Study suggests women requesting abortions should be screened for abuse

Women undergoing a second or subsequent abortion are more likely to have experienced physical or sexual abuse, says a recent study published in the journal of the Canadian Medical Association.

Researchers say the findings show that these women should be screened for a history of abuse when they present themselves at health centers for an abortion. They say proper counseling for such abuse could help avert future abortions.

The Canadian study examined the responses of 1,127 women who went to a regional center in southwestern Ontario, between August 1998 and May 1999, for an abortion.

Of these, 769 (68.2 percent) were undergoing a first abortion, 260 (23.1 percent) a second abortion, and 98 (8.7 percent) a third or subsequent abortion. The women were young; the mean age was 23.7. Most were white (86 percent) and born in Canada (85 percent).

Of the women requesting their first abortion, 181 (24 percent) reported a major conflict with the man involved in the pregnancy. Seventy-three (30 percent) of those seeking a second abortion reported a major conflict, and 34 (36 percent) women seeking a subsequent abortion reported the same thing.

Most of the women (90 percent) had used contraception in the past, and at the time of the current conception 60 percent were using condoms and 40 percent were using an oral contraceptive. Nearly 20 percent said they sometimes could not afford to buy birth control products.

Women undergoing a second or subsequent abortion were older. They were more likely to have given birth and to have had a sexually transmitted disease. They were poorer and more likely to have been abused their lives. They also were more likely to have been born outside Canada and to be black or of Middle Eastern ethnicity.

"These results emphasize the need for screening for a current or past history of physical or sexual abuse at the time of presentation for abortion,” researchers wrote. “Such screening could result in offers of referral and counseling … and could potentially help avert a future abortion."

In an accompanying commentary, Dr. Susan Phillips from the Department of Family Medicine at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont., said the study reinforces the consistent findings of two decades of international research.

A recent British survey found that 35.1 percent of women seeking an abortion had experienced abuse from a partner at some time and 6.6 percent lived in fear. In the United States, 40 percent of women who seek abortions report abuse and are likely to cite relationship problems as the reason for the abortion.

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