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Possible Medical Risks or Complications of Abortion

Infection

Bacterial infection is an uncommon complication of abortion. Rates are low: less than 1% in vacuum aspiration abortion, but may be slightly higher for later abortion procedures. Bacteria from the vagina can enter the dilated cervix and from there, go upward into the uterus and fallopian tubes. Antibiotics are often given at the time of abortion to "head off" potential infections. Antibiotics will be used to treat any infection that develops. Rarely, repeat suction or surgery may be needed. Prompt reporting by the woman of any infection symptoms is important to reduce the seriousness of an infection and potential complications. Symptoms of infection may include fever and chills, increasing pain, odorous vaginal discharge and increased bleeding.

Incomplete abortion

Fetal tissue or other products of pregnancy may not be completely emptied from the uterus. When this occurs, heavy or irregular bleeding and infection may result. Incomplete abortion often requires a repeat procedure such as a D&C. The reported rate of this complication is low: less than 1%.

Cervical injury

Injury to the cervix (the opening to the uterus) can occur during abortion procedures. This may be either a surface cut or a deeper tear in the tissue. The risk of damage to the cervix is made smaller by gradual dilation techniques. Multiple abortion procedures may result in future pregnancy complications such as incompetent cervix (weak cervix), that could lead to a pre-term birth. Injury to the cervix occurs in less than 1% of all abortions and is rarely permanent.

Uterine perforation

A medical instrument used in the abortion procedure can go through the wall of the uterus. Depending on the location of the injury and the depth of the perforation, there may be bleeding or injury to surrounding organs. Perforation can also provide an entry point for an infection. An assessment for possible injury must be done. Occasionally surgery is needed but often, observation of the woman is all that is needed. The risk of perforation is related to the stage of the pregnancy and the experience of the abortion provider.

Heavy bleeding (hemorrhage)

Some bleeding will be noted following all abortion procedures. Heavy bleeding, however, is not common. Following an abortion, the woman is observed in the doctor's office for any immediate signs of problems and she will be instructed about what to watch for after she leaves the doctor's office. Heavy bleeding may be treated by repeat suction or medication. Surgery or blood transfusion is very rarely needed.

Retained blood clots in the uterus

Bleeding within the uterus can clot before it is expelled. This results in severe uterine cramping. It occurs in less than 1% of all abortions. The clots are usually removed by a repeat vacuum aspiration procedure or medication.

Allergic reactions and Anesthesia-related complications

Any surgical procedure that requires anesthesia or medications carries with it a small risk due to the human response to the drugs. Adverse drug reactions can be allergic reactions and cause rashes, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, or swelling. These reactions may occur with medications or local and general anesthesia. If a woman is allergic to "Novocain" it is important to alert the abortion provider because lidocaine is the most commonly used anesthetic drug. Locally applied anesthetics are much safer than general anesthetics (the kind that make a person sleep). General anesthetics are almost never used for first trimester abortion procedures. They are frequently used in the second trimester.

Other considerations:

  • Rh immune globulin therapy: Protein material found on the surface of red blood cells is known as the Rh factor. If a woman and her fetus have different Rh factors, the woman must receive medication to prevent the development of antibodies that would endanger future pregnancies.
  • Infertility: Most causes of infertility have nothing to do with abortion. Occasionally, getting pregnant may be difficult after an abortion, especially if there were complications.

Breast cancer

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reported, in their June 2009 Committee Option Induced Abortion and Breast Cancer Risk, that:  “…prospective studies conclude there is no association between induced abortion and breast cancer” and that: “Early studies of the relationship between prior induced abortion and breast cancer risk were methodologically flawed.  More rigorous recent studies demonstrate no causal relationship between induced abortion and a subsequent increase in breast cancer risk.”

The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) supports the view that there is a causal relationship between breast cancer and the termination of pregnancy. The subject can be explored in more detail by referring to the reference lists in this website.

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