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Complications from abortions are rare, study finds

Complications from abortions are rare, study finds
Creative Commons/Michael Coté
Each year, about 1.1 million women have an induced abortion in the United States.

Major health complications from abortions are rare, occurring in less than one quarter of one percent of the procedures, according to a study published online last week in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

That makes abortion safer than many other common medical procedures, including colonoscopies, say the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) researchers who conducted the study.

Abortions are also much, much safer than childbirth. Other research has shown that women are 14 times more likely to die from giving birth than from having an abortion.

Each year, about 1.1 million women have an induced abortion in the United States.

A longer follow-up

As the authors of this new study point out, understanding the complication rates for abortion is essential to ensure that women’s health is safeguarded. Past findings on this topic have been somewhat incomplete, partly because the studies didn’t always include follow-up data on the women after they returned home. Women must often travel long distances to undergo an abortion, so if a complication develops, it may be diagnosed at a medical facility other than where the abortion occurred.

This study addressed that problem. Its authors not only analyzed the immediate medical data related to 54,911 abortions conducted in California in 2009 and 2010, they also looked at the medical data for each woman in the six weeks after the abortion — in other words, after the women returned home.

The study found only 2.1 percent of those abortions resulted in any kind of complication, and most of those complications were minor. Minor complications included infections, bleeding, uterine perforations and incomplete abortions — medical problems that could be traced directly to the original abortion and that could be treated with medications or an outpatient procedure. Only 0.23 percent of the women who developed a complication required hospitalization, such as for surgery or a blood transfusion.

As a press statement released with the study point outs, the rate of serious complications from abortion is slightly lower than that reported for colonoscopies.

The highest rate of complications (5.2 percent) was among women who obtained medication abortions (in which prescription drugs, not surgery, are used to induce the abortion). Again, these complications were mostly minor and expected, say the researchers.

The vast majority of the women in the study had abortions during the first trimester or early in the second trimester of pregnancy. For that reason, the study’s authors say their findings shouldn’t be used to determine the complication rate among the small number of abortions that are performed later in pregnancy. (About 1.4 percent of all abortions in the United States are done after 20 weeks of gestation.)

An intention to inform 

The study did find a high rate (6.4 percent) of hospital emergency-room (ER) visits after abortion, although half of those visits were for medical issues not related to the abortion. This finding may reflect the fact that all the women in the study were enrolled in Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program for low-income families and individuals. As the researchers point out, Medi-Cal recipients are more likely to use the ER as their health-care provider of first resort when they feel sick.

Medi-Cal recipients also tend to have greater health risks than the general population — a factor that may mean, say the UCSF researchers, that the complication rate from abortions is overestimated in this study.

The researchers hope that this latest data will help inform future policy debates regarding abortion regulation in the United States.

“State legislatures have passed regulations such as ambulatory surgical center requirements (23 states), transfer agreement laws (eight states), and hospital admitting privileges requirements (13 states) with the stated intent to increase safety,” they write. “Given that in practice their ultimate effect often is the closure of abortion facilities, there is a need to consider the public health effect of these policies, weighing any theoretical incremental reduction in patient risk that may occur against any increases in risk that may occur with reduced access to abortion care.”

The study appears in Obstetrics & Gynecology’s January 2015 issue.

Comments (39)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/16/2014 - 09:47 am.


    “The researchers hope that this latest data will help inform future policy debates regarding abortion regulation in the United States.”

    It might if the policy debates actually concerned themselves with actual – you know – data and all that other sciencey-type stuff.

    Of course, data has nothing to do with this. The pushers of legislation more closely regulating when and where abortions can be performed have one agenda only, and that is to make abortions unavailable. Period.

    The researchers’ efforts are appreciated, but the legislators pushing their social engineering agendas aren’t going to be swayed by this data any more than they are by any of the other science that doesn’t agree with their religiously-based value systems that they continue trying to get codified into law that restricts everyone.

    • Submitted by Chris Farmer-Lies on 12/20/2014 - 11:38 am.


