Abortion safety remains a widely debated topic in the health care community. However, abortions, when performed by a medical professional in a medical setting, carry a risk for death that is 10 times as low as childbirth. A recent study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco has found that major complications associated with an abortion are extremely rare and occur about as frequently as complications associated with a colonoscopy.

"Our study had very complete follow-up data on all of the women in it, and we still found a very low complication rate," Dr. Ushma Upadhyay, an assistant professor at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), said in a statement. "Abortion is very safe as currently performed, which calls into question the need for additional regulations that purportedly aim to improve safety."

Upadhyay and her colleagues looked for complications six weeks after an abortion for over 50,000 women who were enrolled in the Medi-Cal fee-for-service program from 2009 to 2010. California and 16 other states are the first to cover abortion and follow-up care for women enrolled in Medicaid. While 97 percent of abortions included in this study were performed in an outpatient clinic or doctor’s office and three percent in hospitals, post-abortion care was generally performed at a local emergency department.

Major complications, defined as conditions which required hospitalization, surgery, or a blood transfusion, occurred in 126 abortions out of 54,911. Minor complications occurred in less than two percent of abortions (1,030) within the six weeks of follow-up. Women in their 30s were at a higher risk for complications related to an abortion compared to women in their 20s. Complications were also more common in medication abortions than in aspiration or surgical abortions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 730,322 legal induced abortions were reported in 2011, the majority of which occurred among women in their 20s. Researchers involved with this study hope these findings will dissuade state legislatures who have already passed laws limiting access to abortion. Limiting access to legitimate abortion sources, such as outpatient facilities, doctor’s offices, and hospitals, will only force women into traveling farther or inducing their own abortion, which often leads to serious risks.

Source: Weitz T, Anderson P, Upadhyay U, et al. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2014.