Higher Death Rates After Abortion Found in U.S., Finland, and Denmark

Large Record Linkage Studies Show Women More Likely to Die After Abortion, Not Childbirth

A new study of the medical records for nearly half a million women in Denmark reveals significantly higher maternal death rates following abortion compared to delivery. This finding has confirmed similar large-scale population studies conducted in Finland and the United States, but contradicts the widely held belief that abortion is safer than childbirth.

Figure 1: Click for full image

By linking records from Denmark’s fertility and abortion registries to death registry records, the researchers examined death rates following the first pregnancy outcome for all women of reproductive age in Denmark over a thirty year period, charting death rates at 180 days, 1 year, and in each of 10 subsequent years following each woman’s first pregnancy outcome.

Significantly higher rates of death were observed among women who aborted in every time period examined (see Figure 1). Overall, the study found that women who had first-trimester abortions had an 89 percent higher risk of death within the first year and an 80 percent higher risk of death over the full time period studied.

Published in the Medical Science Monitor, this is the first record linkage study of maternal death rates associated with abortion to be published using Denmark’s centralized health data. Record linkage studies of the population of Finland and of low income women in California have also found higher death rates associated with abortion.

Record Linkage Studies Eliminate Reporting Errors

The findings of these record linkage studies from three different populations contradict the conclusion that abortion is safer than childbirth. That view has traditionally been based on death certificates alone or on voluntary reporting to government agencies.

For example, a study published in February in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology using that method concluded that the death rate associated with childbirth is 14 times higher than the death rate associated with abortion.

According to Dr. David Reardon, an author of the new Danish record linkage study, the study published in February was an “apples versus oranges” comparison of two very incomplete and incomparable sets of data.

“Doctors and other officials completing death certificates almost never know if the deceased had a history of abortion,” said Reardon, who directs the Elliot Institute. “Record linkage, such as we have done, is the only way to objectively identify and compare death rates associated with pregnancy outcome using the same yardstick.”

The inaccuracy of traditional tallies of pregnancy-associated death was underscored by a 2004 study using Finland’s national health care data. The researchers found that only 27 percent of pregnancy-associated deaths could have been identified by looking at death certificates alone.  Deaths associated with abortion were the most likely to be missed.

Abortion Safety Bias Confounds Public Discussion

Reardon said the February study was “worse than a junk in, junk out analysis” because its authors excluded record linkage studies, all of which contradicted their claim that childbirth is 14 times more dangerous than abortion, from their literature review. He  believes that evidence of abortion-associated risks is being suppressed for ideological and political reasons.

“Population control activists in the United States and Europe, governments, NGO’s, and academic circles are pressuring developing countries to legalize abortion,” he said. “Their long-standing documented objective is to reduce birth rates among the poor. But that objective is being disguised by the more politically correct sales pitch which asserts that abortion is safer than childbirth and represents a positive benefit to women’s health. Any evidence which undermines that sales pitch is therefore doggedly ignored or suppressed.”

Reardon believes the higher rates of maternal mortality associated with abortion may be largely due to elevated rates of psychological stress associated with abortion.

For example, the mortality studies in Finland found a three-fold increased risk of suicide in the first year following an abortion compared to the general population and a six-fold higher risk compared to women who gave birth. The highest suicide rate was within two months of the abortion.

In the California studies, women with a history of abortion had higher rates of psychiatric treatment over a four-year study period and were 187 percent more likely to die of heart diseases, which can also be affected by stress.

“Numerous studies have linked abortion to higher rates of substance abuse, self-destructive behavior, psychiatric hospitalization, sleep disorders, eating disorders and a general increase in treatments sought for medical care,” said Reardon. “More research is needed to explore how these or other pathways may help to explain the higher mortality rates observed in record linkage studies.”

Post-Publication Addendum

A second study by the same researchers using the same data set was subsequently published in September.  That study examined death rates associated with all pregnancies that each woman had, not just the first pregnancy outcomes.  This study revealed a “dose effect”  associated with abortion.  In other words, each additional abortion increased the risk of death.   Compared to women with no history of abortion, women who had one abortion experienced a 45% increased risk of death,  those who had two abortions were 114% more likely to die, and those who had three abortions had a 191% increased risk of death during the time period examined.


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Studies Mentioned

Reardon DC, Coleman PK. Short and long term mortality rates associated with first pregnancy outcome: Population register based study for Denmark 1980-2004. Med Sci Monit 2012;18(9):PH 71 – 76.

