Planned Parenthood Disregards Women’s Health and Safety by Providing Misinformation on the Risks Inherent in Late-Term Abortions
Planned Parenthood depicts itself as “concerned above all with women’s health and the risk factors for reproductive health problems.”[i] However, as documented in Americans United for Life’s July 2011 report, The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood[ii], Planned Parenthood jeopardizes women’s health and safety by providing misleading and inaccurate information regarding the risks inherent in abortion. The investigatory group Live Action’s undercover videos at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country, released in May and June 2012, further expose Planned Parenthood’s callous disregard for women’s health and safety, particularly its failure to provide women with complete, medically accurate information about the risks of late-term abortions.[iii]
Numerous, well-documented studies in peer-reviewed medical journals demonstrate that abortion poses significant medical risks for women, and that these serious medical risks increase exponentially later in pregnancy.[iv]
The undisputed risks of immediate complications from abortion include blood clots, hemorrhage, incomplete abortions, infection, and injury to the cervix and other organs.[v] Abortion can also cause missed ectopic pregnancy, cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, renal failure, metabolic disorder, or shock. Immediate complications affect approximately 10 percent of women undergoing abortions, and approximately one-fifth of these complications are life threatening.[vi]
Studies reveal that the long-term physical and psychological consequences of abortion include an increased risk of:
- subsequent preterm birth;
- placenta previa (a complication during pregnancy where the placenta partially or totally covers the mother’s cervix and which can cause severe bleeding before or during delivery);
- subsequent suicide or suicidal ideation;
- major depression;
- substance abuse;
- sleeping disorders;
- breast cancer as a result of the loss of the protective effect of a first full-term pregnancy[vii];
- ectopic pregnancy;
- and death.[viii]
These medical risks, consistently documented by peer-reviewed medical journals, gravely endanger women’s physical and psychological health.
Notably, medical studies reveal that these serious medical risks increase markedly later in pregnancy.[ix]
After eight weeks gestation[x], the already high risk to a woman’s health from abortion increases exponentially.[xi] At 12-13 weeks gestation, the physical complications rate is 3-6 percent.[xii] The rate increases to 50 percent or higher as abortions are performed later into the second trimester.[xiii] Notably, the incidence of major complications is highest after 20 weeks of gestation.[xiv]
After the first trimester, the risk of hemorrhage from an abortion, in particular, is greater. The resulting complications may require a hysterectomy, other reparative surgery, or a blood transfusion.[xv]
As detailed by Americans United for Life’s amicus curiae brief filed in Planned Parenthood v. Rounds, numerous peer-reviewed studies demonstrate a link between abortion and depression, as well as an increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide following induced abortion.[xvi] Research also indicates that late-term abortions carry an elevated mental health risk. A 2010 study comparing the mental health of women undergoing early versus late-term abortions found that women who underwent later abortions (13 weeks or beyond) reported “more disturbing dreams, more frequent reliving of the abortion, and more trouble falling asleep.”[xvii] The same study ultimately concluded that women who wait until the second or third trimester before undergoing an abortion have an increased risk of “unwelcome re-experience of the abortion procedure,” reminiscent of post-traumatic stress disorder, that may require professional counseling.[xviii]
Abortion complications have resulted in maternal death and the risk of death from abortion increases exponentially later in pregnancy. A study of national data in the U.S. on abortion-related mortality from 1988-1997 found that at 13-15 weeks of gestation, the rate of abortion-related mortality was 14.7 per 100,000; at 16-20 weeks, the rate rose to 29.5 per 100,000; and, at or after 21 weeks, the rate reached 76.6 deaths per 100,000.[xix]
Despite the well-documented risks of abortion—particularly late-term abortion—Live Action’s 2012 exposé reveals the callous disregard demonstrated by some Planned Parenthood employees for the serious health risks late-term abortions pose for women.