      As a long-time clinic escort, I have a front-row seat to the anti-abortion morning show. They’ve been flat-out lying about the risks of abortion for decades. They did it this morning at my clinic. They will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/22/2014 - 10:33 am.

        Thank You for being a clinic escort. I’ve done this at the old location in Highland, and I remember how difficult some of the protesters could be, especially with the targeted lies and misinformation. For instance, they would tell teenage girls that abortions caused breast cancer and would also require a double-mastectomy. They also opened a ‘crisis-clinic’ on the same block, where they would show women false ultrasounds of fetuses at much later stages of development (say, a late second-tri ultrasound for a someone in the 6th week of pregnancy).

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/16/2014 - 10:29 am.

    With all due respect, I seriously doubt the study was as comprehensive as it needed to be.

    Here’s some people that have testimony that directly contradicts the authors of the study and this post.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/16/2014 - 11:52 am.

    Data, indeed

    Pat Berg has pretty much nailed this one. The debate has been raging for a good many years now, and I’ve seen no evidence that policy-makers, especially those opposed to abortion, pay much attention to facts and “…all that other sciencey-type stuff.”

    And in that context, with all due respect, I would guess that no study, ever, will be comprehensive enough to persuade Mr. Swift and others opposed to the notion that a woman should be able to decide whether or not she’s going to have a baby. The opposition isn’t based on facts or “sciencey” stuff. It’s based on theology, or prejudice, or a combination of those factors with other emotional and psychological factors.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/16/2014 - 01:11 pm.

    The death of a child

    is apparently not a complication. To a liberal, abortions are a convenience. To a conservative, they’re a matter of life and death.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/16/2014 - 01:26 pm.


      “The vast majority of the women in the study had abortions during the first trimester or early in the second trimester of pregnancy. For that reason, the study’s authors say their findings shouldn’t be used to determine the complication rate among the small number of abortions that are performed later in pregnancy.”

      I’m sorry, but this early in the pregnancy, we are not talking about a “child”.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 12/16/2014 - 01:45 pm.

      A fetus is not a child.

      any more than the two I cracked into a pan this morning are chickens.

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/17/2014 - 03:59 pm.

        And an egg is not a fetus

        At least the eggs we eat have not been fertilized, so what your eating is actually the chicken’s… well, you know.

        Your point still stands.

    • Submitted by Michael Friedman on 12/16/2014 - 02:07 pm.


      And for libertarians who are not hypocritical, government should cease all abortion regulations or prohibitions because there is no societal consensus that regulations are needed or that the act itself is a crime.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/16/2014 - 03:34 pm.

        Unless you’re a libertarian

        who believes the unborn child has rights that need protecting too, which is the only valid role of government.

        • Submitted by Brian Simon on 12/16/2014 - 05:51 pm.

          circling back

          When does this alleged child achieve this right? Is it when the supermarket enters the egg? Two cells, drifting in the uterus…. or is it when they implant in the uterine wall? Which begs the question… do we then need to investigate all failed pregnancies as homicides? Because the human body – often against the will of the, err, ‘owner’ – rejects the polyp well before it becomes remotely childlike. But of course, discussing all that requires a passing knowledge of that nasty science thing, so let’s just paint the world in black and white & pretend a book of mythology holds all the answers to life’s questions.

          • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/16/2014 - 09:41 pm.


            is the beginning of life. That’s a sciency thing too. Look it up.

            • Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/17/2014 - 07:28 am.


              Bacteria are alive, too. Do you also propose we outlaw antibiotics?

            • Submitted by Theo Kozel on 12/22/2014 - 09:41 am.

              This is a falsehood

              Most discussions about politics can’t be reduced to flat out true or false statements as the issues are complex and often subjective. However, any proposition that ‘science has defined life as beginning at conception’ can objectively be judged true or false, and it is objectively false.

              Marco Rubio included this exact same falsehood in a speech not too long ago, and that such a high profile individual could get away it is emblematic of the American right’s descent into subjective tribalism.

        • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 12/23/2014 - 07:35 pm.

