Self-reported physical health of women who did and did not terminate pregnancy after seeking abortion services a cohort study

Lauren J. Ralph, Eleanor Schwarz, Daniel Grossman, Diana Greene Foster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Research demonstrates worse short-term morbidity and mortality associated with childbirth than with abortion, but little research has examined long-term physical health in women with unwanted pregnancies after abortion versus childbirth. Objective: To examine the physical health of women who seek and receive or are denied abortion. Design: Prospective cohort study. Setting: 30 U.S. abortion facilities from 2008 to 2010. Participants: Of 1132 women seeking abortion who consented to participate, 874 were included in this analysis (328 who had first-trimester abortion, 383 who had second-trimester abortion, and 163 who gave birth). Measurements: Self-reported overall health; chronic abdominal, pelvic, back, and joint pain; chronic headaches or migraines; obesity; asthma; gestational and nongestational hypertension and diabetes; and hyperlipidemia were assessed semiannually for 5 years. Mortality was assessed by using verbal autopsy and public records. Results: No significant differences were observed in self-rated health or chronic pain after first-trimester versus secondtrimester abortion. At 5 years, 27% (95% CI, 21% to 34%) of women who gave birth reported fair or poor health compared with 20% (CI, 16% to 24%) of women who had first-trimester abortion and 21% (CI, 18% to 25%) who had second-trimester abortion. Women who gave birth also reported more chronic headaches or migraines and joint pain, but experienced similar levels of other types of chronic pain and obesity. Gestational hypertension was reported by 9.4% of participants who gave birth. Eight of 1132 participants died during follow-up, 2 in the postpartum period. Maternal mortality did not differ statistically by group. Limitation: Self-reported outcome measures, uncertain generalizability, and 41% loss to follow-up at 5 years. Conclusion: Although some argue that abortion is detrimental to women's health, these study data indicate that physical health is no worse in women who sought and underwent abortion than in women who were denied abortion. Indeed, differences emerged suggesting worse health among those who gave birth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-247
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of internal medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 20 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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