New Study Finds “Strong” Link Between Abortion and Premature Birth

International   |   Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.   |   Jul 16, 2013   |   6:36PM   |   New York, NY

A new study found a “strong independent relationship” between a history of abortion and the risk of a subsequent preterm birth.  For the pro-life community, this comes as a vindication of many years of work to draw attention to the link, despite a lack of attention from the medical community and outright denial from pro-abortion advocates.

However, the study authors attribute the risk to abortion methods now considered obsolete.

According to the study published by open-source journal PLOS One, which analyzed data from Scotland, induced abortion was indeed linked with preterm birth, with the risk increasing in relation to the number of previous abortions.  However, the study found that the association decreased over the study period between 1980 and 2008.  The authors speculated that this could be due to the use of more modern abortion methods less likely to cause cervical trauma, particularly medication abortion.

The authors posit that the risk of preterm birth was increased in women who had surgical abortions without cervical pre-treatment.  They hypothesized that the use of mechanical methods to dilate the cervix might cause trauma that could increase the difficulty of carrying a pregnancy to full term.

The authors conclude by recommending that the continued modernization of abortion methods “may be an effective long-term strategy to reduce global rates of preterm birth.”

On the one hand, it’s a surprising about-face: as recently as less than two weeks ago, Robin McMarty of RH Reality Check claimed, “There is no major medical group in the [US] that claims abortion causes preterm birth in subsequent pregnancies.”  This was a paraphrase of the same assertion previously made by Paige Johnson, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, and echoed by other pro-abortion groups.

On the other hand, this report and its recommendations manage to finally admit the existence of the link while attempting to further the pro-abortion cause: first, by fixing the blame squarely on outdated practices, and second, by advocating for increased use of more modern methods.

Underlying these findings is a highly disturbing reality: for decades, abortion techniques in routine use contributed significantly to the rate of preterm birth, which is associated with infant mortality and a wide range of health consequences that can impact the lifelong well-being of the child.  The World Health Organization’s fact sheet on preterm birth estimates that 1 million babies die annually due to complications of preterm birth.  With regard to causes, the WHO says:

“Common causes of preterm birth include multiple pregnancies, infections and chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure; however, often no cause is identified. There is also a genetic influence. Better understanding of the causes and mechanisms will advance the development of solutions to prevent preterm birth.”

Given the enormous impact of preterm birth on public health, the fact that the link to abortion is only being widely admitted now – after the methods being blamed are already obsolete – begs some serious questions.  Is the continuing controversy around abortion having a chilling effect on researchers’ willingness to study its negative side effects, their ability to secure funding to do so, and their ability to receive objective peer reviews?  Is the principle driving medical recommendations “first, do no harm to the patient,” or “first, do no harm to women’s ability to access abortions?”

While it may be useful to identify the risks associated with an obsolete practice as a matter of trivia, medical research is most useful when it leads to the abandonment of risky practices while they are still causing harm.  If this new study was the first to identify a link between induced abortion and preterm birth, we could fault the medical community for its lack of curiosity.  But this study helpfully cites previous work that reveals the same trend – work that received more attention from the pro-life community than from anywhere else.  Pro-life gynecologist Dr. Byron Calhoun wrote an excellent briefing paper for C-FAM revealing the ways medical journals long attempted to play down the link.



Perhaps it’s time for some new recommendations: first, some much-needed introspection within the medical and academic communities with regard to how abortion politics impacts their ability to be objective and intellectually honest, and second, a call to revisit some of the other health risks associated with abortion – such as breast cancer – which the same people are still denying in precisely the same way as they denied the risk of preterm birth until a few days ago. Note: Rebecca Oas writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Turtle Bay and Beyond blog and is used with permission.