Select Page

The Health Risks of Abortion
by Mary Cunningham Agee


"If only I had known."

This is the haunting lament that I hear almost daily on the toll free crisis hotline of the Nurturing Network. Since founding this charitable organization almost twenty years ago, I have been invited by literally thousands of frightened, wounded women to understand the painful circumstances of their troubled lives.

Let me assure you that they do not call to express satisfaction in their "reproductive freedom" to terminate the life of their unborn child.

They call desperately seeking immediate, practical assistance in order to avoid an abortion procedure that almost half of our clients have already experienced in a prior pregnancy.

Therefore, my perspective on the topic of abortion is as detached as that of a medic on the front line of an active combat zone.

I have come to know this topic up close and in living color through the tragic life stories of women who believed the lies hidden behind the marketing rhetoric about this allegedly safe and easy procedure.

Almost all of them would tell you that if they could erase just one decision in their lives, it would be the irreversible one that ended the life of their unborn child.

Their grief is difficult to capture here in a few words. It is always tinged with an unmistakable sense of sadness born of the realization that they have been betrayed. Betrayed by the boyfriend, the parent, the friend, or the employer who chooses to see her unborn child as an inconvenience or even a threat to their relationship with her.

These women poignantly describe the panic and loneliness that inevitably sets in when those whom she has trusted create impossible trade‑offs for her. How can she help but feel tricked and manipulated when those who should be caring for her maternal needs prefer, instead, to wash their hands of the death of her child and her innocence?

None of these accomplices, of course, will ever live out the permanent consequences of an abortion decision the way she will; and so her sense of abandonment and isolation is profound.

While I am tempted to share unforgettable anecdotes from our client files, an objective review of a few facts might be just as persuasive.

The following data has not been gleaned from biased sources, but rather, from medical and social scientists with no ax to grind. Their rather startling research findings only confirm what our common sense and the clients of the Nurturing Network have said for years: Abortion is far from being a safe procedure.

It was, after all, upon this false assumption about the safety of this procedure that the Supreme Court in 1973 struck down federal, state and local laws regulating its practice. The premise of their decision was that the advances of modern medicine had removed the need for any regulation of this procedure since it was now "relatively safe."

Clearly, the facts no longer support this assumption and, in fact, expose the glaring error at the root of our country's national policy toward abortion. The following data shows that abortion is not only unsafe but actually dangerous to the health of women–both physically and psychologically. This procedure, therefore, should at the very least be regulated if not outright prohibited.

The data was made readily available in a research report generated by the Elliot Institute. While I cannot include all of the findings listed on their web site, I would like to acknowledge them for providing such well‑documented statistical information. I will draw heavily upon this source for the statistical part of my presentation.

National statistics on abortion show that 10 percent of women who undergo this procedure suffer from immediate complications.[1]

Over one hundred different complications have been associated with induced abortion.

"Minor" complications include: infections, bleeding, fevers, chronic abdominal pain, gastro‑intestinal disturbances, vomiting, and Rh Sensitization.

The nine most common "major" complications are infection, excessive bleeding, embolism, ripping or perforation of the uterus, anesthesia complications, convulsions, hemorrhage, cervical injury and endotoxic shock.[2]

Can you imagine what an honest warning label might read like for such a procedure?

While the immediate complications of abortion are usually treatable, they frequently lead to even more serious long‑term reproductive damage.

For example, one common outcome of abortion related infections is sterility. Researchers have reported that as many as 5 percent of aborted women are left inadvertently sterile.[3] The risk of sterility is even greater for women who have a venereal disease at the time of an abortion.[4]

In addition to the risk of sterility, women who acquire post‑abortal infections are five to eight times more likely to experience ectopic pregnancies.[5]

Between 1970 and 1983, the rate of ectopic pregnancies in the United States rose four‑fold.[6] Twelve percent of all maternal deaths are due to ectopic pregnancy.[7] Other countries who have legalized abortion have also seen the same dramatic rise in ectopic pregnancies.[8]

Cervical damage is another leading cause of long term complications following abortion. According to one hospital study, 12.5 percent of first trimester abortions required stitching for cervical lacerations.[9] Another study found that lacerations occurred in 22 percent of aborted women.[10] And women under the age of seventeen have been found to face twice the normal risk of suffering cervical damage.[11]

Whether microscopic or macroscopic in nature, the cervical damage which results during abortion frequently results in a permanent weakening of the cervix.

This weakening may result in an "incompetent cervix," a serious medic

al condition in any pregnancy that often results in miscarriage or premature birth. According to one study, symptoms related to cervical incompetence were found among 75 percent of women who underwent forced dilation for abortion.[12]

To put this risk in context, cervical damage from previously induced abortions significantly increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and complications of labor during later pregnancies by 300 to 500 percent.[13]

The reproductive risks of abortion are especially acute for women who abort their first pregnancy.