In May and June 2012, Live Action’s “Gendercide” series exposed Planned Parenthood’s affirmation and facilitation of sex-selection abortions. But this was far from the only troubling evidence uncovered. The video footage also shows Planned Parenthood employees misinforming women about the serious health risks of late-term abortions.
At a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Austin, Texas, for example, a Planned Parenthood employee dangerously understated the significant increase in health risks to a woman undergoing a late-term abortion. When the pregnant woman inquired about whether it was “more dangerous” to wait to have an abortion until she could detect her baby’s gender—which the Planned Parenthood employee told her is “usually at 5 months [18-21 weeks gestation]”—the Planned Parenthood employee stated that it is “not more dangerous. I mean, there are risks,” but quickly changed the subject, “Let me see. Your last menstrual period was February…”[xx]
Planned Parenthood’s failure to mention the significant health risks of late-term abortions imperils women’s health. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood’s negligence deprives women of their right to make an informed decision based on complete information.
Similarly, Live Action’s undercover investigation in New York City revealed Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger clinic failing to provide a woman with accurate information about the increased risks of late-term abortions. The Planned Parenthood employee, Randi Coun, responded to a question about late-term abortion complications: “The biggest difference is that after 16 weeks, the procedure becomes a 2-day procedure, rather than a procedure that’s done just on one day.”[xxi] She concludes, “So it’s not that it’s unsafe, or that there’s a lot more risk involved, it’s just there’s more steps involved.”
However, additional “steps” fails to come even close to accurately communicating the actual increased “risk” of late-term abortions. The Planned Parenthood employee’s implication to the contrary is indefensible.
However, rather than being fired, Ms. Coun was commended by Planned Parenthood’s Vice President of Education, in PPFA’s official statement. Commendation for her interaction with a “patient” in the Live Action video reveals that Planned Parenthood’s “high standards” for being a “women’s health advocate” do not require any discussion about the major complications that exponentially increase with later abortions.
Planned Parenthood’s apparently sanctioned behavior of providing women with incomplete, false, or misleading information regarding the high risks of late-term abortion places women’s very lives in the balance and deprives women the opportunity to exercise the true choice that comes from making an informed decision.
[i] See http://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/PPFA/Anti_Choice_Claims_About_Breast_Cancer.pdf (last visited Sept. 6, 2012). Planned Parenthood makes this claim in its attempt to refute evidence of an increased risk of breast cancer following abortion. For more information on the increased risk see infra note vi.
[ii] See The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood, (Americans United for Life 2011), available at http://www.aul.org/aul-special-report-the-case-for-investigating-planned-parenthood (last visited Sept. 4, 2012).
[iv] For more detailed information, see AUL Talking Points on Health Risks to Women from Late-Term Abortion available at http://www.aul.org/womens-health-defense-actlate-term-abortion-ban/ (last visited Oct. 9, 2012).
[v] Although Planned Parenthood acknowledges certain risks of abortion, its website material fails to disclose many of the significant side effects that abortion can have on women. See, e.g., Planned Parenthood, In-Clinic Abortion Procedures (2010), available at http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/abortion/abortion-procedures-4359.htm (last visited Jun. 24, 2012).
[vi] Shadigian, Elizabeth. “Reviewing the Medical Evidence: Short and Long-Term Physical Consequences of Induced Abortion”, testimony before the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion, Pierre, South Dakota September 21, 2005.
