Abortion safer than giving birth

A study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology suggests that getting a legal abortion is much safer than actually giving birth. Researchers found that women were about 14 times more likely to die during or after giving birth to a live baby than to die from complications of an abortion.

These findings seem to contradict some state laws that suggest abortions are high-risk procedures. In the report, the researchers write that the findings aren't surprising given that women are pregnant for a lot longer when they decide to have a baby and therefore have more time to develop complications.

The researchers combined government data on live births and pregnancy, and abortion-related deaths, with estimates on legal abortions performed in the United States from the Guttmacher Institute, with offices in New York and Washington, DC, and conducts sexual and reproductive health research and education.

An induced abortion, like any other medical procedure, requires obtaining informed consent from the woman, said Bryna Harwood, MD, an OB-GYN from the University of Illinois in Chicago, who didn't participate in the new research. That informed consent means women understand and acknowledge the risks of their different options.

What makes the issue complicated, Harwood added, is when the law interferes and requires doctors to state information that isn't always balanced or medically sound, usually exaggerating the risk of abortion.

Between 1998 and 2005, one woman died during childbirth for every 11,000 or so babies born, says the research from Elizabeth Raymond, MD, senior medical associate at Gynuity Health Projects, a research and technical assistance organization in New York City, and David Grimes, MD, scientist, of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill. That number compared to one woman of every 167,000 who died from a legal abortion.

The researchers also cited a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which found that, from 1998 to 2001, the most common complications associated with pregnancy, including high blood pressure, urinary tract infections, and mental health conditions, happened more often in women who had a live birth than those who had an abortion.

Harwood said previous studies have also shown the safety of legal abortions. Most abortions typically have been done surgically, she told Reuters Health1. But since the abortion drug mifepristone was approved for use in the United States in 2000, the number of medically-induced abortions has been on the rise. Both methods are now considered equally safe, she said, with the main risk, though very small, coming from medication- and procedure-related infections.

Depending on the state, however, doctors legally must go over the risks of abortion in language that might be misleading, with skewed lists of possible complications, researchers said. Others require a 24-hour waiting period between the counseling and the abortion.

Harwood said that laws regarding what's said between the doctor and a woman seeking an abortion often hamper doctors' attempts to inform patients in a balanced way.

"It is certainly an impediment to have the state dictate my informed consent process beyond the usual," Harwood told Reuters Health1. "Abortion care and pregnancy care should not really be any different than consenting people for any other procedure."


  1. Pittman G. Abortion safer than giving birth: study. Reuters, Jan. 23, 2012: http://reut.rs/yxdyWX.