature rupture of the membranes, abruptio placentae, fetal distress, low birth weight, short gestation, and major malformations occurred more often among women with a history of two or more induced abortions." (Shari Linn, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1983)

Abortion can increase your risk for breast cancer. A review analyzing 23 studies on breast cancer and abortion identified 17 of those studies indicate an increased risk of breast cancer among women having an abortion. (Joel Brind, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 1996). For more information on this topic, go to www.abortionbreastcancer.com and www.bcpinstitute.org

Existing evidence of an abortion-breast cancer connection prompted the New England Journal of Medicine to publish a February 2000 review of breast cancer research, which lists abortion as a risk factor. (Katrina Armstrong, "Assessing the Risk of Breast Cancer," New England Journal of Medicine, Vol 342, No.8, 2000, subscription required).

Psychological

An analysis of nearly 15 years of published research found "women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems, and nearly 10 percent of the incidence of mental health problems was shown to be directly attributable to abortion." (Priscilla K. Coleman, British Journal of Psychiatry, 2011)

After an abortion, women can experience psychological reactions ranging from guilt feelings, nervous symptoms, sleep disturbance and regrets. Also, as many as 10 percent of women "experience serious psychiatric problems following abortion." (J.R. Ashton, British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 1980)

Research published in the prestigious Archives of General Psychiatry acknowledges that many women experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after an abortion. In one of the longest-running studies conducted on women after abortion, researchers found over time, relief and positive emotions relating to the abortion declined and negative emotions increased. PTSD symptoms include dreams or flashbacks to the abortion, a general numbing of responsiveness not present before the abortion, and difficulty falling asleep.  In the same study, a survey of women two years after their abortions found 28 percent of women were either indifferent about or dissatisfied with their abortion decision and 31 percent said they were uncertain or would not have an abortion again.13 (Brenda Major, Archives of General Psychology, 2000)

A recent literature review concluded abortion is a risk factor for "mood disorders substantial enough to provoke attempts of self-harm." (John Thorp, Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey, 2003)

Women who ended their first pregnancy by abortion are five times more likely to report subsequent substance abuse than women who carried the pregnancy to term and four times more likely to report substance abuse compared to those whose first pregnancy ended naturally. (David Reardon, American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 2000)

A Finnish study of suicide after pregnancy found:

  • "The suicide rate after an abortion was three times the general suicide rate and six times that associated with birth."

  • Suicides were more common after a miscarriage—and especially after an induced abortion—than in the general population.

  • An increased risk of suicide after an abortion indicates either common risk factors for both suicide and abortion, or harmful effects of induced abortion on mental health. (Mika Gissler, British Medical Journal, 1996).

Welch researchers examined abortion and suicide and concluded, "Our data suggest that deterioration in mental health may be a consequential side-effect of induced abortion." (Christopher Morgan, British Medical Journal, 1997)

As many as 60 percent of women having an abortion experience some level of emotional distress afterwards. In 30 percent of women, the distress is classified as severe. (Hanna Soderberg, European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 1998)

The circumstances surrounding an abortion decision can impact a woman, as well. According to research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, "Abortion for medical or genetic indications, a history of psychiatric contact before the abortion, and mid-trimester abortions often result in more distress afterward. When women experience significant ambivalence about the decision or when the decision is not freely made, the results are also more likely to be negative." (Paul Dagg, American Journal of Psychiatry, 1991, subscription required)

A study of couples involved in first-trimester abortions in Canada found abortion can be highly distressful for both men and women. Researchers found both before and after the abortion, "study couples were found to be much more distressed than control[s]" couples. High levels of distress among women "correlated with fear of [the abortion's] negative effects on the relationship, unsatisfying relationships, and not having had a previous child." (Pierre Lauzon, Canadian Family Physician, 2000)