I'm a sex educator, so when I hear falsehoods about abortion, birth control, and sexual health stated as fact, I cringe. Myths about abortions can percolate through society, impacting our sexual health, our decisions surrounding our bodies, and our laws. From the mouths of our older generations to our children, and from the benches of the Supreme Court to discriminatory state laws — it’s clear that some of us are not using science or research to guide our discussions around abortion.
So what are the scientifically based facts when it comes to ending a pregnancy?
Abortion Does Not Cause Infertility
So-called crisis pregnancy centers often proffer the lie that abortion can cause infertility — but the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. Indeed, research shows that abortion does not increase one’s chances of having any pregnancy complications in the future, and a study showed folks who experience abortion are not more likely to require in vitro fertilization later in life.
Telling people considering abortion that this may be their only chance to get pregnant is a ploy to scare them into having a child they may not be ready for.
Abortion Is One of the Safest Medical Procedures Available
The myth that having an abortion is a dangerous, invasive procedure that can have long-term medical consequences has no scientific basis. In reality, an in-clinic abortion is a non-invasive, safe medical procedure with no long-term effects in the vast majority of cases.
In fact, a person is more likely to have complications after getting their wisdom teeth removed than from having an abortion, according to Katie Woodruff, DrPH, a public health researcher with the center for Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California at San Francisco.
Recent advances have also made receiving abortions outside of clinics possible. Medical abortion, or the abortion pill, is a series of pills that can be taken at home up to 11 weeks into a pregnancy, and is between 87 and 98 percent effective in ending a pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood.
Medical abortion and surgical abortion are very safe procedures. Heavy bleeding, damage to the uterus, or sepsis happens only in about 1 in 1,000 women who receive one, per the NHS.
The risks of childbirth also far outweigh the risks of having a legal abortion. One study found that in the United States, the pregnancy mortality rate was 8.8 deaths per 100,000 births, while the abortion mortality rate was 0.6 deaths per 100,000 abortions — in other words, carrying a pregnancy to term is 15 times more likely to result in death than completing a legal abortion.
Unfortunately, the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, per the Commonwealth Fund, due to life-threatening complications like eclampsia and postpartum hemorrhage.
These trends are even more dramatic for women of color: Black women are 3 times as likely to die in childbirth as white women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with the risks for Native American and Alaska Native women close behind.
But death shouldn’t be the bar. Carrying a child to term can lead to all manner of discomfort, including hemorrhoids, weight gain, and bowel problems, according to the National Institutes of Health. In addition, 95 percent of first-time mothers experience vaginal tearing.
Vaginal birth also carries long-term risks, like pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic floor dysfunction, and urinary incontinence.
Something tells me the national conversation would be different if the government were forcing men to do something that could damage their genitals and decrease their bladder control.
The Emotional Toll of Forced Birth Is Exceptionally High
There is a myth that people who get abortions spend the rest of their lives distraught and full of regret. In reality, most people who receive abortions don’t regret their decisions. A study from the Social Science & Medicine Journal published in March 2020 found that out of nearly 700 women who were contacted five years after getting an abortion, 99 percent believed that they made the right decision for themselves at that time. Further, relief was the most commonly reported emotion after getting an abortion.
However, being denied an abortion can have an extremely negative impact on a person’s mental health. “In our research, people who are denied abortion care and go on to give birth report more anxiety, higher stress, and worse self-esteem in the short term compared to those who were able to get the abortion they sought,” Dr. Woodruff says.
Woodruff is referring to the landmark “Turnaway Study,” which tracked 1,000 women over 10 years to learn more about the consequences of receiving — or being denied — an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy.
Alexander Juusela, MD, who works as an ob-gyn at Wayne State University in Detroit, also shared that the rates of intimate partner violence are higher during pregnancy and postpartum, as it can be easier for an abuser to exert their power and control during more vulnerable times. In addition, research has shown that postpartum depression is more likely to occur after unintended pregnancies than planned ones.
Emergency Contraception Is Birth Control, Not Abortion
There is a misconception that using emergency contraception is the same as having an abortion, but that is not the case. The most common form of emergency contraception is an over-the-counter levonorgestrel pill that reduces the risk of pregnancy if taken within 120 hours of intercourse, per Planned Parenthood (PDF). Levonorgestrel works by delaying ovulation for a few days. As a result, no egg is available for the sperm to fertilize, so pregnancy does not occur.
There are additional emergency contraception options: the prescription pill ulipristal, a copper IUD, and the Yuzpe method. However, none of these methods will induce abortion or impact an existing embryo in a woman who is already pregnant.
This is very different from an abortion pill, such as misoprostol, which is taken once the pregnancy process has begun. An abortion pill causes your cervix to open up and uterus to contract, helping your body push tissue out and end the pregnancy.
Emergency contraception is a form of birth control, and there is nothing to push out as no pregnancy has occurred.
Abortion Bans Disproportionately Affect Lower-Income Communities
There is a myth that everybody will be equally impacted by Roe v. Wade — but that is simply not the case. At least half of all pregnancies in the United States are not planned. Often what differentiates those that choose to proceed with the pregnancy or not is their ability to care for a child financially. Those most affected by anti-abortion laws are low income communities, and racial minorities, who may experience forced birth if they can’t take time off work and go to a state where abortion is legal.
The Turnaway Study found that those who were denied abortions went on to experience serious financial strains. Specifically, they were more likely to experience increased household poverty, higher debt, lower credit scores, and a higher rate of bankruptcies and evictions. Ultimately, they were less likely to have enough money for basic expenses to care for the child they were forced to carry to term.
Estimates predict that about one-third of women who want abortions will be unable to access them post-Roe — over 100,000 people being told in the first year alone that they cannot decide what’s best for themselves.
“This is a huge problem,” Woodruff says, “because it denies people their basic rights to bodily autonomy and self-determination. When people are forced to give birth instead of being able to get the abortion they seek, both they and their children are more likely to live in poverty and experience lasting harms for years to come.”
Abortion Is a Responsible Decision
The idea that people who get abortions are irresponsible is a misconception. More than half of U.S. women who receive abortions reported using birth control during the month they became pregnant. So it’s not like folks who get pregnant are like, “We don’t need to use a condom. I’ll just grab an abortion later.”
People who receive abortions are making responsible decisions for themselves and their families. Over 60 percent of women who get abortions already have children, says Woodruff, and one of the most common reasons for seeking abortion is the desire to focus on children a person already has. As we have seen from those who are turned away from getting abortions, people are weighing their options and making the most responsible decisions for themselves and their families.
If any of this information is new to you, it’s not surprising. We live in a country that tells people to take responsibility for their sexual health without having any federally mandated sexual education. Instead of banning abortion, we need to fund sexual education so people can access factual information about their sexual health. If you are morally against abortions, might I recommend that you don’t have one if you get pregnant? If not, mind your business.