New research shows that women who have had an abortion are more likely to have a premature birth in future.
The chance of giving birth at under 37 weeks increases by 30 per cent for those who have had a procedure used in some surgical abortions and treatments for miscarriage; the risk rises by 75 per cent for those who have had more than one surgical abortion.
The Times reports that Dr Willem Ankem, who presented the research from a team of reproductive specialists based in Amsterdam to the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, said:
“We think [the increased risk] may be related to damage to the cervix. There are all types of fibres being stretched or even broken which are needed to prevent premature birth…Dilation is always used in surgical termination.”
In the UK about seven per cent of births are early, but the increased risk of premature birth identified in the research lifts the chances to about nine per cent. The dangers linked to premature birth are well documented. Babies born early are at higher risk of illness, disability, lung or bowel problems and even death.
Roughly 49 per cent of abortions in the UK, about 90,000 a year, are surgical. Experts say that the vast majority of those 90,000 dilate the cervix in the same way as those in Dr Ankem’s research which comprised 21 studies involving 1,853,017 women.
Pro-choice groups argue that easier access to abortion means that rather than surgical procedures, more women can have medical terminations which are better suited to early pregnancy, but the British Fertility Society also considered the effect on miscarrying mothers. The society’s chairman, Adam Balen, said the research “reinforces the need for ensuring that we have early pregnancy assessment units that can help with medical management of miscarriage.”
Previous research, such as one study from several academic institutions in Finland and Sweden, suggested there may be a link between abortion and premature birth. Current advice from Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) said that particular study found “no statistically significant evidence” for the link. It is not known whether this advice will now change in the light of the new research. In the same advice the NHS says that while “abortions are generally safe, they do carry a small risk of both short- and long-term complications.”