SASKATOON — Women frequently experience complications from abortion — some of which are serious and long-lasting — but are rarely told of these risks ahead of time, the keynote speaker at the 2015 Saskatchewan Pro-Life convention told some 250 delegates from around the province.
Family physician Dr. Deborah Zeni of Georgetown, Ont., specializes in obstetrics and pediatrics, and is a senior researcher with the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research. She spoke April 24 and 25 at the pro-life convention held at St. Mary’s Parish in Saskatoon.
Citing research, sharing case histories and pointing to the deVeber publication entitled Complications, Zeni described the impact of abortion on women’s physical, mental and family health.
“You and I spend countless hours advocating on behalf of these little ones, because we believe that each and every life deserves to be nurtured and loved. However, I know in our constant battle for the right to life of these children — who are truly the least and the most vulnerable among us — we many times have lost sight of the other victims of abortion,” Zeni said, pointing to long-term devastation in the lives of women and families.
She began by noting the outside pressures faced by women, with society too often deeming an unplanned pregnancy a disaster.
“We as a society have judged women who have unplanned pregnancies; we have stereotyped them as being careless, stupid, or just plain irresponsible. We sometimes blame them, or shame them for becoming pregnant. We apply social mores and values and tell them in subtle and not so subtle ways that they can’t possibly cope with the pregnancy,” Zeni said, noting that some 60 per cent of women who have had an abortion state that they were coerced or forced.
Zeni described the scorn she personally encountered from a fellow intern when she was conducting her own pregnancy test, with his harsh words: “Who is the unfortunate wretch who got herself knocked up?”
“And we do that to the vast majority of women who find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy,” Zeni said. “The result of that is that we have 95,000 abortions per year in Canada.”
The majority of those are surgical abortions, done by inserting a curette into the uterus and scraping out the growing fetus and the placenta, she said, noting that complications are both frequent and severe.
If a procedure is done nearly 100,000 times a year, even a low complication rate involves high numbers, she noted. “But the complications of abortion are frequent — much more frequent than any other surgical procedure that we do in Canada, including surgery to treat cancer — and not only are they frequent, but they are severe, they are long lasting, and they have major impacts not only on patients, but on their families and also on society.”
The physical complication rate for abortion varies between five and 11 per cent, with some 10,000 women per year in Canada needing a surgical or medical intervention following an abortion, usually because of bleeding or infection.
“Do we talk about this? Do we tell women who seek abortions about this? Should we? Are these complications statistically significant? Absolutely, but we don’t inform women,” Zeni asserted.
The medical complications of abortion also cause long-term problems, such as infertility, higher rates of miscarriages, ectopic (tubal) pregnancies, premature delivery, and low birth weight with future pregnancies.
“Abortion increases the rate of (future) premature delivery equal to smoking a pack a day of cigarettes while pregnant,” she said. “Are women seeking abortion informed of these risks? No.”
Children born prematurely face increased risks and health complications, and put a lot of stress on a family, she noted.
Women who have abortions prior to carrying a pregnancy to term also carry an increased risk of developing breast cancer, Zeni said. “If you are under the age of 19 when you have your first abortion you double your lifetime risk of getting breast cancer.”
Although major institutions and the popular press have denied the so-called “ABC connection” to breast cancer, the research continues to show the link, Zeni stressed. She reported that the American Pediatric Association recently issued a statement that teenagers having induced abortions are at increased risk of breast cancer, and this should be a significant reason for doctors to reconsider offering induced abortions to teenagers.
In terms of mental health, abortion increases the rate of suicide and depression, compared to women who carry their baby to term, whether or not the baby is wanted, she said. Higher rates of drug and alcohol use and self-destructive behaviour such as depersonalization, isolation and promiscuity are also part of abortion fallout for many women, which can also lead to an increase in the rate of abuse and family violence they experience.
There is also an “increased risk of having parenting problems and an increased risk of dysfunctional relationships,” she related, noting problems bonding with future children, and the effects of unresolved grief and anger for both women and men touched by abortion.
“An abortion for a male also casts a long and troubled shadow over future fatherhood,” Zeni said, maintaining that abortion is not just a women’s issue, and that the complications “affect and belong to all of us.”
Those affected by abortion are in need of our compassion, love and support, she said. “We need to talk about this in our communities so that the young people can come forward with their stories. And we need to do more as a society, as a community, as people gathered here. We need to do more to protect the vulnerable in our population.”
This is also true for the urgent problem of assisted suicide and euthanasia, with the recent Carter decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, Zeni added, concluding her presentation by urging her listeners to write all political leaders at every level of government about these issues.
“They need to hear your voice, because your voice speaks for all those who do not have a voice.”