Denial of Access to Abortion Causes Health Problems

Having an abortion is not detrimental to women’s health, but being denied access to one is.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 11 — When a woman is denied access to an abortion, research has shown that she may face threats to her mental or financial well-being. The study was recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“There’s a good deal of research that shows, in the short term, having an abortion is much safer than childbirth, but there isn’t much research over the long-term,” says study co-author Lauren Ralph, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California.

“Our study demonstrates that having an abortion is not detrimental to women’s health, but being denied access to a wanted one likely is.”

Women who were denied abortions were more likely than those who had them to report chronic diseases, persistent pain and poor overall health five years later.

The project tracked the self-reported physical health of about 900 women who sought abortions at U.S. clinics between 2008 and 2010. The researchers purposely looked for women who were close to or slightly beyond the gestational limit for performing abortions so they could collect data about women who were turned away or obtained later-term abortions, as well as those who received more common first-trimester abortions.

328 women had a first-trimester abortion, 383 had a second-trimester abortion and 163 were turned away. Each woman provided information about her pain, chronic conditions and overall health when the study began, and twice a year for the next five years.

By looking only at women who wanted abortions, the researchers were able to lessen the potentially confounding factors of socioeconomic and health disparities, since women who choose to have a baby tend to be healthier and wealthier than those who opt for abortion.

About 20 percent of women who had a first-trimester abortion described their pre-pregnancy health as fair or poor, compared to 17.5 percent of those who had a second-trimester abortion and about 18 percent of those who were turned away.

After the five years of follow-up, about 20 percent of women who had an abortion at either stage of pregnancy reported fair or poor health—but among women who went on to give birth, the share of those reporting fair or poor health had risen to 27 percent.

Women who gave birth also reported slightly higher rates of chronic conditions including headaches, joint pain, asthma and high cholesterol. Two women who ended up giving birth also died from maternal causes, which “could have been avoided had these women had access to the health care they had sought,” Ralph says.

These disparities can largely be attributed to the inherent risks associated with pregnancy and birth. Complications can include both relatively rare, life-threatening issues, such as excessive bleeding during delivery, and chronic conditions including perinatal depression, gestational diabetes and gestational hypertension.

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