Gissler M, Berg C, Bouvier-Colle MH, Buekens P. Pregnancy-associated mortality after birth, spontaneous abortion or induced abortion in Finland, 1987-2000. Am J Ob Gyn 2004;190:422-427.

Reardon DC, Ney PG, Scheuren F, Cougle J, Coleman PK, Strahan TW.  Deaths associated with pregnancy outcome: a record linkage study of low income women. South Med J 2002 Aug;95(8):834-41.

Gissler M, Berg C, Bouvier-Colle MH, Buekens P. Methods for identifying pregnancy-associated deaths: population-based data from Finland 1987-2000. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol 2004 Nov;18(6):448-55.

Deneux-Tharaux C, Berg C, Bouvier-Colle MH, Gissler M, Harper M, Nannini A, Alexander S, Wildman K, Breart G, Buekens P. Underreporting of pregnancy-related mortality in the United States and Europe. Obstet Gynecol 2005 Oct;106(4):684-92. Erratum in: Obstet Gynecol 2006 Jan;107(1):209.

Raymond EG, Grimes DA. The Comparative Safety of Legal Induced Abortion and Childbirth in the United States. Obstetrics & Gynecology 2012 Feb;119(2, Part 1):215-219.

Gissler M, Hemminki E, Lönnqvist J. Suicides after pregnancy in Finland, 1987-94: register linkage study. BMJ 1996 Dec 7;313(7070):1431-4.


Higher Death Rates After Abortion Found in U.S., Finland, and Denmark — 7 Comments

  1. I am trying to reconcile Fig 1 with the wording in your article, Higher Death Rates After Abortion Found in U.S., Finland, and Denmark, dated 09/05/2012. The article states, “that women who had first-trimester abortions had an 89 percent higher risk of death within the first year and an 80 percent higher risk of death over the full time period studied.” However, Fig 1, 1st year shows an approximate ratio of 51/18 or 183% increased risk and an approximate ratio of 569/220 or 158% increased risk over the full time period. Thanks, Jeff

    • Please download the study at Medical Science Monitor for the full details. The graph in this article shows the unadjusted mortality rates for each year found in Table 1 of the paper. The statement “that women who had first-trimester abortions had an 89 percent higher risk of death within the first year and an 80 percent higher risk of death over the full time period studied,” describe an unadjusted odds ratio for cumulative deaths reported Table 2. For example, the mortality rate for the full study period was 700.2 per 100,000 women who aborted their first pregnancy and 389.1 for women who carried their first pregnancy to term. 700.2 is 80% more than 289.1.

  2. Is there any insight on what the cause of death is for these women? Is it related to the procedure, or risky lifestyle choices/poverty?

    • I suggest you read Deaths associated with abortion compared to childbirth: a review of new and old data and the medical and legal implications. It looks in detail as these studies (except for the Danish ones, which were published later) and general research on health effects associated with abortion.

      As you will see, the association with suicide is very strong and is supported by self-report and longitudinal studies. Unresolved stress and increased risk of anxiety, depression, substance use, and other related unhealthy behaviors may also contribute to the increased risk of death from non-violent causes, such as the higher incidence of deaths associated cardiovascular diseases.

      In most case, there are multiple causes of death. For example, a suicide following abortion, even when a woman leaves a suicide note explaining her distress over the abortion, does not mean that abortion is the sole cause of her suicide. Clearly, other factors and history may make her more susceptible to commit suicide after a traumatic abortion experience, on the other hand abortion is clearly a contributing factor.

      The big “hide behind it argument” in the abortion debate is this claim that abortion critics have failed to prove that abortion is the direct and sole cause of all the problems that have been proven to be statistically associated with abortion. This is just shifting the goal posts, demanding a higher standard of evidence than applies to studies showing risks with other medical procedures or pharmaceuticals. Plus, in the case of psychological reactions, the self reports of women who say that the abortion “caused” or contributed to their problems should not be dismissed when evaluating the causal question.

      So certainly the evidence is irrefutable that abortion contributes to not only higher rates of death, but also risk taking behaviors, coping mechanisms, and lifestyle choices that damage health. But just as skeptics of global warming can question how much of the observed effect is caused by human activity, so skeptics of the abortion mental health issue can continually question how much abortion of the observed effect is due solely to abortion. Finding irrefutable, precise answers to how much one factor effects the an entire very complex system (an entire planet, or a whole person) is outside the limits of scientific specificity.

  3. Thank you for this well documented information. I need this in my ongoing witness to “pro choice” deathscorts at a local abortuary. They are convinced they are “helping women.”

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