In the late 1980s, President Ronald Reagan asked Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop to prepare a report on the physical aftereffects of women who have undergone elective abortions. The Surgeon General reported that scientific studies had documented that physiological health consequences—including infertility, incompetent cervix, miscar­riage, premature birth, and low birth weight—are no more frequent among women who experience abortion than they are among the general population of women. The Surgeon General’s findings do not support claims by pro-life advocates who state that there are severe physiological symptoms associated with abortion.

Women’s Reactions

The decision to have an abortion is a difficult one. Terminating an unintended preg­nancy or an intended pregnancy with a deformed fetus can be very painful. The physio­logical and psychological effects vary from person to person, and they depend on many factors.

Physiological Symptoms Physiological reactions to abortion depend on the type of procedure used. After an early abortion, many women report increased cramping, heavy bleeding with possible clots, and nausea. These symptoms may persist for several days, but if any of these are severe, a physician should be seen for an evaluation. Severe complications are much more frequent in late abortion procedures and, as we discussed, include hemorrhaging, cervical laceration, uterine perforation, and infection (F. H. Stewart, Ellertson, & Cates, 2004). Of these complications, uterine perforation is the most serious, although the risk of occurrence is small. Although some people believe that early abortion is a risky procedure, studies have shown that the death rate from an abortion before 9 weeks is 1 in 260,000.

In 2002, many pro-life groups attempted to dissuade women from choosing abortion by citing the notion that abortion causes breast cancer. In some states, such as Texas, warnings about breast cancer are required when undergoing abortion procedures. In Mississippi, a woman undergoing an abortion must sign a form indicating she has been informed of the increased risk of breast cancer (Meckler, 2004). However, after a review of research, the National Cancer Institute (2003) has stated that there is no relationship between abortion and breast cancer, and the American Cancer Society, World Health Organization, and the National Institutes of Health have all agreed.

Psychological Symptoms How a woman feels after an abortion has a lot to do with how her society views abortion. For example, a woman who underwent an illegal abor­tion in the 1960s might have felt an incredible sense of guilt and shame because abor­tion was illegal and therefore viewed as “bad.” Psychological reactions also vary among women, as the story in the accompanying Personal Voices, “Having an Abortion: Stacy’s Story,” indicates. Overall, we know the most about psychological symptoms after surgi­cal abortion and very little about reactions to medical abortions. Reactions may be very

Personal Voices