Finnish Study: Abortion Deadlier for Women Than Childbirth

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - A Finnish study disputes claims by abortion rights activists that abortion is safer for a woman than childbirth.

The study results were released in 1997 by STAKES, the statistical analysis unit of Finland's National Research and Development Center for Welfare and Health, but are only now attracting the attention of pro-life groups in the United States.

The study involved maternal post-abortion deaths of 9,192 Finnish women, aged 15-49, during the period of 1987-1994. The researchers pulled death certificates and reproductive health records and then narrowed the study to women who had a pregnancy related event (birth, miscarriage, abortion) in the twelve months prior to their deaths. The deaths included suicide, accidental death, homicide and natural causes.

The results are startling. A woman's risk of dying within a year after an abortion was four times higher than the risk of dying after miscarriage or childbirth, according to the study

The results contradict statements made by the pro-choice movement, that abortion is safer than childbirth for women. The National Abortion Federation says, "Abortion is one of the safest types of surgery. Complications from having an abortion...are less frequent and less serious than those associated with having birth."

The NAF also claims "the most frequent response women report after having ended a problem pregnancy is relief, and the majority are satisfied that they made the right decision for themselves."

Dr. David Reardon, Executive Director of the Elliot Institute (a pro-life educational and research organization), believes the Finnish study is reliable. "I think it's impeccable, primarily because of the data base that's used...they actually had medical records. Because they have socialized medicine they have complete medical records on women," Reardon said.

Reardon sees this research as significant to America.

"I hope it [will] impact at least the counseling procedure and the discussion. The claim that abortion is safer than childbirth should have at least a huge question mark behind it, if not be totally dismissed," Reardon said.

He also questions the accuracy of the so-called "Right to Know" pamphlets that many states require abortion providers to distribute to women who are considering having an abortion. The booklets are supposed to provide information on the risks of abortion and alternatives to the procedure. Dr. Reardon said, " I don't think they adequately disclose to women the potential risks of abortion".

Dr. Wanda Franz, the President of National Right to Life, was not surprised by the results of the study. "We have been talking about for years... the effects of abortion on women's health and well-being".

She also applauded the study for considering the long-term effects of abortion. "Their approach to looking at short-term and long-term effects is very important, because one of the things that we've noticed when we've looked at data in the past is that there do appear to be long-term effects. These are the ones that are very rarely addressed by our own abortion advocates in this country," Franz said.

Susan Tew of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive and abortion rights research firm, found the data surprising.
"It's very rare to see abortion-related mortality or spontaneous abortion, miscarriage-related mortality being higher than overall maternal mortality," Tew said. She added that a society's demographics, in this case, Finland's, are an important factor in determining the results of such a study.

Dr. David Grimes of Family Health International, a reproductive health organization, thinks that while the study is credible, it cannot be applied to the US.

"I think it's very hazardous to extrapolate from small studies and a very small country in the Nordic region of the world to the US or anywhere else," Grimes said.

Grimes doesn't question the figures, but attributes it to the prior emotional and mental instability of those women who had abortions. "Abortion doesn't occur in a vacuum. It's a resolution to an often times very desperate crisis for women. There's an association between troubled women and difficult outcomes".

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood refused comment about the Finnish study.