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Physical Complications for Surgical Abortions

Despite the use of local anesthesia, a full 97% of women having abortions reported experiencing pain during the procedure, which more than a third described as "intense," "severe" or "very severe." Compared to other pains, researchers have rated the pain from abortion as more painful than a bone fracture, about the same as cancer pain, though not as painful as an amputation.

Studies also reveal that younger women tend to find abortion more painful than do older adults, and that patients typically found abortion more painful than their doctors or counselors expected. The use of more powerful general anesthetics can reduce the pain, but significantly increases the risk of cervical injury or uterine perforation.

Complications such as these are common, as are bleeding, hemorrhage, laceration of the cervix, menstrual disturbance, inflammation of the reproductive organs, bladder or bowel perforation, and serious infection.

Even more harmful long term physical complications from abortion may surface later. For example, overzealous currettage can damage the lining of the uterus and lead to permanent infertility. Overall, women who have abortions face an increased risk of ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and a more than doubled risk of future sterility. Perhaps most important of all, the risk of these sorts of complications, along with risks of future miscarriage, increase with each subsequent abortion.

The particular type and severity of complications depend a great deal on the experience of the abortionist and the particular abortion method used. Given that most abortions are performed at abortion clinics rather than by a woman’s regular ob-gyn, the doctor performing the abortion is likely to be a stranger of whose skill and experience a woman knows very little. Such things as an inadequate gynecologic examination prior to the operation, the carelessness of the abortionist, or the retention of fetal and placental tissue can all bring on complications. These kinds of complications can usually be treated and generally subside (though not always), but few women ever return to the clinics for crucial post-operative examinations.

There is strong evidence that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. A study of more than 1,800 women appearing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1994 found that overall, women having abortions increased their risk of getting breast cancer before age 45 by 50%. For women under 18 with no previous pregnancies, having an abortion after the 8th week increased the risk of breast cancer 800%. Women with a family history of breast cancer fared even worse. All 12 women participating in the study who had abortions before 18 and had a family history of breast cancer themselves got cancer before age 45.

Of course, death of the mother is the most serious of all complications. Over 200 women have died from legal abortions since 1973. The risk of death increases according to the duration of pregnancy and the complexity of the abortion technique employed.

* In most of the discussions below, the abortions referred to are surgical abortions. Chemical methods being relatively new and rare, most studies over the past twenty or so years usually tracked only complications for surgical methods. Complication rates for chemical techniques may be somewhat different; for example, while there is little risk of perforation and laceration with a chemical method, pain and bleeding will probably exceed that of surgical methods. Chemical methods also bring unique risks of their own.

Printed with permission from National Right to Life (www.nrlc.org ).

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