Abortion Screening and Risk Factors for Problems After Abortion

Springfield, IL (April 23, 2004) – A law review article published in the latest issue of The Journal of Contemporary Health Law and Policy concludes that the number of women suffering abortion-related injuries can be dramatically reduced through better pre-abortion screening. The study includes an analysis of 63 medical studies identifying predictive risk factors for negative psychological reactions to abortion.1

According to the review’s author, biomedical ethicist Dr. David Reardon, most abortion clinics fail to screen for even the best known risk factors. He prefaces his explanation for this failure with a citation to a New York Times article examining how tough competition in the abortion industry has led to extreme cost-cutting measures. Times reporter Gina Kolata found that if the cost of abortion had kept pace with the cost of other health care services, a typical first-trimester abortion would cost around $2,250 today. Instead, the cost is around $300-about the same as was charged in 1973.

“It appears that the cost of providing abortions has been kept low because individualized pre-abortion screening and counseling has been eliminated,” Reardon said. “Instead of receiving personalized counseling, women face a brief, ‘one-size-fits-all’ intake process. By means of this ‘assembly-line’ processing, women are more efficiently slotted into tight surgical schedules. But it also means that those women are being exposed to unwanted abortions plus significant post-abortion issues and risks.”

Research suggests that most abortions are unwanted or coerced, with one survey of women who had abortions finding that 64 percent said they felt pressured by others to abort and nearly 80 percent said they did not receive the counseling they needed to make a decision — even though more than half said they felt rushed or uncertain about the abortion. Studies have also linked abortion to higher rates of substance abuse, suicide, depression, and psychiatric illness.

While Reardon believes more research into abortion complications should still be done, he says that the existing research has identified key risk factors for reliably identifying those women who are at greatest risk of the most severe negative reactions. These risk factors include being pressured by others to abort, adolescence, moral beliefs against abortion or a desire to have the baby, a previous history of trauma or abuse, prior mental illness and lack of social support.

Holding clinics to basic standards of medical care and screening for known risk factors will spare many women from unwanted, coerced or forced abortions. Furthermore, information about risks can help women being pressured by others to abort. In many cases, counselors would be required to intervene and to communicate to those pushing for the abortion the known risk factors and why they should support the woman’s desire to carry her baby to term.

“The courts must at the very least support these efforts to protect women’s rights to be free from unnecessary, unwanted, risky and traumatic abortions that also endanger the health and lives of women,” Reardon said. “No doctor has a right, much less a duty, to perform a contraindicated abortion, especially when the woman hasn’t even been fully informed and told that she is at a much greater risk of suffering negative reactions.

“Any court that upheld such a distorted right would set a precedent that would undermine the basis of all medical ethics. Even those judges who are most protective of easy access to abortion are unlikely to put the profit margins of the abortion industry ahead of the welfare of women.”


1. David C. Reardon, “The Duty to Screen: Clinical, Legal and Ethical Implications of Predictive Risk Factors of Post-Abortion Maladjustment,” The Journal of Contemporary Health Law & Policy, 2003; 20(1):33-114.

2. Gina Kolata, “As Abortion Rate Decreases, Clinics Compete for Patients,” New York Times, Dec. 30, 2000, A13.

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