Few issuesÂ have left Americans as deeply splintered as abortion. The debate encompasses countless philosophical, religious and legalÂ questions aboutÂ whenÂ life begins, the rights of an unborn fetus and the legal authority ofÂ a woman to choose what to do withÂ her body.
But in the Texas legislature in 2011, when measures were enacted that imposed new regulations on where, when and how to get an abortion, the focus was on one simpleÂ idea: that abortion can beÂ dangerous toÂ a woman’s physical and mental health.
ProponentsÂ of the law — which requires the procedure to be done inÂ “ambulatory surgical centers” regulated likeÂ hospitalsÂ — argued that they were protectingÂ women from unsafe conditions at abortion clinics.Â Critics saidÂ that argument was disingenuous and that the measures were insteadÂ designed to make it nearly impossible to operate an abortion practice, forcing many to shut down.
As aÂ result, many women seeking abortion have had to travel long distances, wait for weeks and pay more — barriers that might discourage them from choosingÂ to terminate their pregnancies.
In the biggest case in a quarter-century on the topic, the U.S. Supreme Court consideredÂ whether the new measures were constitutional or whether theyÂ placed anÂ undueÂ burden on women seeking abortion. In Monday’s opinion, the justicesÂ overturned Texas’s abortion restrictions 5 to 3. The decision could have a ripple effect in other states across the nation.
As theÂ Texas caseÂ made its way through the federal courts over the years,Â numerous misunderstandings and pure fiction about the health risks of abortionÂ entered the debate. Among them were claimsÂ thatÂ the procedure is fraught with complications, causes cancer, leads toÂ reduced fertility andÂ results inÂ depression, or even suicide.
One ofÂ the most criticalÂ questions theÂ Supreme Court had to address was whether courts need to considerÂ scientific evidence supporting the laws.Â A lower court said they do not. But there was a lot for the justicesÂ to look at in the medical literature.
The most important thing to know is that a number of recent analyses have dispelled the notion that abortion is unsafe as practiced now, legally in the United States. (Abortion in the past and in other countries is a different story.)
A keyÂ study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology estimated that the risk of a woman dying afterÂ childbirth was 10 times greater thanÂ after an abortion.Â The study estimatedÂ thatÂ betweenÂ 1998 and 2005, oneÂ woman died in childbirth for every 11,000 babies born. That compares with one in 167,000 women who died ofÂ abortion complications. Doctors who perform abortions say the most common complications are not bladder issues or problems withÂ reproductive organs — as some abortion opponents like to emphasize — but mild infection that can be easily treated.
ThisÂ study and others with similar conclusionsÂ come under fire from anti-abortion groups.Â Donna HarrisonÂ from theÂ American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists told HealthDay News at the time thatÂ the findings areÂ âspeculation.â She argued that abortion mortality data are not systematically collected, which is true and important to keep in mind, but the evidence to date does not support the idea that abortion in the United States today is unsafe. Rather, it shows the opposite.
In fact, a 2014 study in the journal Contraception found that theÂ safety of induced abortion as practiced in this country for the precedingÂ decade lookedÂ very highÂ compared withÂ other procedures such asÂ plastic surgery and dentistry and even activities such asÂ biking and running marathons. One of the co-authors worked for theÂ Center for Reproductive Rights, which advocates the right of women to choose abortion.
Below is a look at aÂ chart from that study.Â (Tip: It looks as ifÂ you mayÂ want to avoid dental procedures in Illinois.)
Some anti-abortion groups also claimÂ women who get abortions may have higher rates ofÂ breast cancer later in life. They note as evidence the fact thatÂ breast cancer has risen by 50 percent in the United States since abortion became legal through the 1973Â Roe v. Wade decision. But even Abortion Facts. aÂ website opposed to the procedure, notes that’s hardly conclusive.
David Robert Grimes, a cancer researcher at Oxford University, wrote last year in the Guardian that this is “absolute unbridled nonsense of the highest order.”Â “This alleged link is not supported by the scientific literature, and the ostensible link between breast cancer and induced abortion is explicitly rejected by the medical community,” he said.
AnotherÂ highly cited possible health issue related to abortion is something known asÂ post-abortion syndrome. The term createdÂ public alarmÂ when it was used decades ago by Vincent Rue, a therapistÂ whoÂ testified before Congress on the issue in 1981. NumerousÂ studies were commissioned to look into the topic. But byÂ 1992, after systematic reviews of those studies, many doctors concluded there was no such link.
Writing that year in theÂ Journal of the American Medical Association, psychiatrist Nada Stotland stated:
“ThisÂ is an article about a medical syndrome that does not exist. A so-called abortion trauma syndrome has been described in written material and on television and radio programs. For example, leaflets warning of deleterious physical and emotional consequences of abortion have been distributed on the streets of cities in the United States. Women who have undergone induced abortion are said to suffer an “abortion trauma syndrome” or “postabortion trauma” that will cause long-term damage to their healthâ¦. [But] this assertion is not borne out by the literature: the vast majority of women tolerate abortion without psychiatric sequelae.â
Women often experience strongÂ feelings afterÂ an abortion, but aÂ study from theÂ University of California at San Francisco found that one of their main emotions was relief. And even thoseÂ who have negative emotions related to the procedure do not think they made the wrong decision. Published inÂ Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the studyÂ involved more than 800 women who sought abortions from 2008 to 2010 at 30 facilities.
The participants were surveyed one week after getting an abortion or being denied one.Â About 41 percent of women who had abortions said they felt regret, andÂ 50 percent of those turned away felt regret. There was a much bigger difference in those feeling relief: 90 percent of women who got abortions felt relief, while 49 percent of those who were denied abortions felt relief. Those denied abortions also said they felt more anger and less happiness.