Induced abortion has a negative impact on the mental and physical health of women who have undergone the procedure. Various complications during induced abortion have the potential to put a women’s immediate physical health at risk. Much of this immediate risk is associated with fetal matter left in the uterus following the abortion procedure. These “retained products of conception” may lead to infection and damage of the uterus and cervix (Stubblefield, Carr-Ellis & Borgatta, 2004) which, as we will see below, additionally carries implications for long term health. Perforation of the uterus is seen to occur approximately 19.8 times for every 1000 induced abortions (Ring-Cassidy & Gentles, 2002). When perforation of the ascending uterine artery occurs, symptoms may include“severe pain, a broad ligament hematoma, and intra-abdominal bleeding” (Stubblefield, Carr-Ellis & Borgatta, 2004). Pain levels during induced abortion may not be accurately described to a pre-abortive woman, one study found that 97% of post-abortive women reported experiencing pain and of these, 61% indicated that the pain experienced was moderate to severe (Ring-Cassidy & Gentles, 2002).
The effects of induced abortion do not end after a woman’s initial recovery; it is evident that a post-abortive woman may experience consequences of her abortion later in her life as well. Breast cancer is a significantly greater risk for a woman who has undergone induced abortion, with post abortive women 30% more likely to develop breast cancer than women who have not experienced abortion (Ring-Cassidy & Gentles, 2002). This is largely due to the effects of estrogen following termination of a pregnancy, though it is interesting to note that women experiencing spontaneous abortion do not experience this elevated risk for developing breast cancer (Ring-Cassidy & Gentles, 2002). Infection following induced abortion is not simply a short term, resolvable issue; when a pelvic infection causes scarring of the fallopian tubes we see an increased risk of later ectopic pregnancy (Ring-Cassidy & Gentles, 2002). Abbas & Akram (2002) agree that induced abortion is a leading cause of ectopic pregnancy and report that 10-15% of 1st trimester maternal mortality is due to ectopic pregnancy. It has also been observed that number of abortions correlates positively with likelihood of later ectopic pregnancy (Ring-Cassidy & Gentles, 2002). During induced abortion from the second trimester forth, cervical dilation is often required; in cases of dilation to eleven millimetres one study found that two thirds of women experienced decreased cervical resistance which has the potential to impact later pregnancies in some cases leading to spontaneous abortion (Ring-Cassidy & Gentles, 2002). Here we merely touch on a few of the many long term impacts induced abortion has on a woman’s physical health. Unfortunately women in difficult pregnancy situations are often focused on the immediate impact a child will have on their present life. These physical influences are not easily avoided or treated and should be a serious consideration in a woman’s decision to abort her pregnancy.
Various mental health concerns are associated with induced abortion, including anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. One revealing study shows that 65% of the American post-abortive women surveyed reported multiple symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The statistics for each of these symptoms are interesting as well, for example 50% of American women in this study reported an avoidance of thinking or talking about their abortion and 47% experienced unwanted memories of their abortion (Rue et al., 2004). In regards to generalized anxiety disorder, it is evident that post-abortive women experience higher rates than do those who carry their unintended pregnancy to term (Cougle, Reardon, & Coleman, 2005). Cognitive avoidance of the abortion is hypothesized to play a role in these increased rates of generalized anxiety disorder (Cougle, Reardon, & Coleman, 2005).
Depression and suicide appear to be major influences on the lives of post-abortive women. Fergussen et al. found a statistically significant increase in a young women’s likelihood of depression after induced abortion while effectively adjusting for a wide range of confounds (2006). It has also been noted that married post-abortive women are more likely to be at high risk for depression than women who carried unintended pregnancies to term (Reardon, 2002). Statistics on post abortion suicide rates are truly saddening, with Finland data showing post-abortive women approximately twice as likely to commit suicide within a year of their pregnancy as women having gone through a miscarriage, and almost six times as likely as women who gave birth (Ring-Cassidy & Gentles, 2002). The mental health risks of abortion are particularly startling. These are problems that are not easily resolved and will likely reoccur throughout the lifetime of a post-abortive woman.
Induced abortion has the potential to cause serious mental and physical damage to women’s health. Short and long term physical ailments, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, depression and suicide are all risks for women who have experienced the termination of a pregnancy. Looking at probability and statistical significance is important in determining exactly how detrimental abortion can be to a woman’s health. At some point though, we must recognize that numbers are not the most important factor. Every single woman is valuable and thus deserves to be protected and properly informed of all possible health risks associated with induced abortion.