Is Cerebral Palsy Ever a “Choice?”

By Brent Rooney, MSc

“When Emily was ten months old, her doctor told us he thought we should have Emily evaluated for ‘possible mild cerebral palsy,'” said Sandra. “I suddenly found myself at the beginning of a whole new emotional roller-coaster ride. My jaw dropped, my face felt immediately on fire, my eyes filled with tears, and my body began to shake all over. I clung tightly to my precious girl as I heard his words . . .”(1)

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a brain disorder resulting in improper balance, posture and movement. About 5,000 U.S. children under age 5 are yearly diagnosed as having CP.(2)

There are many unknowns about the risks for CP, and because of lawsuits against obstetricians, anyone identifying a new CP risk will be strongly challenged. In 1991, medical researchers did a review of previous studies and reported that very low birth weight newborns (those weighing less than 3 lbs., 5 oz.) had a whopping 38 times the risk of CP as normal weight newborns.(3)

Thus, it is hardly surprising that a CP expert such as Dr. Elliot Gersh, developmental pediatrician and medical director of Mt. Washington Pediatrics Hospital, lists preterm birth as a major risk factor for CP.(2) The more preterm a birth, the higher the risk that the newborn will have a very low birth weight.

The Abortion Link

The connection between abortion and premature birth has been acknowledged as far back as 1967, when abortion supporter Dr. Malcom Potts wrote that “there seems little doubt that there is a true relationship between the high incidence of therapeutic abortion and prematurity. The interruption of pregnancy in the young (under 17) is more dangerous than in other cases.”(4)

Professor Barbara Luke of the University of Michigan is a highly regarded author in the field of obstetrics. She notes that,

If you have had one or more induced abortions, your risk of prematurity with this pregnancy increases about 30 percent. If they were done during the second trimester, after 14 weeks, your subsequent risk of prematurity is greater than if they had been done during the first trimester, before 14 weeks.(5)

At least 16 studies, including one published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, support Luke’s claim that a previous induced abortion elevates the subsequent risk of a premature birth.(6) Most recently, a study of more than 61,000 Danish women, the largest study ever on premature births, found that women with previous induced abortions had double the risk of very preterm births (births before 34 weeks gestation) and almost double the risk of preterm births compared to women with no history of abortion. Women who had two previous “evacuation” type abortions had a 12 times higher risk of prematurity compared to women who had not had abortions.(7)

Luke has identified one mechanism that explains how abortion causes a risk of prematurity:

The procedures for first-trimester abortion involve dilating the cervix slightly and suctioning the contents of the uterus. The procedures for second-trimester abortion are more involved, including dilating the cervix wider and for longer periods, and scraping the inside of the uterus.

Women who had several second-trimester abortions may have a higher incidence of incompetent cervix–a premature spontaneous dilation of the cervix–because the cervix has been artificially dilated several times before this pregnancy.(5)

The risk of infection resulting from abortion may also explain the higher risk of premature births among post-abortive women. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin stated that “our findings indicate that an abortion in a woman’s first pregnancy does not have the same protective effect of lowering the risk for intrapartum infection in the following pregnancy as does a live birth.”(8) In 1992, pro-choice researcher Dr. Janet Daling and her colleagues reported that if the previous pregnancy ended in induced abortion, the risk of intraamniotic infection increased by 140 percent.(9)

Pro-Abortion Silence

Despite the fact that studies have shown a significant increase in premature births among women who have abortions, most clinics don’t list premature birth as a risk of abortion. In doing so, they’ve borrowed an argument from “Big Tobacco.”

In 1954, following the publication of research showing that cigarette smoking increased the risk of lung cancer, the Tobacco Industry Research Committee placed a full-page ad in major newspapers entitled “A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers.” Their message: the link between smoking and lung cancer was “not regarded as conclusive.”

Was this statement true? Yes, but it implied that no warning of possible lung cancer risk should be given until “all” the evidence was in and was conclusive, a process that can take decades. Smoking cigarettes is not curative for any disease nor is it necessary, so when the risk was first identified in 1954, cigarette packs should have carried warnings about possible lung cancer risk.

Just as abortion clinics refuse to inform women of the many studies showing a significant increased risk in breast cancer following abortion–insisting that the evidence is not yet “conclusive”–so they can also evade disclosing the risk of premature birth and CP by insisting the evidence is not yet “conclusive.” Shades of spokesman “Joe Camel.”

Crunching the Numbers

So how many cases of abortion-related CP occur yearly in the U.S.? If just 20 percent of U.S. women giving birth yearly had a previous induced abortion, that represents 800,000 women. The 1999 Danish study reported that a previous induced abortion doubles the risk of a very preterm birth. It is reasonable to assume that the risk of very low birth weight is also doubled. The 800,000 women will give birth to about 19,360 very low birth weight (VLBW) newborns, with about half of the cases (9,680) being due to a previous induced abortion.

The odds of a VLBW newborn having CP is about 9.34 percent.(3) This yields 904 VLBW newborns with CP due to a mom’s previous induced abortion. A similar calculation for moderately low birth weight (between 3 lbs, 5 oz. and 5 lbs., 8 oz.) births to women with prior induced abortions yields an additional 185 newborns with CP born to moms with prior induced abortions.

