Women who have just one abortion face 35% increased risk of having a premature baby
16th September 2009
Women who have abortions are more likely to have premature or low birth weight babies in later life, researchers have found.
Mothers who have had more than one termination have a 93 per cent risk of subsequently having a premature baby and a 72 per cent risk of having an underweight baby, the Canadian study found.
Women who have had just one abortion in the first or second trimester have a 35 per cent risk of having a low-weight baby and a 36 per cent risk of having a premature one.
The authors of the study say there could be a number of reasons for their findings, the most likely of which is physical damage to the cervix caused by older methods of abortion.
Dr Prakesh Shah, author of the review, said abortion practices needed to be reviewed and women needed better information when making decisions about unplanned or difficult pregnancies.
'When a woman comes for induced termination of pregnancy, she should be counselled about that risk. At least she will be able to make an informed choice,' he said.
'I think it should not be used as a way of saying, this is bad and we should not be doing this kind of thing,' he added.
'There is an association which we should be aware of, and we should let mothers be aware. I don't want unintended pregnancies to increase.'
But Josephine Quintavalle of the Pro-Life Alliance welcomed the findings as further evidence that abortion could be harmful to future pregnancies.
'Our main concern is that women undergoing counselling over difficult or unplanned pregnancies, they should be made aware of all the consequences, including the risks for future pregnancies.
'It is absurd that this is happening and that women are not made aware of it and then have problems in pregnancy later on.
'It's not hard to believe these findings when you consider the trauma of an operation and the process of forcing open the cervix at a time when the body's first instinct is to protect the unborn baby.'
The authors of the review, which is published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, say there could be a number of reasons for their findings - the most likely of which is physical damage to the cervix caused by older methods of abortion.
A Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists spokesman said the college wished to 'underline the importance of support for women's choices and the need for sensitivity in counselling women about termination of pregnancy in line with current research evidence.'
The college called for further studies but warned that it would consider the new research when updating its abortion guidelines. The spokesman added: 'Abortion remains an essential part of women's healthcare services.'
The wide-ranging study was set up to investigate why babies are born premature and underweight. The researchers looked at 37 studies around the world carried out between 1965 and 2001 to determine whether previous abortion may be one of the factors.
Dr Shah, of the department of paediatrics at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto, said the process of abortion could cause some damage to the cervix, which has to be dilated, or to the womb.
'Newer methods are probably safer. However, we could not find any data on which to base that assumption because they have not been studied,' he said. In particular, drug-induced abortion, or using a drug to soften and ripen the cervix before mechanical dilation, may prevent damage.
Many women with a history of abortion tend to be unmarried, young and from socio-economically disadvantaged groups, the paper notes, but the researchers believe they have allowed for this in their calculations.
Professor Philip Steer, editor in chief of the BJOG, said it was important that the study be properly interpreted.
'The most important message is not that this should be used in any way to prevent women having a termination of pregnancy.
'The effect has to be balanced against the serious effects of forcing women to continue with unwanted pregnancies,' he said.
'Any medical procedure is likely to have side-effects.'