Abortion Is Safer In The United States Than Giving Birth

abortionNot too long ago, I asked the question “Abortions In The US Are Safer Than Ever, So Why Isn’t Childbirth?” This was following word that telemedicine abortions were now safe and legal, allowing women to use the drug RU-486 to terminate their pregnancies and then teleconference with a doctor for counseling. Yet, considering all the risks that birthing women face in our western world, from unnecessary c-section complications to delivering babies too early, I wondered if it was possible to have this pronounced a gap in women’s reproductive care. Newsflash to those just tuning in but the United States ranked in at only 39th in maternal mortality rate in 2010 – and c-sections are contributing to that mortality rate.

So if we have the science to allow women to abort their pregnancies without a doctor’s direct supervision, then why aren’t women birthing more safely with less complications? A new study in Reuters confirms my suspicions as more than mere musings however, declaring that abortion actually is safer than childbirth in the United States — and that’s clearly a problem for women everywhere.

Researchers discovered that women were about 14 times more likely to die during or after giving birth than to die from legal abortion complications.

Dr. Anne Davis from Columbia University Medical Center in New York told Reuters that obviously women shouldn’t take this bit of news as reason to go an abortion spree :

“We wouldn’t tell people, ‘Don’t have a baby because it’s safer to have an abortion’ — that’s ridiculous,” she told Reuters Health. “We’re trying to help women who are having all reproductive experiences know what to expect.”

Doctors found that between 1998 and 2005, one woman died during childbirth for every 11,000 or so babies born compared with one woman of every 167,000 who died from a legal abortion. Researchers also found that from 1998 to 2001, the most run of the mill complications associated with pregnancy (high blood pressure, urinary tract infections and mental health conditions) were more frequent in women who gave birth than those who had abortions.

Reuters also reports that traditionally, abortions were a surgical procedure. But after 2000, when a drug called mifepristone became available, surgical abortions have became considerably less needed. However, both forms of abortion are “equally safe” with a very small risk for infection if performed legally.

These findings put a wrench in the new practice, in some states, of having doctors read aloud from a script brimming with factual inaccuracies about abortion risk and complications. Reuters reports:

Davis agreed that state-mandated discussions have no place in abortion counseling. She said she was glad to see the new report, which helps dispel “misinformation” and “lies” about abortion risks included in some state laws — such as the idea that abortion is linked to cancer.

“Women who are having abortions are having a safe, common surgical procedure or taking medication for the same reason,” she told Reuters Health

Misconceptions about abortion and abortion risks aside, this study also exposes the massive lapses in our maternal health care practices in which women are wheeled in and out of hospitals on the hour, every hour. And if they don’t give birth within that hour — then it’s instantly c-section time despite that such a practice is major abdominal surgery, complete with all the complications associated with any other surgery. C-sections are needed in only 5-10% of the births in this country according to World Health Organization. Yet, one in three babies born in the United States are born via c-section — and such a procedure doesn’t even ensure that the baby is any healthier (with the exception of emergency c-sections, of course).

Women should be birthing safely in this obscenely modern era with doctors making decisions that are best for mother and baby. Not cranking up the pitocin and going on c-section autopilot just so they can avoid malpractice and keep costs down.

(photo: Shutterstock)

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  • taz

    birth is a longer and more intense process than an abortion…even a suction abortion is similar to a d&c. a lot less matter is coming out than during a birth. also most abortions happen in a well equipt medical setting while there is a huge trend to birth at home and in free standing birth centers that encourage no interventions. so many midwives let labor and delivery go on and on just to keep there episiotomy rates low, ect. i think c-section isn’t the only reason for these stats.

  • kate

    abortion may always be safer till the end of time. as mentioned, less matter comes out. although abortion has only recently become legal and thus subject to safety studies and advancements, some things are just ‘naturally’ less risky than others. bungee jumping, for example, may also be less risky than giving birth.

    i am wondering, philosophically, why compare the two at all though? any insight, OP? also, it does not address the mental health issues associated with abortion.
    my guess on why this is the case in the US is that it is easy to make abortion safe and in some places people might be choosing their abortion provider and paying for it without insurance (im in canada so i dont know exactly how it all works, just that in the US govt money can not pay for abortions-in canada even the rich get abortions paid for with govt money) so maybe there is more competition to have a no-complications abortion service. and from what i’ve heard (in books like naomi woolf’s ‘misconceptions’) having health insurance means your birth is paid for so the insurance companies are probably trying to make things cheap as possible. also that the doctors make more for c-sections, episiotomies, and any other ‘intervention’ while waiting it out takes the doctors time and doesnt make them money.

  • Ginger

    This seems kinda like a no-brainer though. I agree that birth needs to be made as safe as possible but removing a clump of cells or even a later term (for the mother’s life or some terrible complication) a much more developed fetus is just automatically easier than removing an 8 pound squirming baby, isn’t it?

  • Heather

    Wow, very interesting. I agree with the comment that it’s not actually surprising that childbirth is more “dangerous” than abortion — if you think about it. The problem is that many people don’t think about their safety in childbirth and trust the current maternity care system entirely. Also, as the article highlighted, abortion is touted as unsafe by anti-choice activists and the “dangers” of abortion are even brought up in legislation in many states.

  • Dodes

    This study is ridiculous. It doesn’t take into consideration long term risks and long term effects of abortion. What about all the women who get depressed post abortion and end up committing suicide as a result? There needs to be a long term study done to evaluate that not just immediate effects. What about women who end up having damage done to their reproductive systems or result in sterility? Or the women who end up having infections etc as a result of botched abortions which can also lead to death? Or what about the fact that childbirth has a protective effect against cancer? You can’t just look at the immediate results.

