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10 False and Exaggerated Claims About the Risks of Abortion

Abortion opponents often pretend that concern about women's safety and health is what's behind their opposition to legal abortion. As a result, most anti-choice web sites include a page or two making false claims about various dire risks and complications of abortion, supposedly backed up with references from medical journals and sources. Anti-choice legislation often requires women to be given the same inaccurate information.

I've read several such lists of claims, but I have an advantage that most women considering an abortion don't: I am familiar with the medical literature and the facts about abortion. Consequently, I'm able to debunk these preposterous, absurd "pro-life" claims and back up what I say with accurate, pertinent references. And after reading this, so can you.

Here are ten false claims about the risks and complications of abortion, taken directly from anti-choice websites.

False claim #1: Dangerous bleeding and hemorrhage are common after legal abortion. "Between 1-out-of-7 to 1-out-of-100 women require a blood transfusion due to bleeding from an abortion."

The truth: Excessive bleeding, hemorrhage and transfusion are extremely rare.

Fact: In one study of 170,000 first-trimester abortions, 12 women required hospitalization for vaginal bleeding, or 1 in 14,666. None required transfusion. (1)

Fact: In another study of 82,030 women who had abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, 172 required transfusion, or 1 in 500. Most of those were as a result of second-trimester abortions, which represent only 12% of US abortions. (2)

Fact: Women who don't have abortions stay pregnant and ordinarily give birth. Among women who deliver vaginally, 4% (1 in 25) experience obstetrical hemorrhage, defined as 10% loss of blood volume or need for transfusion. In one study of 30,000 deliveries 2.6% of women were given at least one unit of blood at delivery (1 in 38). In cesarean deliveries the need for transfusion is as high as 8% (1 in 12). Obstetrical hemorrhage accounts for 3 in 10 maternal deaths. (3)

  • False claim #2: Cervical tears are common and result in future miscarriages. "LACERATION OF THE CERVIX: About 1-out-of-20 women suffer this during an abortion. This causes you to have nearly a 50/50 chance of miscarrying in your next pregnancy if it is not treated properly during that pregnancy. A high incidence of cervical damage from the abortion procedure has raised the incidence of miscarriage in aborted women to 30-40%."

     

  • The truth: Tiny, microscopic tears may be common in abortion, but they do not lead to miscarriage in later pregnancies.
    Fact: Serious tears are rare; in the study of 170,000 abortions, 1 woman in 9,444 had a cervical tear requiring suturing. (4)

    Fact: Women who have suction curettage abortions are not more likely to miscarry later on. According to the leading obstetrical textbook, Williams Obstetrics, medical experts say of "Impact on Future Pregnancies: Vacuum aspiration for a first pregnancy results in no increased incidence of midtrimester spontaneous abortions, preterm deliveries, or low-birthweight infants in subsequent pregnancies when compared to primigravid controls" {women pregnant for the first time}. (5)

    Fact: All women who give birth experience cervical tearing. Williams Obstetrics says, "Cervical lacerations up to 2 cm [almost one inch] must be regarded as inevitable in childbirth. Such tears heal rapidly and are rarely the source of any difficulty." (5)

  • False claim #3: Uterine perforations (punctures) are common and dangerous. "Punching a hole in the uterus occurs between 1-out-of-40 to 1-out-of-400 abortions. This almost always causes peritonitis similar to having a ruptured appendix."

     

  • The truth: Uterine perforations probably do happen at that range of frequency, but they are rarely noticed and almost never dangerous.
    Fact: In the study of 170,000 abortions, 1 woman in 10,625 was hospitalized for a known uterine perforation. None of these perforations required hysterectomy or resulted in damage to any adjacent organs. None caused peritonitis. (6)

    Fact: Another study of 7,114 women who had had first-trimester abortions and were then examined internally found a higher rate of uterine perforation than previously suspected at 19.8 per 1000 procedures, or 1 in 50. Since none of these resulted in complications, including peritonitis, the authors recommended no treatment for the majority of known or suspected uterine perforations. (7)

    Fact: Among American women who give birth, 22% will have a uterine perforation big enough to pull a baby through; that is, a cesarean section (1 in 4 or 5). Of these, on average 6% will experience infection. Puerperal peritonitis is more common with cesarean. (8)

  • False claim #4: Legal abortion often results in infection. "Mild fever and sometimes death occurs when there is an infection from an abortion. This happens anywhere from 1-in-4 abortions to 1-in-50 abortions."

     

  • The truth: Even mild fever is a rare complication of legal abortion, and death from infection almost never happens when an abortion is legally performed.
    Fact: The risk of mild fever following an abortion was 1 in 216 in the study of 170,000 abortions. The risk of sepsis, or serious infection, was 1 in 4,722. No women died. (9)

    Fact: In the study of 82,000 women, 1 in 500 had a fever of 38 degrees or greater for 3 or more days. No women died. (10)

    Fact: The incidence of uterine infection (metritis) requiring treatment following uncomplicated vaginal delivery is 1.3% (1 in 77). After a cesarean or a complicated delivery anywhere from 1 in 12 to 1 in 2 women must be treated for metritis. Other infections are also more common following childbirth than abortion, and account for 3.5% of maternal deaths. (11)

    Fact: Infection is a common aftermath of illegal abortion, and is a leading cause of complications, hospitalizations, and women's deaths wherever abortion is a crime. (12)

  • False claim #5: Legal abortions often result in infertility or sterility. "You may become sterile so that you can never get pregnant again. This happens in 1-out-of-20 to 1-out-of-50 abortions."

     

  • The truth: Today's abortion techniques do not cause fertility or sterility.
    Fact: Williams Obstetrics says, summing up current research, "Fertility is not altered by an elective abortion. The only possible exception is the small risk from pelvic infection." Women are usually given antibiotics at the time of abortion to prevent this. (13)

    Fact: Infection and subsequent sterility is a common result of illegal abortion. (13)