Abortion-choice advocates often say, “Abortion is safe.” They believe it’s safe for the mother and some even say it’s safer than childbirth. In this three-part series we address each of these questions: (1) Is abortion safe? (2) Is abortion safe for the mother? And, (3) is abortion safer than childbirth?
In part 1, “Is Abortion Safe?”, we saw how abortion isn’t safe in the normal sense of the word. It’s not safe for the family, for motherhood, for society, for culture, and it’s definitely not safe for children-in-utero. But for many abortion-choice advocates “safe” abortion isn’t about those other things. They aren’t talking about safety generally, they are only talking about the mother’s safety. For abortion-choice advocates, “safe abortion” means that when a woman chooses to have an abortion she can have a low-risk abortion free from dangerous outside interference.
Is abortion safe in this narrow sense where only the mother’s safety is in view?
In rare cases, pregnant women can experience life-threatening complications to where the mother cannot carry the child to term without putting her own life in imminent danger. We’ll call these life-threatening cases “perilous pregnancies.” About 1.5% of pregnant women (146.6 per 10,000) experience severe complications, and in some of those cases attempting childbirth would almost certainly kill both the mother and her child.
Back before Roe v. Wade, in 1973, when mothers were facing a perilous pregnancy it was legal to perform abortions as a life-saving measure for the mother. Whenever a complicated pregnancy posed an immanent threat to the mother’s life, Ob-Gyn professionals were trained and ready to perform an abortion as a last resort. So, it’s not as if women had to die from dangerous pregnancies before Roe but now with Roe in place those women are safe. Perilous pregnancies happened before and after Roe.
In those difficult cases, where either the child dies or both of them die, pro-lifers are justified in supporting protective measures for the only lives that can be saved. That’s because pro-lifers are pro-life not just pro-child.
Perilous pregnancies are real, they’re tough, and they’re a serious issue for pro-lifers to wade through. But they don’t prove that abortion is safe for the mother. So, we’re left with the vast majority of pregnancies where abortion doesn’t save her life. Is abortion safe for the mother in these other cases?
Is Abortion Generally Safe for Mothers?
It turns out that even when there aren’t any serious complications in pregnancy, abortion still isn’t very safe for the mother.
1. Abortion doesn’t cure anything, so the health risks aren’t necessary in most cases.
Pregnancy is a healthy condition to be in. So, the risks involved in abortion don’t cure anything. Abortion is an elective procedure, so all its risks are elective too. Aside from the 1.5% of pregnancies that have serious complications, the mother doesn’t need an abortion to help her achieve physical or mental health.
2. Surgical abortion is inherently risky
All abortions carry risks. Besides routine side effects like bleeding, cramping, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, which all occur in pill and surgical abortions alike, there’s the risk of serious complications. According to one study, 2.1% or around 21,000 abortion patients per year experience serious complications relating to their abortion. Compare this to pregnancy and childbirth where, according to another study only 1.47% of pregnant mothers experience serious complications. Many more studies could be cited, and they do not all agree, but it should be clear that abortion has inherent risks.
Abortion-related complications can stem from the tools involved in the procedure. Surgical abortion has tools for cutting, tearing, and stretching. So, abortion risks include slicing, punctures, tears, scrapes, bruises, muscle and ligament damage, and severe bleeding. And if any fetal tissue is left behind, that can cause further internal damage. Any wounds and blood transfer can get infected causing new complications. More serious complications include organ damage, sepsis, scarring and disfigurement, permanent damage to the cervix, and even death.
3. Pill-abortion is even riskier
Pill Abortions might seem less risky, since pills are less invasive than surgery, but they are actually about 350% riskier. This is because patients conduct these abortions at home, without close medical supervision. But patients don’t always know how much pain or bleeding is too much or whether their side-effects are normal. With pill abortions minor problems can become life-threatening risks very quickly.
4. Abortion is psychologically traumatic
Women after abortions have a much higher risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and similar problem. Scholarly debate, between pro-choice and pro-life academics, about whether abortion causes those things or if it’s just an effect. Nevertheless, many women testify that their abortion experience was deeply traumatic and motivated a lot of bad choices and negative outcomes including alcoholism, drug addiction, relational struggles, domestic abuse, trust issues, divorce, suicide-attempts, etc. Additionally, as many as 64% of women report that they felt coerced (forced) into having an abortion, and up to 84% say they didn’t receive adequate counseling about the procedure before the abortion.
