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Health Matrix. 1989 Summer;7(2):42-4.

Post abortion syndrome: myth or reality?


What are the health effects upon a woman who has had an abortion? In his letter to President Reagan, dated January 9, 1989, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop wrote that in order to find an answer to this question the Public Health Service would need from 10 to 100 million dollars for a comprehensive study.


At a 1987 briefing for Right to Life leaders, the author--US Surgeon General C Everett Koop--was requested to prepare a comprehensive report on the health effects (mental and physical) of induced abortion. To prepare for this task, the author met with 27 groups with philosophical, social, medical, or other professional interests in the abortion issue; interviewed women who had undergone this procedure; and conducted a review of the more than 250 studies in the literature pertaining to the psychological impact of abortion. Every effort was made to eliminate the bias that surrounds this controversial issue. It was not possible, however, to reach any conclusions about the health effects of abortion. In general, the studies on the psychological sequelae of abortion indicate a low incidence of adverse mental health effects. On the other hand, the evidence tends to consist of case studies and the few nonanecdotal reports that exist contain serious methodological flaws. In terms of the physical effects, abortion has been associated with subsequent infertility, a damaged cervix, miscarriage, premature birth, and low birthweight. Again, there are methodological problems. 1st, these events are difficult to quantify since most abortions are performed in free-standing clinics where longterm outcome is not recorded. 2nd, it is impossible to casually link these adverse outcomes to the abortion per se. Resolution of this question requires a prospective study of a cohort of women of childbearing age in reference to the variable outcomes of mating--failure to conceive, miscarriage, abortion, and delivery. Ideally, such a study would be conducted over a 5-year period and would cost approximately US$100 million.

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