          Oh yes

          Republicans are pro life until after the child is born. Then no healthcare for the child no matter what.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/16/2014 - 06:16 pm.

    To somewhat repeat…

    The study in question is not about whether an abortion is a good thing or not. It is about complications from abortion and the rate of such complications. A common theme among abortion opponents is that abortion provides or adds undue risk to the health of the mother. That, along with the usual anti-abortion rhetoric, is the primary rationale for the passage in recent years of laws in several states that restrict a woman’s right to an abortion to certain time periods, kinds of facilities, and to certain kinds of practitioners. These restrictions are touted as having, as their primary motivation, the health of the mother.

    The study may not be a direct response to those laws described above, but it’s certainly directly applicable to those same laws. What the study shows is that abortion is significantly more safe than delivery of a baby, so the concern of those legislators (and their supporters in the general public) over the health of the mother is either misplaced and unnecessary, or, to phrase it politely, a lie.

    As Pat Berg has pointed out, the plural of “anecdote” is not data. Moreover, equally-grotesque stories – and far more of them – could be told about baby deliveries gone awry. Meanwhile, Mr. Tester, never one to let facts get in the way of a sweeping stereotype based on nothing more than his own prejudice, suggests that “…to a liberal, abortions are a convenience.” As is often the case, Mr. Tester knows not whereof he speaks. My mother bore eight children, and also had an abortion. It is not within Mr. Tester’s purview to pass judgment on her choices.

  6. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 12/16/2014 - 08:42 pm.

    Is one quarter of one percent of 1.1 million

    2750 women? Per year. And now with free contraception from the ACA.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/17/2014 - 08:19 am.

    “1.4 percent of all abortions in the United States are done after 20 weeks of gestation.”

    According to the CDC, 730,322 women aborted their children in 2011 (latest year reported)

    That is more than 10,000 fully identifiable human beings destroyed. I’m speechless.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/17/2014 - 08:46 am.

      How about sticking with the point of the article?

      From the article: “The vast majority of the women in the study had abortions during the first trimester or early in the second trimester of pregnancy. For that reason, the study’s authors say their findings shouldn’t be used to determine the complication rate among the small number of abortions that are performed later in pregnancy.”

      Stop trying to hijack the discussion. (Although if you’re speechless, I guess that means we won’t hear any more from you on this.)

      The point of the article is a discussion of the low rate of complications when an abortion is performed EARLY in a pregnancy. Bringing up the subject of later term abortions within this particular discussion is simply an attempt to smokescreen the point being made.

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/17/2014 - 04:39 pm.

        Agreed on the threadjacking- and another point

        I would also point out that the increased use of contraceptives IS lowering the teen birth rate AND the abortion rate… and as we all know, access to contraceptives (and even basic sexual education) is something that conservatives typically want to restrict. We actually have evidence that proves this correlation, and yet conservatives refuse to acknowledge this.

        “Their most significant finding, however, was that abortion rates dropped far below those of the general U.S. population, at 9.7 per 1,000 teens compared to 41.5 per 1,000 teens. This data shows that when teen girls are shown how to properly care for their bodies, and are given the tools to do so, abortion rates go down; and subsequently, risk of the health and social consequences of undergoing one.”

  8. Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/22/2014 - 07:54 pm.

    An incomplete study

    A complete study would have at least acknowledged that there are psychological complications of abortion. Addressing physical complications as if they are the only legitimate ones indicates a bias, a conclusion looking for a study to back it.

    When given a questionnaire, women who aborted their baby may check the socially acceptable “relief” as their primary reaction. While this may be true initially, deeper feelings like anxiety, depression, quilt, feeling of loss, exploitation, and anger may emerge. Perhaps, not a questionnaire, but with someone they trust.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/23/2014 - 10:14 am.

      To be REALLY complete . . . .

      To be REALLY complete, the study you propose should also include followup for unwanted pregnancies which were allowed to go to term. This study should include psychological followups both for women who then gave the infant up for adoption as well as women who kept the child and the possible psychological, economic, social, and relationship difficulties which may have ensued. Both for the child and the parent(s).

