By Helen Bridle
The impact of abortion on future pregnancies depends on the method of abortion, according to a new study by Scottish scientists.
Overall, having had an abortion means that, in a subsequent pregnancy, a woman is 37 per cent more likely to give birth prematurely than someone who has never been pregnant previously. Premature babies are those born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy and often suffer from health problems.
However, the risk is much higher for those who have had a surgical abortion, rising to a 62 per cent greater likelihood of very early preterm birth, at earlier than 32 weeks. In contrast, having a medical abortion does not result in a statistically significant increase in the risk of having a premature baby.
Professor Siladitya Bhattacharya who led the study said: “Many women start their reproductive life with an abortion in their first pregnancy. Up until now what has not been entirely clear is the effect these abortions may have on subsequent childbearing.”
Scientists from Aberdeen University used anonymised Scottish national data for over 620,000 women between 1981 and 2007 in the largest ever population-based study to date of reproduction outcomes following induced abortion.
The scientists suggested that damage to the cervix or infection associated with a surgical abortion might explain the higher risk of preterm birth found for this method.
They also noted an increased risk of conditions such as ectopic pregnancy or pre-eclampsia for those who had an abortion. Having several abortions did not add in a cumulative way to the risk.
Professor Bhattacharya said: “The results of this study should help provide women as well as health professionals with accurate information to inform clinical decision-making and tailor antenatal care to address women’s risk profiles.”
In 2011, 12,471 abortions were performed in Scotland, of which 74 per cent were medical.