By Clarke Forsythe and Dr. Donna Harrison
Thirty-five years after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade, women still do not know all of its health risks. The reasons for this are varied — a seriously inadequate abortion-reporting program at both the state and federal levels; obstruction by state and federal courts, as well as by abortion supporters such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights; and political resistance or indifference at the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at state health departments. These obstacles make it difficult for researchers to obtain data in the United States, but this has been offset in recent years by medical studies from countries that do a better job of tracking data. Looking at the U.S. and international data combined show several well-documented medical risks from abortion. However, a January report by the Guttmacher Institute, formerly the research arm of Planned Parenthood, denies any significant health risk from abortion.
Here are four of the report’s claims that don’t tell the whole story.
The risk of short-term complications from abortion is “minimal.” In fact, the report claims “fewer than 0.3 percent of abortion patients experience a complication that requires hospitalization.”
This claim reveals only part of the picture, like a badly cropped snapshot. There is a vast difference between abortion “complications that require hospitalization” and abortion complications. Many serious complications are not necessarily handled by being admitted to a hospital, but rather by emergency-room procedures, which are considered outpatient. These may include serious interventions such as dilation and curettage (D&C), transfusions and intravenous antibiotics. Furthermore, Guttmacher’s statistics come from voluntary reporting by abortionists, and there are few legal requirements to report complications. In addition, few abortionists see or care for their own complications, because the local emergency room doctor or local obstetrician/gynecologist on call at the hospital handles most abortion complications. Mifepristone (RU486), which accounts for almost a third of early abortions, is particularly hazardous. There have been more than 1,300 “adverse events” or complications reported to the Food and Drug Administration. But because the FDA reporting system is completely voluntary, it is estimated that only 1 percent to 10 percent of actual “adverse events” ever get reported. The most serious hazards of RU486 are massive bleeding and life-threatening infections. As documented in studies in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy. Also, the drug is a powerful suppressor of glucocorticoid receptors, found all over the body but especially important in the innate immune system, which is responsible for fighting off infections as well as recognizing and destroying cancer cells throughout the body. RU486 is also a powerful suppressor of progesterone receptors, found throughout a woman’s brain and reproductive organs.
First-trimester abortions pose virtually no long-term risk.
Beyond short-term complications like hemorrhage and infection, there are also well-documented long-term complications of abortion, such as the increased risk of premature labor, the increased risk of placenta previa (a complication that causes excessive bleeding), the increased risk of suicide and violent death after abortion, as documented by Mika Gissler in the European Journal of Public Health. There are more than 49 studies worldwide documenting an increased risk of preterm birth. These are documented in a 2003 study in the Journal of the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons and in an October 2007 study in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine (JRM). Induced abortion increases preterm birth by 130 percent to 1,200 percent. The greatest increase is in the very preterm babies. Preterm birth, in turn, increases the risk of cerebral palsy by 38 times. The October 2007 study in the JRM found that $1.2 billion in health care is spent annually in the United States to treat women and children from the effects of preterm birth after abortion.
There’s no association between abortion and breast cancer.
The Guttmacher report relies on U.S. “panels” that have dismissed any link, which is curious given how political such panels can be. In the days of controversy over the relationship between tobacco and lung cancer, numerous governmental panels also concluded that no relationship existed. What Guttmacher fails to say is that numerous studies in the medical literature do show an association between induced abortion and subsequent breast cancer. A 1989 study by Holly Howe in the International Journal of Epidemiology found a 50 percent increased risk of breast cancer after abortion. In a 1994 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, NCI researcher Janet Daling, who is personally “pro-choice,” found that “among women who had been pregnant at least once, the risk of breast cancer in those who had experienced an induced abortion was 50 percent higher than among other women.” The study in the January 2003 issue of the Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey (OGS) concluded that if an 18-year-old finds herself pregnant for the first time, her decision to abort almost doubles her risk of breast cancer. But Daling’s most alarming finding was that teenagers with a family history of breast cancer who procure an abortion face a risk of breast cancer that is incalculably high. All 12 young women in her study with a family history were diagnosed with breast cancer by age 45.
Abortion poses no hazard to a women’s mental health.
National studies from Finland, Australia and the United States have found a two- to seven-fold increased incidence of death from suicide, homicide and violent death in women who have had abortions compared with women who have carried to term. A 2005 Australian study in the Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry concluded that “young women who aborted were at a higher risk for various mental health problems compared to women who carried to term or who were never pregnant.” The strategy by abortion proponents has been pretty simple: If you prevent data from being collected, researchers have nothing to analyze and no risks to report. Women hear nothing but good news. But the cause for life in America will not make much progress until the health risks of abortion are fully documented and fully reported to women before abortion. The answer is part public policy, public education, and medical education. States should require that women get full, detailed information about the medical risks. Women must be informed so that they can personally ask their physicians. And women who have had abortions need to ask their doctors about future medical screening.
Clarke Forsythe is the Senior Councel of Americans United for Life. Dr. Donna Harrison is a Michigan obstetrician/gynecologist and President-Elect of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists
This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) March 2, 2008. Used by Permission.