Revealed: how an abortion puts the next baby at risk
By Michael Day
Having an abortion almost doubles a woman's risk of giving birth dangerously early in a later pregnancy, according to research that will provoke fresh debate over the most controversial of all medical procedures.
A French study of 2,837 births - the first to investigate the link between terminations and extremely premature births - found that mothers who had previously had an abortion were 1.7 times more likely to give birth to a baby at less than 28 weeks' gestation. Many babies born this early die soon after birth, and a large number who survive suffer serious disability.
Peter Bowen-Simpkins: 'termination may have late complications'
The research leader, Dr Caroline Moreau, an epidemiologist at the Hôpital de Bicêtre in Paris, said the results of the study, which appear in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, provided conclusive evidence of a link between induced abortion and subsequent pre-term births.
Last night anti-abortion campaigners seized on the evidence to demand that all women seeking a termination be warned, routinely, that they are jeopardising the well-being of future babies. A series of earlier, smaller studies had failed to provide clear evidence of a link and so women currently opting for an abortion are not warned of the risk.
Dr Moreau said: "Clearly there is a link. The results suggest that induced abortion can damage the cervix in some way that makes a premature birth more likely in subsequent pregnancies."
Her study compared the medical histories of 2,219 women with babies born at less than 34 weeks with another 618 who had given birth at full term. Overall, women who had had an abortion were 40 per cent more likely to have a very pre-term delivery (less than 33 weeks) than those without such a history. The risk of an extremely premature baby - one born at less than 28 weeks - was raised even more sharply, by 70 per cent. Abortion appeared to increase the risk of most major causes of premature birth, including premature rupture of membranes, incorrect position of the foetus on the placenta and spontaneous early labour. The only common cause of premature birth not linked to abortion was high blood pressure.
Mr Peter Bowen-Simpkins, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and a consultant obstetrician at the Sancta Maria Hospital in Swansea, said the study revealed that abortion might not be as safe as previously supposed. "This study shows that surgical termination of pregnancies may have late complications and may not be without risk," he said.
About 185,000 women have abortions in Britain each year, for social or medical reasons, and last night anti-abortion campaigners seized upon the new study as evidence that the risks have been underplayed.
Jack Scarisbrick, the chairman of the campaign group Life, said: ''We have been saying for years that surgical abortion inevitably increases the risk of later problems. It seems that the abortion procedure carries with it risks that women will know nothing about until they become pregnant with a 'wanted' child later on."
About 80,000 babies in the UK and Ireland are born prematurely each year; 17,000 of these need intensive care.
A spokesman for Marie Stopes International, which is the largest provider of abortions outside the NHS, said that women seeking terminations were not told of increased risks of premature births "because so far, they have not been established".