Many supporters of legal abortion claim that abortion is safer than childbirth. This factoid is frequently repeated by a number of mainstream-media outlets. However, the data to back up this claim are, to put it charitably, misleading. This is for several reasons. First, the CDC and other health organizations invest few resources in tracking abortion-related deaths. Second, many of these studies end their analysis shortly after the birth or abortion takes place. Data from a longer timespan would likely tell a different story. There is a strong consensus that giving birth reduces the risk of breast cancer. Similarly there is good evidence that submitting to an abortion increases the risk of suicide.
Indeed, this month the Medical Science Monitor published a study by David Reardon and Priscilla K. Coleman which uses long-term data to demonstrate that childbirth is, in fact, safer than abortion. Reardon and Coleman used comprehensive public-health data from Denmark to analyze mortality rates for nearly half a million women who had their first pregnancies between 1980 and 2004. In their analysis, the authors held constant both the year of each woman’s pregnancy and the woman’s age at the time she became pregnant.
Overall, Reardon and Coleman found very strong evidence that giving birth is in fact safer than obtaining an abortion. The mortality rate for the women who gave birth was significantly lower than the mortality rate for women who obtained abortions. This finding was robust as it held true for every time period studied — from one year to ten years after the pregnancy. Overall, during the course of the entire study period, women who had early abortions had mortality rates that were almost 80 percent higher than women who carried their pregnancy to term. Interestingly, women who had late-term abortions had significantly higher mortality rates than those who had abortions earlier in pregnancy.
There is a growing body of research which documents the public-health risks of abortion. There are studies which show that abortion increases the risk of a variety of mental-health problems including anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, substance abuse, and suicide. Furthermore, recent research from Chile and Ireland where abortion is restricted indicate that these countries have lower maternal mortality rates than their respective peer countries. This study nicely adds to this body of research. Hopefully, the comprehensive and thorough nature of this study will convince media outlets and public-health professionals to more seriously consider the health risks involved with abortion.