Possible Adverse Effects

Women Want to Know About Abortion Risks: New Study Underscores Need for Informed Consent (JME, 7/06)

A new survey has found that women want to be thoroughly informed of all possible risks associated with elective medical procedures, and they generally want as much or more information when it comes to abortion.

The survey of 187 women seeking obstetric and gynecological services at a Wisconsin women's health clinic was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics in July…

The women were given a short survey in which they were asked to state their preferences for information about elective medical procedures. They ranked the degree of information they preferred regarding alternative treatments and complication rates, and rated the severity of different types of complications, ranging in severity from headaches to death.

The results showed that 95 percent of patients wished to be informed of all the risks of a procedure and 69 percent wanted to be informed of all alternative treatments, not just the alternatives preferred by their doctor.

Moreover, in their ranking of the seriousness of complications, mental health complications ranked as very serious, only slightly below the risk of death or heart disease. This finding may be especially important to the abortion debate since recent peer-reviewed studies have linked abortion to increased rates of mental health problems, such as suicidal behavior, clinical depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and sleep disorders. 

"Doctors should anticipate that most women desire information on every potential risk, even risks that doctors may judge to be less serious or inconsequentially rare, and they will generally consider this information to be relevant to their decisions regarding elective procedures," the authors wrote. 

Dr. David Reardon [dir, Elliot Institute, co-author of the study]: the survey "demonstrates that women have a high level of interest in being informed of any risk that is statistically associated with the procedure, including psychological risks.  It also reveals that while some experts may consider some associations, such as a 10 percent higher risk of breast cancer, as relatively unimportant, most women would consider it to be very important to their decision making process."

Reardon also said the study refutes the claim doctors should withhold information about  studies identifying abortion risks simply because the abortion provider personally believes that future studies may someday disprove the earlier findings. "Our survey shows that most women don't want doctors to screen which information they are told about risks," he said. "They want to judge the evidence for themselves. They clearly prefer to be fully informed about all possible complications, even if abortion providers insist that the causal links between abortion and these statistically linked complications have yet to be fully proven to the abortionist's satisfaction." 

[PK Coleman, DC Reardon, MB Lee, "Women's preferences for information and complication seriousness ratings related to elective medical procedures," Journal of Medical Ethics, 32:435-438 (2006); Elliot Institute, 29Aug06]