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How safe is abortion? 

Beverly McMillan, M.D.

Dr. Beverly McMillan is an ob/gyn. In 1975, she became the first woman to open an abortion clinic in Mississippi. She ceased doing abortions in 1978 when she became convinced that the abortions she was performing were causing everyone involved far more harm than good.

Below are her answers to common questions about abortion.

What are the physical complications of abortion?

The most common, immediate, and short-term complications include excessive bleeding, chronic and acute infections, intense pain, high fever, convulsions, shock, coma, incomplete removal of the baby or placenta (which can cause life-threatening infections and sterility), pelvic inflammatory disease, punctured or torn uteruses, and even death. 

Abortion can also result in uterine scarring, a weakened cervix, blocked fallopian tubes, and other damage to reproductive organs that can make it difficult to conceive or carry a child to term in the future. This latent morbidity of abortion results in long-term and sometimes permanent damage. 

Women who have had abortions also experience more ectopic (tubal) pregnancies, infertility, hysterectomies, stillbirths, miscarriages, and premature births (the leading cause of birth defects) than women who have not had abortions. Abortion has also been linked to increased risks of developing breast, cervical, and uterine cancer.(1)

I'll admit that abortion is not a good thing. And it may have physical and psychological risks. But don't you have to admit that legal abortion is safer than illegal abortion?

No. More than 90 percent of illegal abortions were already performed by doctors. 

When abortion was illegal, abortionists had to be very careful to avoid infection, laceration, and puncturing of the uterus, since a visit to the emergency room was an invitation for a police investigation. Not anymore. 

Today, abortionists are free to operate on an assembly-line basis. The faster they work, the more money they make. When women get hurt...well, that's just the risk that goes with any surgery. 

I still think that legal abortions must be at least marginally safer than illegal abortions. Certainly women who suffer physical complications can get emergency medical treatment faster now without being afraid of becoming involved in a criminal investigation.

That's true. But that is the only health benefit of legalized abortion. 

The overall impact is still very negative because the total number of women having abortions has increased dramatically. 

Why? Because legalizing abortion has made it easier to pressure reluctant women into having abortions. Before 1973, women could resist an unwanted abortion on the grounds that it was illegal and unsafe. 

But now people assume that since abortion is legal, it must be safe. That makes it harder for women to resist unwanted abortions for health or safety reasons. 

As a result, the number of abortions has increased ten- to fifteen-fold with only a minimal improvement, if any, in safety. 

So, while the percentage of deaths from hemorrhage and infections may have gone down, the actual number of women suffering these complications has gone up far more. 

In addition, since psychological complications are even more common than physical complications, the number of women experiencing complications of one type or another has increased dramatically.(2)


1. See the important annotated bibliography: Strahan, T., Detrimental Effects of Abortion: An Annotated Bibliography with Commentary (3rd Edition) It contains over 1200 citations to the published medical literature.

2. Reardon, Aborted Women, op cit., 1987), 281-300.


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