December 12th, 2013

Abortion, pregnancy: More accurate information needed

By Jolene Tan, Programmes and Communications Senior Manager, AWARE

Recent letters give an inaccurate picture of the health impact of abortion and pregnancy (“Abortions: Parental consent vital in family-oriented society” by Madam Ang Lay Choo; Forum Online, last Friday, “Why parental consent laws are necessary” by Mr Darius Lee and “Abortions raise maternal mortality risk” by Mr Edmund Leong; Forum Online, both on Nov 28).

littmann-master-classic-ii-stethoscope-adult-navy-blue-2147-12-214-240-lrAbortion has a very low risk of complication. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), excessive bleeding occurs in about 0.1 per cent of abortions, with similarly low figures for cervical damage (no more than 1 per cent) or damage to the womb (up to 0.4 per cent of surgical abortions and less than 0.1 per cent of medical abortions at 12-24 weeks).

The other main risk, infection, is typically treated effectively with a simple course of antibiotics.

The NHS also confirms that abortions do not affect the chances of successfully carrying to term future planned pregnancies.

Given these assurances by medical experts, the broad numerical correlations found in the Danish population study cited by Mr Leong are unlikely to indicate any causal link between abortion and the mortality outcomes he quoted.

The study itself does not establish any plausible medical reason for such a link.

Indeed, it is strange that Mr Leong suggests that Irish abortion law reduces maternal mortality.

In the recent high-profile case of Ms Savita Halappanavar, a miscarrying woman died of septicaemia and organ failure in an Irish hospital after hours of agony.

She was denied the abortion she repeatedly requested and which could have saved her life.

The Irish Health Service Executive found that the hospital’s interpretation of abortion law was “a material contributory factor” to the failures in her care.

As a mother who has undergone labour ending in an emergency caesarean section, I am bemused by arguments downplaying the physical and psychological impact of pregnancy, childbirth and the post-partum period.

It is common knowledge that even the most straightforward pregnancies task the body and mind substantially.

Furthermore, significant risks include gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, deep vein thrombosis, pelvic prolapse and yeast infection.

Complications at childbirth can require emergency surgery, as I found first-hand. Post-natal depression can result in long-term impairment or even death.

Carrying a pregnancy to term is no small matter even when it is wholly planned and desired. It is pregnant women who face these risks and who should have the final say over the process.

This letter was first published in the Straits Times Forum on 9 December 2013.


  1. DS


    Just saw this:

    Is it true or is AWARE not providing the full picture? Hope you can clarify for everyone’s sake!