    • Soop

      You do realize that studies have already shown that the so-called ‘post abortion stress syndrome’ is a myth. And that it is MORE detrimental to a woman’s mental health to be forced to carry an unintended pregnancy to term.

    • Jen

      Actual scientists (you know, as opposed to anti-choice high school dropouts) have proven time and time again that NONE of those so-called long term effects exist. Allow me to unpack all the false information in your post:

      Women who have an abortion are most likely to report feelings of relief–not depression. Postpartum depression is an actual symptom of childbirth and occurs (the number hovers somewhere around 12% with some depression and 6% with severe depression).

      Abortion has NO LINK to increased risk of cancer. And while I’m sure you can find (as with any medical procedure) women who have had reproductive problems as a result of abortion there is NO data to show that abortion is any more likely to create these problems than any other medical procedure (including giving birth).

      Being pregnant has a positive effect against some cancers, however that remains true whether the pregnancy terminates in childbirth or abortion.

      I’m not entirely sure if you are just misinformed or willfully ignoring facts, which is why I’m trying to lay this information out.

    • Koa Beck

      Hi ladies. Our sister site covered a recent study about the alleged link between abortions and mental illness, as well as how they relate to unwanted pregnancies: http://blisstree.com/live/abortion-doesnt-raise-mental-health-risks-but-unwanted-pregnancies-do-353/

    • Jennifer

      People who are rabidly pro abortion do not want to consider that there may be real consequences for women that are detrimental to their physical and mental well being. Just saying it’s safer to have an abortion than give birth reveals an anti-birth position. And for you people who think post abortion stress syndrom is a myth are you also going to say the ProLife march in Washington DC filled with thousands of women who suffered as a result of abortion is also a myth?

    • Jen

      Jennifer: See, the difference between those of us who are prochoice and the “pro life” movement is that we have things like science and facts on our side. You guys have lies, propaganda and inflammatory language because you have NOTHING else.

      Also, since reading comprehension must be difficult for you, I’ll lay it out in nice, easy terms. Prochoice doesn’t mean that we want every (or even most) women to receive abortions. We want women to make the medical CHOICE about their own bodies for themselves. We’d also like the so-called “prolife” movement to keep their ignorance out of our vaginas and doctor’s offices.

      It’s hilarious that you are trying to prove that abortion is harmful by pointing me to a bunch of activists who *claim* that they were harmed by abortion. It used to be that you guys would link to that one “scientific study”, but since that was proven to be falsified I guess your back to the old anecdotal evidence saw. Since there are literally hundreds of thousands of women who have written, spoken and marched to support abortion AFTER having one themselves, I think it’s high time you packed up that old routine too.

      The ONLY time I’ve ever experienced any emotional distress due to abortion is when confronted with the vile, hate spewing “prolife” crowd. I feel incredibly distressed that they are hell bent on taking away a woman’s right to choose and that they use every form of intimidation they can think of to force others into doing what they want. Women who have received death threats, been stalked and even been given false medical advice in an attempt to shame them both before and after an abortion have been victimized by a group that has nothing to actually back up any of it’s outrageous claims.

    • Mew

      Some women may get depressed after an abortion, but some women get horribly depressed after having babies, too. The rest of it is pretty much all non-existent. In the US, a woman is able to make the choice on her own to have or not have an abortion. You are asked if you really want to do it, and told that nobody can force you to have one if you don’t want to. They offer help for you if someone is trying to force you into it.

      I know I would be far worse off if I were to get pregnant and not be able to terminate. I take birth control, use condoms if with a new partner, and really don’t have sex that often anyway, so pregnancy isn’t likely. However, I don’t EVER want to be a parent, and I will not let someone tell me I can never in my life have sex just because I don’t want a child. Some day I’ll be able to afford to be sterilized and not have to worry anymore. Until then, I’m glad that abortion is safe and fairly easy to get here in the US should I ever need it.

  • Cate

    Put me alongside those who think this is a no-brainer. The less advanced a pregnancy is, the less entangled the embryo/fetus is with the woman’s body and the less stress it places on her body. If a woman has an underlying, dangerous condition it manifests more as the pregnancy is extended. Carrying a pregnancy to term and delivering the child will always be more dangerous than a regulated, legal medical or surgical abortion.

    I actually kind of think the premise of this article is silly. It is as though it assumes that because they both involve pregnancy, abortion and childbirth are the same thing and should carry the same risks. They don’t. What we should be doing is evaluating them both separately – not against each other, but against the lowest possible risk for each thing itself.

    So, if maternal and infant mortality is high in the US, that shouldn’t be a problem because it’s higher than the risk of having an abortion. It might always be higher than the risk of having an abortion. It should be a problem because CHILDBIRTH CAN BE SAFER than childbirth is in the US. In fact, childbirth is safer in other developed countries – specifically, countries with socialized medicine where everyone gets the early care they need to have the safest possible pregnancy. (I’m a Canadian from Ontario, and I feel very lucky to have had so many available options for care during my pregnancy – including midwifery. At the same time, I don’t have as many options as I might have in another country with a more sophisticated healthcare model.)

  • Andie

    Abortions are not safer than birth. Abortions have a greater than 50% fatality rate, since 100% of the babies do not survive the procedure.

    • T.

      Fetus, Andie. Fetus.
      Please, proper wording.
      Otherwise, I claim the right to call you corpse, since you are going to be one, someday :P

      Also, we were thinking about the women there.

    • George Hilman

      If they are not babies, then leave them alone and see what happens.