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abortion, evidence based medicine, war on women

Abortion doesn’t hurt women, but lies about it do

Apparently there a march for “life” coming up on January 25th. I use “life” rather loosely because marching for life doesn’t happen in front of big tobacco or the companies that use trans-fatty acids. But I digress. One of the big slogans at these marches is that abortion “hurts women,” you know, to show that anti-abortion protesters are really in it just to protect the little ladies from themselves.

Nothing but a lie

Nothing but a lie

But abortion doesn’t hurt women. Here are the facts about abortion, risks, and harm:

The risk of death in pregnancy is greater than the risk of death from an abortion. If 100,000 women decide to keep their pregnancy 8.8 will die. If 100,000 women have an abortion 0.6 will die. Pregnancy is 14 times more “unsafe” than legal abortion. If you follow the anti-abortion credo that “abortion hurts women”, then pregnancy hurts them even more.

The risk of a major complication from an abortion is 0.5%, about the same as a colonoscopy, so it’s a little unfair to single out abortion if you’re all worried about complication rates. If abortion hurts women, then so does colonoscopy and diagnostic laparoscopies (two procedures that share similar rates of major complications).

For the truly literal there is minor discomfort associated with an abortion as with any procedure. That is no more hurtful than the pain of a dental procedure, an IUD insertion, or having a colposcopy. If abortion “hurts” women in this most concrete sense, then every single procedure does as well. Abortion is less painful than a vaginal delivery or a c-section, so if abortion hurts women then childbirth hurts them even more.

Abortion does not increase the risk of depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, or eating disorders.

Abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer. A well powered study followed over 25,000 women for an average of 12 years and no link between abortion and breast cancer was found. This is one of many studied that has found no link between the two. Poor studies with recall bias and spurious claims do not undo this work. Bad science hurts women.

What does hurt women?

Lies, promoted by anti-choice politicians and groups like the American Association of Pro-Life OB/GYNs (sorry, I wont link to their atrocity of a site that makes a mockery of evidence-based medicine), that find their way into laws. What kind of lies?

11 states have laws that require doctors lie to patients about links between abortion and mental health issues, sequelae that have been disproven by science (see the above links). Apparently, women have no constitutional right to get evidenced-based care from their providers. Forcing doctors to tell women about a non-existent risk hurts them, because ignoring science is hurtful. It also could cause unecessary worry and  lead to guilt. Some women who have an abortion will get breast cancer as 33% of American women will have an abortion at some point and 1 in 8 women will eventually develop breast cancer. There is no cause and effect, it’s just having an abortion and getting breast cancer are both not rare events. This is also true for depression. Imagine the pain a women with breast cancer or depression must feel if she previously received a lie about cause and effect wrapped up as counseling? I’d say that’s hurtful.

26 states have mandatory delays. This adds to the expense of the procedure in time off of work or need to hire additional child care, never mind the cost of going twice if the clinic is far away.

There are also the laws about admitting privileges. The false assurance that it’s only for safety when in fact these laws do nothing to make abortion safer, but hurt women via clinic closures. In Texas, some women have to drive 120 miles and that distance is only going to get longer as more and more clinics close.

And then there are ultrasound laws. 24 states have laws regarding ultrasound and abortion, 12 requiring an ultrasound (they aren’t always needed medically) and 5 states require that the women view the image (although in 2 states the laws are on hold pending legal action). Ultrasounds raise the cost of the procedure and are nothing but punitive as A) viewing an ultrasound does not change the mind of women who have a high decision certainly regarding abortion (which is 85% of women seeking an abortion) and B) among those who have a medium or low decision certainly about abortion viewing the image changed the minds of only 7.4% of women. Should women be able to see an ultrasound image if they want? Of course, but that’s just good medicine and it shouldn’t be legislated.

Mandatory delays, ultrasound laws, and admitting privileges all reduce access and raise the cost, which contributes to delays as women make increasing complicated plans for travel and need more time to raise money not only for the procedure itself, but for the travel arrangements.  Even though abortion is still safer than pregnancy, with each passing week the risk of complications rises and so these laws directly hurt women.

Abortion doesn’t hurt women, but lies about it most certainly do.

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Discussion

17 thoughts on “Abortion doesn’t hurt women, but lies about it do

  1. Great post, Jen. I’d add that mainstream columnists like Barbara Kay in Canada who promulgate the lies also hurt women.

    http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/12/11/barbara-kay-hard-truths-about-abortion/

    Posted by fern hill | January 19, 2014, 11:51 am
  2. _Thank you_ for calling out those signs as the dangerously wrong nonsense they are. I saw them along Market St. on Tuesday. I don’t understand how the city can justify for selling ad space for lies about medicine (private billboards are one thing; city-owned lampposts are another). Perhaps the argument would be “anybody can buy ad space”, which still rings hollow when compared to lies that lead to people dying…

    Posted by Michael W Busch | January 19, 2014, 2:23 pm
  3. Brilliant, you always make such sense when you write. Sharing it for all to read. Thank you.

    Posted by Elaine D | January 20, 2014, 3:28 am
  4. This is an excellent article! I hope it gets lots of shares.

    Posted by Angelique | January 20, 2014, 8:18 am
  5. Question: When I shared this on Facebook, someone replied that “most women regret abortion.” I seriously doubt this is true, at least judging from the people I know, but I wondered if there are any studies about this I could cite in my reply. (By the way, don’t search for anything abortion-related on Bing; the top results are largely anti-abortion and NONE are from credible sources. This is in great contrast to the results I get when I look up any other medical procedure or topic.)

    Posted by Angelique | January 20, 2014, 2:29 pm
  6. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Dr. Jen Gunter is devastating as usual. We make these points often, but she brings the valuable physician’s perspective to this deeply frustrating issue.

    Posted by womenriseupnow | January 21, 2014, 9:21 am
  7. Yes, yes, yes. I’m an old Labor and Delivery nurse…..old enough to have cared for patients who had gotten illegal abortions, and were horribly sick from the infection (one died because she came to the hospital 4 days after the ‘procedure’….it was too long – she was afraid ‘someone’ would find out about the abortion – and there was no way we could wipe out all those bacteria – there was no system that wasn’t involved). A
    nd, old enough to have assisted physicians in performing abortions – that were clean and safe. I’ll take clean and safe any day —and thanks Jen – you’re 100% right again.
    (Just wondering….when will these politicians realize that if they make abortion illegal –that is all they’re doing: making it illegal. Women will still get them – and they will go back to dying from them.)

    Posted by Melissa Barthold | January 21, 2014, 10:31 am
  8. Great post! I didn’t know a lot of that stuff and it’s pretty infuriating. To add to the summary of crazy anti-choice laws, I live in Michigan where they recently passed legislation that requires women to pay extra for abortion coverage with their insurance plans.

    Posted by thecuriousalouette | January 21, 2014, 6:02 pm
  9. Abortion is a choice best made by the parties concerned that is the woman and man. Having laws to delay such things make the matter worse. With every day passing the risk becomes greater and greater and this is what really hurt.

    many advocacy sites want to take the decision instead of the two partners who are most concerned! Thanks for this nice article.

    Posted by Michelle Kealle | March 11, 2014, 3:00 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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