      You see, once an unwanted pregnancy occurs, there are rarely any uncomplicated answers.

      So, why is it again that conservatives are so deadset against contraception?

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/23/2014 - 12:10 pm.

        “Conservatives deadset against contraception?”

        While an oft parroted liberal talking point, it just isn’t so.

        An excerpt from this Politico article, “Republicans and Democrats were pretty unified on the issue: 87 percent of GOP respondents approved of contraception, versus 90 percent of Democrats.”

        Read more:

        I was suggesting a study that was more complete, but not “REALLY” complete.

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/23/2014 - 01:12 pm.


          Those polled were voters, not party leaders. We all know that GOP leaders are paragons of knowledge when it comes to women’s bodies and virtues.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 12/23/2014 - 12:34 pm.

      and the same “psychological complications”

      can be evident in many new mothers as well…’s called postpartum depression. Or perhaps your own bias towards data is showing…a conclusion ignoring a study to back it?

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/24/2014 - 10:09 am.

        Same ones?

        The guilt a mother may feel five years or ten years following an abortion will not be experienced had the mother given birth and life to that child.

  9. Submitted by Theo Kozel on 12/23/2014 - 10:28 am.

    A completely valid study

    The parameters of the study are completely valid and in line with other medical studies of its kind. Psychological studies rationally should be (and have been) done separately. Regardless of personal bias, this study indicates that physical complications of abortion are exceedingly rare and that alone is a significant piece of information given the widespread misinformation campaigns that take place on this topic.

  10. Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/23/2014 - 12:19 pm.

    Valid and Complete

    Not the same thing. The narrower the scope of a study, the easier valid is achieved.

    To talk of physical complications without mention of psychological complications is incomplete.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/23/2014 - 01:22 pm.

      “psychological complications” are already validated

      A brief Google search, using the term “Scholarly articles for psychological complications of abortion” yields many results. The scope of study you seek has already been documented:

      Psychological Responses of Women After First-Trimester Abortion:

      “Results Two years postabortion, 301 (72%) of 418 women were satisfied with their decision; 306 (69%) of 441 said they would have the abortion again; 315 (72%) of 440 reported more benefit than harm from their abortion; and 308 (80%) of 386 were not depressed. Six (1%) of 442 reported posttraumatic stress disorder. Depression decreased and self-esteem increased from preabortion to postabortion, but negative emotions increased and decision satisfaction decreased over time. Prepregnancy history of depression was a risk factor for depression, lower self-esteem, and more negative abortion-specific outcomes 2 years postabortion. Younger age and having more children preabortion also predicted more negative abortion evaluations. Conclusions: Most women do not experience psychological problems or regret their abortion 2 years postabortion, but some do. Those who do tend to be women with a prior history of depression.”

      Psychological Responses After Abortion

      “”A review of methodologically sound studies of the pyschological responses of U.S. Women after they obtained legal, nonrestrictive abortions indicates that distress is generally greatest before the abortion adn that the incidence of severe negative responses is low. Factors associated with increased risk of negative response are consistent with those reported in research of other stressful life events.”

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/23/2014 - 03:06 pm.

        Case Closed?

        This article, which sources medical journals, provides information regarding both physical and psychological affects of abortion:

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 01/02/2015 - 08:12 am.

        December 30, 2014 Rolling Stone

        In the latest edition of Rolling Stone, which hits the newsstands today, Nicki Minaj opens up about her teenage abortion, admitting it has “haunted me all my life,”.

        Sixteen years postabortion and counting.

        Regarding the polling of women with first-trimester abortions, provided above, only 69% said they would do it again. If anything that number overstates, as most people like to affirm their decisions. Over 30% would not do it again. For those having second and third-trimester abortions, that number is arguably higher. They may have made under-informed decisions, a feature of abortion-on-demand.

  11. Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/24/2014 - 09:26 am.

    Black Lives Matter

    Abortion is decimating black communites, stealing their young disproportionately. 1,876 is the number of black babies, pre-born and partially born, that are lost to abortion on the average day in America.

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