5. Abortion has long-term risks that we’re still discovering
Besides the short-term effects and psychological trauma involved in abortion, abortion has also been tied to long-term side effects. Women who’ve had an abortion are more likely, in future pregnancies, to experience placenta previa, stillbirth, miscarriage, neo-natal death, and premature birth along with a lower birth weight and higher rates of infant handicaps. Women who’ve had abortions also show a higher rate of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), endometritis, ectopic pregnancy, as well as higher rates of cervical, ovarian, liver and breast cancer. Additionally, abortion has been tied to long-term infertility.
6. Abortion hurts motherhood
This point was mentioned in part 1 of the series [insert link], but it deserves a fuller treatment here. Abortion is a direct threat to motherhood. Traditionally, motherhood is the iconic example of tender loving care. There is no more delicate and beautiful image of caregiving than a mother holding and nursing her young. Abortion-choice ideology, however, redefines motherhood to include the privilege of killing one’s own child-in-utero. Those two scenes don’t fit together. The model example of caregiving doesn’t fit with deliberately killing one’s own innocent non-threatening child in the womb.
Of course, not every woman wants to be a mother. And that’s fine. But many women do. And many other women just want to keep that option open in the future. So, it’s important to preserve and protect the cultural status of “mother” so that women who do want to become mothers one day have plenty of freedom, support, and social acceptance when they do. It’s important, for their sake, that the role of motherhood doesn’t shrivel down to something strange and forsaken. Abortion choice ideology, however, lacks the practical reinforcements to help protect and preserve motherhood as a positive fixture in society.
Conventionally, one of the most common protective measures for motherhood has been traditional husband-wife marriage. That way, if she gets pregnant the husband cannot just abandon her without legal ramifications. Plus, with a gainfully employed supportive husband, she can be free to take maternity leave, revert to part-time status, or maybe even stay at home for the sake of the baby. Homemaking isn’t a perfect solution, but it did help establish layers of protection for the role of “mother.” But, back in 1963 Betty Friedan, in Feminine Mystique, began to set a different tone. Speaking for modern pro-choice feminism she said “women have outgrown the housewife role,” and homemaking and motherhood are “dehumanizing” and a “comfortable concentration camp.“ Not surprisingly, the marriage rate has been declining for many years now: “For the first time in American history,” says psychologist Steven Fritz, “a majority of adults now live outside of marriage—as single parents, as partners in a cohabitating relationship, or as singles.” Fritz goes on to admit that this trend bodes poorly for motherhood, child-rearing, and family. If mothers are going to have the freedom to succeed as mothers they need more support than single-parenthood offers, more relational security than cohabitation can offer, and they can’t be relegated to singlehood forever.
To be sure, many pro-choicers view homemaking and motherhood in a positive light. But pro-choice culture, overall, hasn’t necessarily strengthened or reinforced the role of motherhood in society. Recent studies have verified this suspicion showing, compared to pro-lifers, pro-choicers, generally, have a more negative view of motherhood and smaller families. Former abortion-choice activist, Frederica Mathewes-Green helps explain this unsettling perspective.
This issue [of motherhood] gets presented as if it’s a tug of war between the woman and the baby. We see them as mortal enemies, locked in a fight to the death. But that’s a strange idea, isn’t it? It must be the first time in history when mothers and their own children have been assumed to be at war. We’re supposed to picture the child attacking her, trying to destroy her hopes and plans, and picture the woman grateful for the abortion, since it rescued her from the clutches of her child.
She goes on to say that when women face an unwanted pregnancy, we shouldn’t assume the child-in-utero is the problem and abortion is the cure; instead, “something must be really wrong in this environment. Something is creating intolerable stress, so much so that [they] would rather destroy their own offspring than bring them into the world.”
Instead of reinforcing a positive role for motherhood in society, abortion-choice culture pulls the other way. When pro-choice advocates describe the child-in-utero as a “parasite,” “burden,” “punishment,” or “disease”, how else can we interpret their view of motherhood except that motherhood is sickening burdensome punishment?
Abortion isn’t safe for Mothers
In parts 1 and 2 of this series, we’ve seen how abortion is dangerous on many levels, so that we cannot grant that abortion is generally safe or that it’s safe for mothers. Abortion procedures may be safer in some regards than they were before Roe v. Wade in 1973. But, overall, abortion is dangerous for the family, for motherhood, for society, for culture, and it is looming death for children-in-utero. Nor does abortion generally promote the health and well-being of mothers except in the rare case of perilous pregnancies. In almost 99% of cases, however, abortion carries a host of unnecessary risks for women, both long-term and short-term risks, threatening women’s health, psychologically, physically, and relationally. We cannot honestly conclude that abortion is generally safe for mothers.
