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Article

Study finds no evidence that having an abortion leads to negative health outcomes

Previous studies show that, in the short term, childbirth is associated with more health risks for women than abortion. But less is known about the long term health of women who have abortions as compared to those who give birth. In our study, we asked 874 women from the Turnaway Study about their health – including chronic pain, diagnoses of chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, and overall self-rated health – every six months for five years. We compared health outcomes between women who had a first-trimester abortion, a second-trimester abortion, or who gave birth. We also collected information on deaths from public records and family members if women died.

Overall, our study found that the physical health of women who have a first or second trimester abortion is no worse than those who gave birth. Instead, across several measures of chronic pain and overall self-rated health, women who give birth after being denied a wanted abortion fare worse than women who receive a wanted abortion. For example, after five years, more women who gave birth reported fair or poor health (27%) compared with women who had a first-trimester (20%) or second-trimester (21%) abortion. Women denied a wanted abortion also reported more headaches/migraines and joint pain. Two maternal deaths, or deaths due to pregnancy related causes, occurred; both to women denied a wanted abortion. There were no outcomes where women having an abortion did worse.

We also compared the health of women who received an abortion in the first trimester to those who received an abortion in the second trimester and found that long-term physical health outcomes between groups were similar. This finding is reassuring about the long term health effects of abortion at later gestations.

Although some argue that having an abortion is harmful to women, our data do not support this assumption. Our data provide evidence that having an abortion is not detrimental to a person’s health, but being denied a wanted abortion has long-lasting adverse health effects.

The study, “Self-reported physical health of women who did and did not terminate pregnancy after seeking abortion services: A cohort study,” is available from Annals of Internal Medicine. You can also read a summary of the study by Nicoletta Lanese on the UCSF News & Media website.

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Banner photo: © Aura Orozco-Fuentes

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ANSIRH is a program within the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health and is a part of UCSF's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences.

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