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Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1988 Feb;158(2):420-4.

Legal abortion mortality and general anesthesia.

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  • 1Division of Reproductive Health, Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia.


Legal abortion-related mortality as reported to the Centers for Disease Control declined eightfold between 1972 and 1981. However, the causes of legal abortion mortality have changed over time. We reviewed all legal abortion-related deaths that occurred between 1972 and 1985 in the United States. We found that, although the absolute number of legal abortion-related deaths caused by general anesthesia complications did not increase, the proportion of such deaths increased significantly, from 7.7% between 1972 and 1975 to 29.4% between 1980 and 1985. Women who died of general anesthesia complications did not differ by age, presence of preexisting medical conditions, or type of facility from women who died of other causes. However, the proportion of deaths from general anesthesia complications was significantly higher among women of black and other races, women obtaining abortions during the first trimester, and women obtaining abortions in the Northeast. Our results indicate that at least 23 of the 27 deaths were due to hypoventilation and/or loss of airway resulting in hypoxia. Persons administering general anesthesia for abortion must be skilled in airway management as well as the provision of general anesthesia.

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