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January 18, 2011 Print

Abortion Complications

by Carrie Gordon Earll

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 blood 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)

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.1

Seventeen percent of women participating in a study on the effects of abortion reported that 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.2

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. 3

Research has found that women having abortions are more likely to have a low birth-weight baby in a later pregnancy.4

Abortion can increase your chance of having an ectopic (or tubal) pregnancy in the future.5

Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that having
multiple abortions increases a woman’s chance of having a miscarriage in a later pregnancy.6

All women, especially young teenagers, are at risk for damage to their cervix during an abortion, which can lead to complications with later pregnancies.7

Abortion puts a woman at increased risk for complications in later pregnancies. Medical research states that, “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.”8

Abortion can increase your risk for breast cancer. A review analyzing 23 studies on breast cancer and abortion states that 17 of those studies indicate an increased risk of breast cancer among women having an abortion.9

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.10

Emotional

A recent literature review concluded that abortion is a risk factor for “mood disorders substantial enough to provoke attempts of self-harm.”11

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.12

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 that 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 that 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

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.”14

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.”15

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.16

A Finnish study of suicide after pregnancy found that:

  • “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.17

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.” 18

A study of couples involved in first-trimester abortions in Canada found that abortion
can be highly distressful for both men and women. Researchers found that 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.” 19

(This page was originally posted on September 9, 2003 and last updated December 9, 2011.)

Carrie Gordon Earll is the Senior Policy Analyst for Bioethics at CitizenLink (an affiliate of Focus on the Family) and a fellow with the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

Story of Sharon Osbourne’s abortion, Sharon Unxpurgated, Jenny Johnston, Dec 18,
2004, Associated Newspapers, Ltd. (Warning: Interview includes profanity)
1 Warren Hern, Abortion Practices, (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1990),p. 175-193.
2 Brenda Major, et al., “Psychological Responses of Women After First- Trimester
Abortions
,” Archives of General Psychology,57 (August 2000): 777-784.
3 John Thorp, et al, “Long-term physical and psychological health consequences of
induced abortion: Review of the evidence
,” Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey,
January 2003, 58 (1): 67-79.
4 Weijin Zhou, et al., “Induced Abortion and Low Birth Weight in the Following Pregnancy,”
International Journal of Epidemiology,29 (1) (2000): 100-106; Weijin Zhou, et al.,
Induced Abortion and Subsequent Pregnancy Duration,” Obstetrics and Gynecology,Vol. 94,
No. 6 (1999): 948-53.
5 Anna Kalandidi, et al., “Induced Abortions, Contraceptive Practices, and Tobacco
Smoking as Risk Factors for Ectopic Pregnancy in Athens, Greece
,” British Journal of
Obstetrics and Gynecology,Vol. 98, No. 2 (1991): 207-13; Ann A. Levin, et al., “Ectopic
Pregnancy and Prior Induced Abortion
,” American Journal of Public Health,72 (March 1982):
253-256.
6 Ann A. Levin, “Association of Induced Abortion with Subsequent Pregnancy Loss,”
Journal of the American Medical Association,Vol. 243, No. 24 (1980): 2495-99. (Subscription required)
7 Kenneth Schultz, et al., “Measures to Prevent Cervical Injury During Suction
Curettage Abortion
,” The Lancet, Vol 321, Issue 8335, May 28, 1983: 1182-1185.
8 Shari Linn, et al., “The Relationship Between Induced Abortion and Outcome of
Subsequent Pregnancies
,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 146,
No. 2 (1983): 136-140.
9 Joel Brind, et al., “Induced Abortion as an Independent Risk Factor for Breast
Cancer: A Comprehensive Review and Meta-Analysis
,” Journal of Epidemiology and
Community Health, 50 (1996): 481-496. For more information on this topic, go to
http://www.abortionbreastcancer.com and http://www.bcpinstitute.org
10 Katrina Armstrong, et al., “Assessing the Risk of Breast Cancer,” New England
Journal of Medicine, Vol. 342, No. 8 (2000): 564-571. (Subscription required)
11 John Thorp, et al., “Long-term physical and psychological health consequences of
induced abortion: Review of the evidence
,” Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey,
January 2003, 58 (1): 67-79.
12 David Reardon, et al., “Abortion and Subsequent Substance Abuse,” American
Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Vol. 26, No. 1 (2000): 61-75.
13 Major, Archives of General Psychology, 2000.
14 Paul Dagg, “The Psychological Sequelae of Therapeutic Abortion—Denied and
Completed
,” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 148, No. 5 (1991): 583-584. (Subscription required)
15 J.R. Ashton, “The Psychosocial Outcome of Induced Abortion,” British Journal
of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 87 (December 1980): 1120-1122.
16 Hanna Soderberg, et al., “Emotional Distress Following Induced Abortion: A Study
of its Incidence and Determinants Among Abortees in Malno, Sweden
,” European Journal
of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Vol. 79, No. 2 (1998): 173-8.
17 Mika Gissler, et al., “Suicides After Pregnancy in Finland, 1987-94: Register
Linkage Study,”
British Medical Journal, 313 (1996): 1431-1434. 
18 Christopher Morgan, et al., “Mental health may deteriorate as a direct effect of induced abortion,” British Medical Journal, March 22, 1997, 314:902
19 Pierre Lauzon, et al., “Emotional distress among couples involved in first-trimester
induced abortions
,” Canadian Family Physician, October, 2000, 46:2033-2040.



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