Abortion: How Safe is Safe?

By Lyn Smith 
stethescope-on-booksAbortion advocates frequently use the criterion, when discussing abortion, that they be "safe and legal". The question should be, "safe for whom"?  For the 100,000 Canadian babies aborted annually in Canada, there wasn't any safety factor, only certain death. So, the question now becomes does the word "safe" truly apply for the mothers whose pregnancies were ended by abortion?


Prior to 1969 abortions were not legal in Canada. With the liberalisation of the law in 1969, therapeutic abortions were permitted "if the continuation of the pregnancy would likely endanger the life or health of the mother." This, despite the numerous statements from physicians such as Dr. Everett Koop, M.D., former Surgeon General of the U.S., "...abortion as a necessity to save the life of the mother is so rare as to be non-existent."

Actually, the word "health" was never clarified and the definition formulated by the World Health Organization became a standard to justify abortion: "health is a state of emotional and social well being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity." Abortion proponent Dr. Alan Guttmacher said in 1987, "Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through any pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save, life."

In 1994 a total of 71,630 therapeutic induced abortions were reported for Canadian hospitals, 93.7% of which were done on women on an out-patient basis. Similarly, 33,287 non-therapeutic abortions were performed in clinics requiring about a two hour stay. In 1994, 3 out of every 10 abortions were clinic abortions.

It should be noted that unless there are immediate complications at the time of the induced abortion, there is never any long term follow-up of a woman's medical condition after her abortion. Nevertheless, the 1994 statistics indicate that in the case of hospital abortions, 771 women required subsequent medical treatment for one or more abortion complications which arose during their hospital visit. These hospital statistics are incomplete, as information is available for only 77% of the hospital abortions performed. The situation of non- information is even worse in the case of complications incurred during clinic abortions. No figures are provided, despite the fact that clinic abortions represent 32.3% of all abortions performed in Canada. Complications listed by Statistics Canada were: haemorrage, infection, laceration of the cervix, perforation of the uterus, retained products of the conception, death and other.

It is a fact that over 100 potential physical complications have been associated with abortion including chronic infection, haemorrhaging, and an inability to carry a subsequent pregnancy to term. We also know from women who have gone public about the aftermath of of abortion on their lives that there is long term psychological trauma: guilt, depression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, lowered self-esteem, hostility, insomnia, suicidal feelings, drug dependency and difficulties with family and sexual relationships. Such conditions cry out for the need to undertake in-depth and objective studies to determine the nature of any delayed reaction to abortion. We owe this much to Canadian women!

After the abortion law was struck down in 1988 the number of reported abortions rose from just over 70,000 in 1987 to 103,768 in 2003, including 149 abortions on Canadian women carried out in the U.S. Today one pregnancy in five ends in abortion and the number of repeat abortions is rising. Statistics Canada estimated that if the 1993 rate for first time abortions continued, one woman in three would undergo an abortion in her lifetime (34%). Abortion is having a major impact on women's lives and, it would seem, also on their health.

As far back as 1957 the scientific literature has reported a positive association between the termination of a first pregnancy by induced abortion and the increased risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers around the world have long acknowledged that women who carry their first baby to term reduce their risk for breast cancer by almost one-half. A women's first full term pregnancy initiates hormonal changes which permanently alter the structure of the breasts. If, however, there is a premature interruption of this pregnancy by an induced abortion in the first trimester, the maturation process is not completed, leaving the less stable transitional cells with a greater potential of becoming cancerous. Most abortions are done in the first trimester and 50% of abortions are done on women with no prior delivery.

The scientific literature indicates that women who abort their first pregnancy almost double their risk of breast cancer and repeat abortions, particularly without an intervening delivery, escalate the risk. Since one woman in nine will suffer from breast cancer during their life time, the necessity of compiling accurate medical records for any woman undergoing an abortion is obvious. The necessity of informing women of existing research which shows the positive association between induced abortion and an increased risk for developing breast cancer is imperative.

The word "safe," when applied to abortion, seems to be a misnomer.

Updated: July 10, 2006

Action Life Online Article

Last modified on Friday, 26 October 2012 13:04