Grand total: 1,089 infants are born in the United States each year may develop CP because of reproductive injuries related to their mother’s pervious abortions. This is only a ballpark estimate, but it is more than three times the number of victims (412) in the Tuskegee experiment, where patients were also denied the truth. And it happens every year.

The Higher Risk for Black Women

According to abortion apologist Dr. David A. Grimes, black women have 35.2 percent of all induced abortions in the U.S., although they comprise only about 12 percent of the U.S. female population. It has been a “mystery” to the vast bulk of medical researchers why black American women have about three times the risk of VLBW newborns compared to Caucasian women. Certainly, not all of this disparate impact on black women can be blamed on the tripled rate of induced abortions, but to assign no impact requires willing blindness.

In 1987 it was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that black women with two previous induced abortions had a 91 percent higher relative risk of a subsequent preterm birth than black women with no induced abortions. The study noted that “black infants remain twice as likely as white infants to die during the first year of life.”(6)

VLBW newborns have over 90 times the mortality risk in their first year of life compared to normal weight newborns.(10) In a study of children in Atlanta, Georgia between 1985 and 1987, it was reported that 10-year-old black children had a 30 percent higher prevalence of CP than did 10-year-old white children.(11)

This disparate rate of VLBW babies for black American women has ominous implications for CP rates among black infants. Which black leader will start a campaign to lower the rate of CP by informing black women of the health risks of elective abortion?

A Malpractice Lawyer’s Dream?

Every year parents of infants with CP sue obstetricians, believing that errors of commission or omission contributed to their child’s malady. At least some medical researchers believe that some cases of CP are caused by problems occurring during delivery.

This article does not dispute this very real possibility. What is virtually unknown by malpractice lawyers and parents of CP children, however, is that the actions of another doctor may have boosted their child’s CP risk when he or she performed an induced abortion on the mother in the past.

Successful CP suits can result in damage awards exceeding one million dollars. If parents are considering suing the obstetrician who delivered their child, they should also consider adding the name of the abortionist(s) to those sued. The risk for subsequent preterm births is rarely, if ever, listed on abortion clinic consent forms, nor is this risk verbally communicated to young women considering surgical abortions. It is even less likely that the consequences of preterm births are explained to women: neonatal death, cerebral palsy, and other developmental handicaps.

One thing that medical malpractice lawyers love to see is an unconsented risk; that is, a risk about which the patient was not informed and therefore did not consent to accept as a risk. Also, since induced abortions are legally considered to be elective procedures, there is no justification for withholding information about risks for which the evidence is still not absolutely conclusive.

The bottom line is that elective induced abortion is a credible risk factor for CP, but this has never been disclosed to women. The vast majority of U.S. adults believe patients have a right to give informed consent about medical decisions, yet that right is being denied at abortion clinics. Some jury members may be outraged by this fraud of not disclosing risks to women of prematurity and CP.

In this case, the result of this non-disclosure is that newborns are put at elevated risk for CP. No wonder some groups talk about “choice” but not about informed choice.

Learn More:
Induced Abortion and Risk of Later Preterm Births
Justice for Kids Now website


Originally reprinted in The Post-Abortion Review, Vol. 8(4), Oct.-Dec. 2000. Copyright 2000 Brent Rooney. Reprinted with permission.

1. A. Tracy, et. al., Your Premature Baby and Child (New York: Berkley Books, 1999) 115-116.

2. E. Geralis, ed., Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Parent’s Guide, 2nd edition (Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, 1998) 3.

3. G.J. Escobar et. al., “Outcome among surviving very low birthweight infants; a meta-analysis,” Arch. Dis. Child., 66:204-211 (1991).

4. M. Potts, “Legal Abortion in Eastern Europe,” The Eugenics Review, 59:232-250 (1967).

5. B. Luke, Every Pregnant Woman’s Guide to Preventing Premature Birth (New York: Times Books, 1995) 32.

6. E. Lieberman et. al., “Risk Factors Accounting For Racial Differences in the rate of premature birth,” New England J. Medicine, 317:743-748 (1987). For a list of other studies linking CP and low birth weight, visit www.vcan.bc.ca/~whatsup.

7. W. Zhou et. al., “Induced Abortion and Subsequent Pregnancy Duration,” Obstetrics & Gynecology, 94:948-953 (1999).

8. J.M. Lang et. al., “A Comparison of Risk Factors for Preterm Labor and Term Small-for-Gestational-Age Birth,” Epidemiology, 7:369-376 (1996).

9. J.R. Daling & M.A. Krohn, “Miscarriage or Termination in the Immediately Preceding Pregnancy Increases the Risk of Intraamniotic Infection in the Following Pregnancy,” American J. Epidemiology, 136:1013 [SER Abstracts], (1992).

10. B. Guyer, et al, “Annual Survey of Vital Statistics – 1998,” Pediatrics, 104:1229-1246 (1999).

11. C.C. Murphy, et. al., “Prevalence of cerebral palsy among ten-year-old children in metropolitan Atlanta, 1985 through 1987,” J. Pediatrics, 123:S13-S19 (1993).


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