Abortion Is Less Risky For Women Than Childbirth, But Is Anyone Surprised?


Welcome to Impact Factor, your weekly commentary
on a breaking medical study. I’m Dr. F. Perry Wilson. This week, we are not going to put to rest
the abortion debate in the US. But we will put to rest one thread of argument
that has never been well-supported by data. The argument is that abortion poses significant
health risks to the mother. According to the most rigorous study yet of
the long-term physical effects of abortion vs. childbirth, appearing in the Annals of
Internal Medicine, that particular line of argument should be discarded from the broader
national dialogue. Let’s take a look. There’s something special about the design
of the “Turnaway” study. Rather than comparing women who receive an
abortion to all other women, as many observational studies do, it compares women who seek an
abortion to women who are denied an abortion, typically on the basis of later gestational
age. For example, if a clinic had a gestational
age limit of 22 weeks, the study would compare women in the clinic who received an abortion
just under that limit (20-22 weeks) to women who were just over that limit (21-23 weeks)
and were thus denied an abortion. This is not a perfect control group, but it’s
about the best we could hope for, and the baseline characteristics of the women in these
two groups were quite similar. The women were followed for 5 years to allow
the researchers, led by Dr. Lauren Ralph of UCSF to evaluate their long-term physical
health outcomes. Why the focus on physical health? Here’s Dr. Ralph:
So her team set out to examine the evidence. By every metric, the women who received an
abortion had similar physical health outcomes to those who were refused one. For a few relevant outcomes, like self-rated
health, women who received an abortion fared better. Prior studies in the same cohort examining
short-term physical outcomes, and short- and long-term mental health showed a similar pattern. Women who received an abortion fared the same
or better as women who were denied one. In other words, abortion is a medical procedure
which, like all procedures has risks, but childbirth seems to have greater risks. In fact, a startling piece of data in this
study is that two of the 163 women who were denied an abortion died due to complications
of pregnancy or childbirth. Will this study move the needle on the national
debate? Here’s Dr. Ralph again:
As I said up front, we never had good data to support the argument that abortion causes
long-term physical harm to women. And though this has never been the primary
argument against abortion, we now have good-quality data to suggest that no such harm exists.

One Reply to “Abortion Is Less Risky For Women Than Childbirth, But Is Anyone Surprised?”

  1. I know this is going to sound very one sided but gee, it doesn't seem very 'pro life' to let women die by rejecting what could've been a lifesaving procedure. Sorry, it just made me very sad hearing about those two women who died due to their childbirths. I enjoyed the informative video nonetheless.

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