The results of a new and groundbreaking study from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine suggest that abortions in the United States are, for the most part, safe and effective, with few cases of complications. There are, however, some issues that could compromise the safety of these procedures, or lead to misinformation about abortion.
Earlier this week, the National Academies published a report titled “The Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the United States,” which, according to the Associated Press, concluded that more and more women are having abortions while in the early stages of pregnancy, and that abortion poses less risk of maternal death than procedures such as colonoscopies, tonsillectomies, and childbirth.
University of Colorado associate professor of family medicine and epidemiology Ned Calonge, co-chair of the committee behind the report, told NPR that about 90 percent of women got abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy, with complications being generally “rare.”
“I would say the main takeaway is that abortions that are provided in the United States are safe and effective,” said Calonge.
The committee also found that abortions are safe enough to be done in offices, and it isn’t a requirement that a physician be present for both types of early abortion, including medical abortions. Second-trimester abortions, on the other hand, require specialized equipment and medical professionals with the appropriate training, due to the more invasive nature of these procedures.
Despite the overall safety of abortions in the U.S. suggested by the report’s findings, the panel found that there are some “barriers” in the form of state rules and regulations that could potentially prevent women from getting the type of abortion best suited for them in a “timely, equitable, science-based manner,” while negatively impacting the quality of care they receive. According to Calonge, these include requiring medical professionals to “misinform” women that abortions increase the odds of getting breast cancer, among other claims that have no scientific evidence to back them up.
“There are policies that mandate clinically unnecessary services like pre-abortion ultrasounds, separate inpatient counseling. There are required waiting periods,” he added.
Citing information from the Guttmacher Institute, NPR wrote that there are five states that require women be told that abortions and breast cancer are linked, and 27 states that require a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion. Additionally, the Associated Press noted that there are 14 states that ask women to have an ultrasound before undergoing the procedure and 17 that require all abortion types to be offered by clinics that “meet hospital-like standards.”
In all, the National Academies’ study warned that unnecessary waiting periods and requirements and misinformation on the dangers of abortion could put U.S. patients at greater risk of complications. This lines up with a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that nullified Texas abortion laws due to the overly strict and unnecessary rules governing abortion facilities in the state.
However, there are some who believe that the aforementioned requirements for abortions in certain U.S. states are justified, including American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists executive director Donna Harrison, who told NPR that such regulations are designed to minimize the chances of “irresponsible” medical care during these procedures. She added that the National Academies’ data on abortion complications is likely incomplete, as it’s not uncommon for doctors and patients to misreport, or choose not to report such complications.