How Safe Is Abortion In The US, And What Are The Risks?

Forty-five years after the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, abortion still remains one of the most fiercely debated subjects in the United States. While a majority of the public (nearly 57%) expressed support for legal abortion options in a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center, critics claim that apparent health risks can affect women who opt to terminate their pregnancy. 

To dissect the arguments, the following questions arise: What is the state of abortion in the country? How is the quality of treatment being compromised? Are there any potential health consequences? Scientific studies and health experts weigh in.

Legal abortions in the U.S. are safe and effective:

In a recent landmark study, the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine has found that abortions in the U.S. have no long-term consequences on women's physical and mental health. The report, titled 'The Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the United States', conducted a comprehensive review of four major methods of abortion — medication, aspiration, dilation and evacuation, and induction.

Researchers found that about 90% of all abortions happen within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and the complications of all abortions are rare. Previous studies have suggested that women are 14 times more likely to die during childbirth than from an abortion.

The quality of abortion is state-dependent:

The other major takeaway from the same report is that the quality of the procedure is dependent on the state. Certain state regulations prohibit qualified professionals from performing abortions or delay the procedure for patients. 

"There are policies that mandate clinically unnecessary services like pre-abortion ultrasounds, separate inpatient counseling. There are required waiting periods," says Dr. Ned Calonge, panel co-chair of the University of Colorado. The report notes that such delays can put the patient at greater risk of an adverse event.

Providers may even be required to give statements suggesting that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer or mental illness, despite the lack of valid scientific evidence to prove it. State-issued pamphlets in Texas drew widespread criticism for such inaccuracies. Calonge stresses that abortions "do not increase the risk of breast cancer and abortions have no effect on future mental health issues including depression, anxiety or PTSD."

Major health consequences are extremely rare, mostly tied to repeat procedures:

Most comprehensive studies suggest that major complications from abortions are rare, occurring in less than one-fourth of one percent of procedures, deemed a much lower risk than having your wisdom teeth removed. 

"In very rare circumstances, an abortion can cause damage to the cervix or uterus," explains Dr. Jennifer Wider, M.D., adding that repeat surgical abortions might increase the risk of abnormal implantation of the placenta.

According to NHS Choices, pain and vaginal bleeding after the procedure is normal and will gradually disappear. In some cases, some of the pregnancy may remain in the womb or an infection may occur in the womb. However, both these cases are treatable. There have been no proven adverse effects on fertility unless the cervix is weakened over time from multiple surgical abortions.

Studies have also shown that women who were denied abortions are more likely to experience health problems than women who were able to obtain them. In the long-term, it appears that the most dangerous risk of abortion comes from restricting the access to it.