Get the facts: abortion isn’t harmful to women

Did you know that abortion is one of the safest and most commonly performed surgeries in Australia [1] ? Or that in developed countries, abortion at any gestation is safer than childbirth [2] ?

There’s still a whole array of misbeliefs and mistruths about abortion which tend to arise during any debate about law or access. The idea of abortion being harmful or dangerous for women is a common one. Certainly this used to be the case, when abortion was largely self-induced or attempted, or carried out by untrained and unskilled operators, using whatever was to hand (in fact, some experts believe that protecting women from unscrupulous and dangerous backyard abortion providers was the reason abortion was criminalised in the first place). However, it’s no longer the situation here in Australia. The argument that abortion causes physical and/or mental harm to women is flatly contradicted by the evidence, and the longevity of this myth is more a result of successful anti-abortion propaganda than because it’s a fact.

In Australia, where abortions are performed by highly qualified health care professionals in very hygienic conditions, a pregnancy termination is one of the safest medical procedures and complications are rare [3].

Campaigns and organisations making claims about the serious harm caused by abortion distort research and often make false or intentionally misleading claims about abortion.

The three most often used myths in misinformation campaigns are that an abortion will affect a woman’s future fertility, that it causes breast cancer and that there are long-lasting psychological impacts of abortion [4].

Extensive evidence exists to show none of these are true.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (UK) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists state that “women who have an uncomplicated termination are not at an increased risk of being infertile in the future.” [5]

Organisations who reject a link between abortion and breast cancer include the World Health Organisation [6],  the Australian Medical Association [7], the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists [8], the Australian Cancer Council [9], the American Cancer Society [10], the Breast Cancer Network of Australia [11], the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre (US) [12], and the National Cancer Institute (US) [13].

‘Post Abortion Syndrome’ is a term used by the anti-choice lobby but has not been widely accepted; the term is not recognised by the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association as a condition, nor is it found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases.

The American Psychological Association’s Taskforce on Mental Health and Abortion reviewed 20 years of research and studies into the psychological effects of abortion in 2008 and found that:

“[T]he prevalence of mental health problems observed among women in the United States who had a single, legal, first-trimester abortion for non-therapeutic reasons as consistent with normative rates of comparable mental health problems in the general population of women in the United States.” [14]

References:

[1] Abortion procedures – surgical. Fact sheet by the Better Health Channel from the Victorian State Government, May 2012. Online at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/abortion-procedures-surgical.

[2] See for example EG Raymond EG, DA Grimes “The comparative safety of legal induced abortion and childbirth in the United States.” Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2012 Feb;119(2 Pt 1):215-9. Available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22270271#.

[3] Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems World Health Organisation (2nd ed.), Geneva 2012 p21. Available online at http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/unsafe_abortion/9789241548434/en/

[4] See for example the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s Law of Abortion: Final Report Melbourne 2008, Chapter 8, p117, athttp://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au/all-projects/abortion. See also ‘Abortion: Did you know?’ on the website of Cherish Life (formerly known as Queensland Right To Life Association) at http://www.cherishlife.org.au/Resource-Areas/Abortion/85

[5] The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Termination of Pregnancy: A resource for health professionals November 2005. Online at http://www.ranzcog.edu.au/editions/doc_view/480-termination-of-pregnancy-a-resource-for-health-professionals.html

[6] World Health Organisation Induced abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer Fact Sheet 240, June 2000. Reproduced on the Australian Women’s Health Network website at http://awhn.org.au/abortion-and-breast-cancer-policy/

[7] ‘AMA attacks Eric Abetz comments linking abortion to breast cancer’ The Guardian Australia, 8 August 2014. Online at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/08/ama-attacks-eric-abetz-comments-linking-abortion-to-breast-cancer

[8] Briefing note: Scientific information on abortion Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (United Kingdom), January 2008. Online at https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/news/campaigns-and-opinions/human-fertilisation-and-embryology-bill/briefing-note-scientific-information-on-abortion/

[9] Cancer Council Australia Fact Sheet Breast cancer. Available online at http://www.cancer.org.au/aboutcancer/cancertypes/breastcancer.htm.

[10] Is abortion linked to breast cancer? Fact sheet by American Cancer Society, June 2014. Online at http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/moreinformation/is-abortion-linked-to-breast-cancer

[11] Myths about breast cancer Fact sheet by the Breast Cancer Network of Australia. Online at https://www.bcna.org.au/breast-health-awareness/myths-about-breast-cancer/

[12] National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre. Breast cancer risk factors: a review of the evidence. National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, Surry Hills, NSW, 2009. Available online at http://canceraustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/breast-cancer-risk-factors-review-evidence/pdf/rfrw-breast-cancer-risk-factors-a-review-of-the-evidence_1.15.pdf

[13] National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet Abortion, Miscarriage and Breast Cancer Risk. Available online athttp://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/abortion-miscarriage-risk.

[14] Report of the Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. American Psychological Association, Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. Washington, 2008. Available online at http://www.apa.org/pi/wpo/mental-health-abortion-report.pdf.

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