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Abortion-Safety and Risks

There are risks involved whenever a person has surgery including abortion. The first trimester abortion, or an abortion in the first 12 weeks, is one of the safest surgical procedures there is. It is less dangerous than a tonsillectomy. Putting the risks into perspective: abortion at any time during a pregnancy is less dangerous than a full term pregnancy and delivery.

Evaluating the Risk of Complications

Since the Supreme Court re-established legal abortion in the U.S. in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, women have benefited from significant advances in medical technology and greater access to high quality services. Generally, the earlier the abortion, the less complicated and safer it is. The safest time to have an abortion is between 6 and 10 weeks from the last menstrual period (LMP).

Serious complications arising from abortions before 13 weeks are quite unusual. About 89% of the women who obtain abortions are less than 13 weeks pregnant. Of these women, 97% report no complications; 2.5% have minor complications that can be handled at the physician's office or abortion facility; and less than 0.5% require some additional surgical procedure and/or hospitalization. Complication rates are somewhat higher for abortions performed between 13 and 24 weeks. General anesthesia, which is sometimes used in abortion procedures, carries its own risks.

In addition to the length of the pregnancy, significant factors that affect the possibility of complications include:
  • the skill and training of the provider
  • the kind of anesthesia used
  • the woman's overall health
  • the abortion method used

Complications from Legal Abortion

Although rare, possible complications from an abortion procedure include:
  • blood clots accumulating in the uterus, requiring another suctioning procedure, which occur in less than 1% of cases
  • infections, most of which are easily identified and treated if the woman carefully observes follow-up instructions, which occur in less than 3% of cases
  • a tear in the cervix, which may be repaired with stitches, which occurs in less than 1% of cases
  • perforation (a puncture or tear) of the wall of the uterus and/or other organs, which may heal itself or may require surgical repair or rarely, hysterectomy, which occurs in less than 1/2 of 1% of cases
  • missed abortion, which does not end the pregnancy and requires the abortion to be repeated, which occurs less than 1/2 of 1% of cases
  • incomplete abortion, in which tissue from the pregnancy remains in the uterus and requires the abortion to be repeated, which occurs in less than 1% of cases
  • excessive bleeding, caused by failure of the uterus to contract which may require a blood transfusion, which occurs in less than 1% of cases

Other Complications

Between 13 and 16 weeks, the dilation and evacuation (d&e) procedure is significantly safer and more effective than other second trimester abortion methods. After 16 weeks, the different methods carry about the same complication rates. One death occurs for every 160,000 women who have legal abortions. These rare deaths are usually the result of such things as adverse reactions to anesthesia, heart attacks, or uncontrollable bleeding.

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In comparison, a woman's risk of death in carrying a pregnancy to term is ten times greater than the risk of death with an abortion.

Signs of a Post-Abortion Complication

If a woman has any of the following symptoms after having an abortion, she should immediately contact the facility that provided the abortion:
  • severe pain
  • chills or fever with an oral temperature of 100.4 or more
  • bleeding that is heavier than the heaviest day of her normal menstrual period
  • bleeding that soaks through more than one sanitary pad per hour
  • foul-smelling discharge or drainage from her vagina
  • continuing symptoms of pregnancy
Doctors and clinics that offer abortion services provide a 24-hour number to call in the event of complications.

Preventing Complications

There are some things women can do to lower their risks of complications.
The most important thing is not to delay the abortion procedure. After six weeks LMP, the earlier the abortion, the safer it is. Asking questions is also important. Just as with any medical procedure,
the more relaxed a person is and the more she understands what to expect, the better and safer her experience will be. In addition, any woman choosing abortion should:
  • Find a good clinic or a qualified, licensed practitioner
    For referrals, call NAF's toll-free hotline, 1-800-772-9100
  • Inform the practitioner of any health problems current medications or street drugs being used any allergies to medications or anesthetics
  • follow post-operative instructions
  • return for a follow-up examination

The information presented here was taken from the National Abortion Federation (NAF) Web Site.
Safety of Abortion-Evaluating Risks and Complications

The National Abortion Ferderation (NAF), founded in 1977, is the professional association of abortion providers in the United States and Canada. Women's Community Medical Clinic is a proud member of NAF and we are in full compliance with the Clinical Policy Guidelines.

The National Abortion Federation's mission is to preserve and enhance the quality and accessibility of abortion services. Members include non-profit clinics, private physician's offices, for-profit surgi-centers, feminist women's health centers, Planned Parenthood affiliates, and hospital-based clinics.

The National Abortion Federation sets guidelines or protocols for abortion providers, keeps statistics on all aspects of abortion, offers accurate medical information about abortion and much more.

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