- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2002

Scientists continue to research and churn out studies on the health consequences of abortion, but their mixed results have historically served mainly as fodder in the highly emotional debate

The August issue of the British Medical Journal, published this week, reports that women who have abortions are more likely to die in the years following the procedure than women who give birth.

Researchers examined death records linked to payments for births and abortions for approximately 173,000 low-income California women. Those who had abortions were almost twice as likely to die in the following two years.

"During the first four years, higher rates of death from suicide and heightened risk-taking behavior were the most pronounced area of difference," said the studys lead author, Dr. David C. Reardon. He is the director of the Elliot Institute, which studies the aftereffects of abortion on women.

Though this is not the first study to contradict the prevailing view that abortion can be safer for a woman than giving birth, it did yield a surprising finding. Of women who had abortions, the heightened death rate remained over a period of eight years — a 154 percent higher risk of death from suicide, an 82 percent higher risk of death from accidents and a 44 percent higher risk of death from natural causes.

The bulk of research on the topic — like a study published in the Aug. 20 issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry — has focused on the mental health aftereffects of abortion, such as the reported tendency toward depression, self-destructive behavior and other emotional problems aggravated by the abortion experience.

Statistician Iain Murray of the nonpartisan, Washington-based Statistical Assessment Service insists studies linking abortion and mortality rate are based on faulty science. "Statistics are used in the [abortion] debate like stolen lightning," said Mr. Murray, a conservative who called the study in the British Medical Journal more evidence of "scaremongering" coming from the pro-life movement.

His complaint is that Dr. Reardon and his research team did not take into account marital status. "The single biggest predictor of a woman suffering violence is her marital status."

"If the researchers had found that a married woman who had had an abortion was more likely to die than a married woman who had not, or, more significantly, an unmarried woman who had not, then that would be something worth paying attention to. As it is, this study is not a particularly useful contribution to the debate," Mr. Murray said.

Public interest in the health of women who have abortions was stirred up by President Reagan during the 1980s when he asked then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to look into the issue. Dr. Koop concluded that all the studies to date were flawed and recommended a sweeping government study. His proposal died in Congress.

Dr. Reardon feels his studies dont get the attention they merit because of politics. "The government has ignored this problem for decades, largely at the behest of population control groups which are more concerned about protecting abortion than protecting women," he said.

"If the government had acted on Koops recommendation, we would have had definitive answers by now," he added.


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