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.
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 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.