Surgical abortion is an intrusive procedure that violently interrupts a natural biological process. Possible complications include hemorrhage, infection, cervical damage, uterine perforation, and retained fetal or placental tissue.
Chemical or "medication" (drug-induced) abortion—using mifepristone, or RU486, together with a prostaglandin, usually misoprostol—poses its own risks to the health of pregnant women. A total of 2,207 "adverse events" linked to RU486 were reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from September 2000 (when the drug was approved) through April 2011. Of these, 14 women died; 612 women were hospitalized; 339 women bled so much that they required transfusions; and 256 women developed infections. Only a fraction of complications are typically reported to the FDA. A large 2009 study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology determined that chemical abortions led to adverse events in 20 percent of cases—almost four times the rate of immediate complications as surgical abortions.
Abortion can hinder future reproductive success. Research overwhelmingly shows that it increases the risk of future preterm birth, which threatens the lives and health of newborn children. A 2009 meta-analysis of 22 different studies, for example, found a 36 percent increased risk of preterm birth after one abortion. The risk of premature delivery in subsequent pregnancies increases with each additional abortion.
Abortion can pose other long-term risks. A major 1996 meta-analysis of 23 independent studies found a 30 percent increase in breast cancer risk among post-abortive women. More recently, in 2013, a landmark meta-analysis of 36 different studies in China—published in Cancer Causes and Control—found that abortion increases a woman's risk of breast cancer by 44 percent. The increased risk jumped to 76 percent after two or more abortions and 89 percent after three or more.
In addition to its risks to a woman's physical health, abortion can have negative psycho-social consequences. A 2011 meta-analysis in the British Journal of Psychiatry found an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems among women who had undergone abortions. These problems included anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and suicidal behavior. A large-scale Finnish study found that the suicide rate following abortion was nearly six times greater than the suicide rate following childbirth.
Many women have spoken up about their abortions and the negative consequences they have endured. The Silent No More Awareness Campaign is a nationwide organization of women and men telling their stories of abortion regret. "I did my best to move on [after having an abortion], but couldn't," says one Minnesota woman. "The abortion didn't solve anything; it just created more problems. I felt paralyzed. … I was changed forever when I had the abortion."
Healing is possible for all who have been involved in abortion. Helpful resources are available online at websites such as www.abortionrecovery.org, www.silentnomoreawareness.org, and www.afterabortion.org.
Of course, not all women suffer as a result of abortion, but many do. The risks to physical and psychological well-being should not simply be ignored. Both unborn children and their mothers deserve our compassion and support.
Legalized abortion is often touted as beneficial to women, but a wealth of medical and psychological evidence suggests otherwise. Abortion poses both short- and long-term risks to the physical health of women. It can also seriously affect mental health. Women should be made aware of these dangers of abortion.