 Regarding complicated pregnancies where serious intervention is required, neonatalogist, Kendra Kolb distinguishes between direct intentional abortion vs. indirect and unintentional killing when she says, “there is no medical reason why the life of the child must be directly and intentionally ended with an abortion procedure.” See, Kendra Kolb, “the Pro-Life Reply to ‘Abortion Can Be Medically Necessary,” [Video] LiveAction (30 July 2019), 0:45, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TmomK2RB2A. Strictly speaking, both categories – (1) direct-intentional and (2) indirect-unintentional – could qualify as abortion as they bring about the demise of the fetal human. But the more common use of “abortion” refers to terminating the pregnancy by directly and intentionally killing the fetal human through a conventional method of abortion (ex., vacuum-aspiration, dilation and evacuation, induction, etc.).
 As of 2015, Severe complications occurred in 146.6 pregnancies per 10,000; up from 101.3 in 2006. Researchers suspect that key factors include (1) later birthing age (<40yrs old), and (2) obesity. See, Cathryn Fingar, et al., “Statistical Brief #243: Trends and Disparities in Delivery Hospitalizations Involving Severe Maternal Morbidity, 2006-2015” Healthcare Cost and Utilitization Project, Statistical Brief 243 (Sept 2018), figure 1.
 Mary Zeigler, “A Brief History of U.S. Abortion Law, Before and After Roe versus Wade,” History Extra [Digital Magazine] (BBC, c. 2019), Para. 5, https://www.historyextra.com/period/20th-century/history-abortion-law-america-us-debate-what-roe-v-wade/?fbclid=IwAR1gfOY0Lnnv7nQ_0OHH1n_m44vRNDzKmdFtDiIcGw3DVuAFP4OZsuuAdww
 The complication rate refers to total abortion related complications resulting in an ER or an additional abortion clinical visit. See, Fingar, 2018, fig. 1; Ushma Upadyay, et al., “Incidence of Emergency Department Visits and Complications After Abortion,” Obstetrics and Gynecology, 125, no. 1, (Jan 2015), 175-183, https://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Fulltext/2015/01000/Incidence_of_Emergency_Department_Visits_and.29.aspx.
 Upadyay 2015, 175-83.
 The total rate of abortion related complications for pill abortions is 5.2% compared to surgical abortions which range from 1.3-1.5%, see Upadyay 2015.
 David Reardon, “The Abortion and Mental Health Controversy,” Elliot Institute, 6 (1 Jan 2018), at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2050312118807624, https://www.theunchoice.com/pdf/FactSheets/RecentResearch.pdf
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A.A. Levin, et al., “Ectopic Pregnancy and Prior Induced Abortion,” American Journal of Public Health 72 (1982), 253; C.S. Chung, “Induced Abortion and Ectopic Pregnancy in Subsequent Pregnancies,” American Journal of Epidemiology, 115, no. 6 (1982), 879-887.
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N. Naftolin, “A bone of contention: an unusual case of secondary infertility,” British Journal of Ob-Gyn 106, no. 10 (November 1999), 1098-9; M. Chandra, et al., “Latrogenic secondary infertility caused by residual intrauterine fetal bone after midtrimester abortion,” American Journal of Ob-Gyn, 176 (1997), 269-70; O. Graham, et al., “The ultrasound diagnosis of retained fetal bones in West African patients complaining of infertility,” BJOG, 107, no. 1 (Jan. 2000), 122-4.; Fertility and Sterility, 79, no. 4, (April 2003), Jan Asplund, ed., Acta Obstetricia and Gynecologica Scandinavica [Journal], 58 (1979), 539-42 (1979), see also, N.A., “Abortion and Infertility,” Life Resources Charitable Trust (New Zealand, N.D.), at: http://www.life.org.nz/abortion/abortionkeyissues/futurefertility/
 Betty Friedan, Feminine Mystique (NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1963), 308-9.
 Steven Mintz, “Is Marriage in Decline?” Psychology Today (7 March 2015), para. 4, at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-prime-life/201503/is-marriage-in-decline
 See, J. Kevern, and Jeremy Freese, “Differential Fertility as a Determinant of Trends in Public Opinion about Abortion in the United States,” SSRN (July 7, 2014), 35pgs., at https://ssrn.com/abstract=2463472
 Frederica Mathewes-Green, “When Abortion Suddenly Stopped Making Sense,” National Review, 22 January 2016, para. 10, at https://www.nationalreview.com/2016/01/abortion-roe-v-wade-unborn-children-women-feminism-march-life/.