A major study of first pregnancy abortions found that almost half, or 48 percent, of women experienced abortion‑related complications in later pregnancies. Women in this group experienced 2.3 miscarriages for every one live birth.[14] And another researcher found that among teenagers who aborted their first pregnancies, 66 percent subsequently experienced miscarriages or premature birth of their second pregnancy.[15]

When this risk of increased pregnancy loss is projected on the population as a whole, it is estimated that abortive women lose 100,000 "wanted" babies each year due to latent abortion morbidity.[16]

In addition, premature births, complications of labor, and abnormal development of the placenta all can result from latent abortion morbidity and each are leading causes of handicaps among newborns.[17]

Considering premature deliveries alone, it is estimated that latent abortion morbidity results in 3000 cases of acquired cerebral palsy among newborns each year.[18] And, finally, since these pregnancy problems pose a threat to the health of the mothers too, women who have had abortions face a 58 percent greater risk of dying during a later pregnancy.[19]

It is unconscionable for any of us to remain silent in the face of scientific evidence that undeniably points to the health risks of this procedure for women. It is time for those in a position of policy‑making power to correct the errors of the past and protect the next generation of women from further exploitation and damage.

Mary C. Agee is President and Founder of the Nurturing Network. She delivered this speech at the Library of Congress in Washington on April 17, 2002, commemorating FRC's new publication, Building a Culture of Life: A Call to Respect Human Dignity in American Life.

1. Frank, et al., "Induced Abortion Operations and Their Early Sequelae," Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners 35 (April 1985): 175‑180.
2. David C. Reardon, Aborted Women‑Silent No More (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1987).
3. Arthur and Margaret Wynn, "Some Consequences of Induced Abortion to Children Born Subsequently," British Medical Journal (March 3, 1973); and Foundation for Education and Research in Child Bearing (London, 1972).
4. J. C. Willke, Abortion: Questions and Answers (Cincinnati, Hayes Publishing Co., 1985).
5. Chin Sik Chung, et al. Effects of Induced Abortion on Subsequent Reproductive Function and Pregnancy Outcome, University of Hawaii (Honolulu, 1981).
6. H. K. Atrash, et. Al., "Ectopic Pregnancy in the U.S., 1970‑1983" Morbidity and Mortaligy Weekly Report, Center for Disease Control, vol.35, no. 2ss9.29ss.
7. "Annual Ectopic Totals Rose Steadily in 1970's But Mortality Fell," Family Planning Perspectives 15 (1983):85.
8. Thomas W. Hilgers, "The Medical Hazards of Legally Induced Abortion," in Hilgers and Horan, eds, Abortion and Social Justice (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1972).
9. J. C. Wilke, Handbook on Abortion (Cincinnati, Hayes Publishing Co., 1979).
10. "Abortion in Hawaii," Family Planning Perspectives 5 (Winter 1973): Table 8.
11. Kenneth F. Schulz, et al., "Measures to Prevent Cervical Injury During Suction Curettage Abortion," The Lancet (May 28, 1983), pp. 1182‑1184.
12. Ren, "Cervical Incompetence–Aetiology and Management," Medical Journal of Australia 60 (December 29, 1973).
13. Harlap, S., and Davies, A. M., "Late Sequelae of Induced Abortion: Complications and Outcome of Pregnancy and Labor," American Journal of Epidemiology 102 (1975); Hogue, "Impact of Abortion on Subsequent Fecundity," Clinics in Obstetrics and Gynecology (March 1986).
14. S. Lembrych, "Fertility Problems Following Aborted First Pregnancy," eds. Hilgers, et al., New Perspectives on Human Abortion (Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1981).
15. J. K. Russel, "Sexual Activity and Its Consequences in the Teenager," Clinics in ObandGyn 1 (December, 1974): 683‑698.
16. David C. Reardon, Aborted Women‑Silent No More (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1987).
17. Hogue, C. J. R., Cates, W., and Tietze, C., "Impact of Vacuum Aspiration Abortion on Future Childbearing: A Review," Family Planning Perspectives (May‑June 1983).
18. David C. Reardon, Aborted Women‑Silent No More.
19. Ibid.

FRC Family Policy
Volume No.: 15
Issue No.: 4
 The Health Risks of Abortion —

 1.  When There's Little 'Care' in Women's Health Care: How Lack of Abortion Clinic Regulation Harms Women
 2.  The Health Risks of Abortion  (above)
 3.  Women Deserve Better: Abortion, Still Legal, but Not Safe or Rare
 4.  In Search of Treatments Through The Cloning Process: How the Hunt for Eggs Exploits Women

[Family Research Council]