[vii] Although Planned Parenthood often asserts that “there is no evidence of an association between abortion and breast cancer,” medical studies document an association between induced abortion and subsequent breast cancer. A study by Thorp et al. in the January 2003 issue of Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey (OGS) shows that a woman who aborts her first pregnancy loses the protective effect against subsequent breast cancer that a first full-term pregnancy provides. See Thorp, Hartmann & Shadigian, Long-Term Physical and Psychological Health Consequence of Induced Abortion: Review of the Evidence, 58 Obst. & Gyn. Survey 67 (2003); Russo, J., Russo, I.H, Toward a Physiological Approach to Breast Cancer Prevention, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 1994 Jun; 3:353-64. See also Janet Daling, et al., Risk of Breast Cancer Among Young Women: Relationship to Induced Abortion, 86 J. Nat’l Cancer Inst. 1584 (Nov. 1994). The study also concluded that if an 18-year-old, pregnant for the first time, decides to abort, her risk of breast cancer is almost doubled. A 1989 study by Holly Howe in the International Journal of Epidemiology found a 50 percent increased risk of breast cancer after abortion. See Howe et al, Early Abortion and Breast Cancer Risk Among Women Under Age 40, 18 Inter’l J. Epid. 300 (1989). In a 1994 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, NCI researcher Janet Daling, who is personally “pro-choice,” found that “among women who had been pregnant at least once, the risk of breast cancer in those who had experienced an induced abortion was 50 percent higher than among other women.” See Janet Daling, et al., Risk of Breast Cancer Among Young Women: Relationship to Induced Abortion, 86 J. Nat’l Cancer Inst. 1584 (Nov. 1994).
[viii] See AUL Talking Points on Health Risks to Women from Late-Term Abortion available at http://www.aul.org/womens-health-defense-actlate-term-abortion-ban/ (last visited Oct. 9, 2012).
[ix] Several large scale studies have revealed that abortions after the first trimester (144,000 performed annually) pose more serious risks to women’s physical health than first trimester abortions. S. V. Gaufberg, “Abortion complications,” 2008, http://emedicine. medscape.com/article/795001-overview, http://www. web-citation.org/5iLo2bOzc.  L. A. Bartlett, C. J. Berg, H. B. Shulman et al., “Risk factors for legal induced abortion-related mortality in the United States,” Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 103, no. 4, pp. 729–737, 2004. For a study that shows an increased risk of posttraumatic stress symptoms with late-term abortions as compared to early term abortions, see, P. K. Coleman, C. T. Coyle, V. M. Rue, “Late-Term Elective Abortion and Susceptibility to Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms,” Journal of Pregnancy, v. 2010. At least two studies have concluded that “2nd trimester (13-14 weeks) and 3rd trimester (25-26 weeks) abortions pose more serious risks to women’s physical health compared to 1st trimester abortions.”
[x] Gestation means the time that has elapsed since the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period.
[xi] See L. Bartlett et al., Risk factors for legal induced abortion-related mortality in the Unied States, OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY 103(4):729 (2004).
[xii] See Slava V. Gaufberg, Abortion, Complications, eMedicine, Feb. 5, 2010, available at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/795001-overview#a0199 (last visited July 19, 2012).
[xiv] See J. Preger & A. DeCherney, WOMEN’S HEALTH: PRINCIPLES AND CLINICAL PRACTICE 232 (2002).
[xv] See http://www.aul.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/model-womens-health-protection.pdf (last visited Jun. 25, 2012).
[xvi] In July 2012, the Eighth Circuit upheld South Dakota’s “suicide advisory,” that portion of the informed consent law that requires women be informed that there is an increased risk of suicide and suicide ideation following abortion. (Other provisions of the informed consent law, also challenged by Planned Parenthood, were previously upheld by the court.) The brief filed by Americans United for Life is available at http://www.aul.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/PP-v-Rounds-AUL-amicus-final.pdf (last visited Sept. 6, 2012).
[xvii] Coleman, Coyle & Rue, Late-Term Elective Abortion and Susceptibility to Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms, 2010 Journal of Pregnancy 1, 7.
[xviii] Id at 8.
[xix] See L. Bartlett et al., Risk factors for legal induced abortion-related mortality in the United States, OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY 103(4):729 (2004). Even the Alan Guttmacher Institute –Planned Parenthood’s former research arm—acknowledges that the risk of death associated with abortion increases for later-term abortions. See L. Bartlett et al., Risk factors for legal induced abortion-related mortality in the United States, OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY 103(4):729-737 (2004).
[xxi]See http://protectourgirls.com/gendercide-in-america-undercover-in-nyc/ (last visited Jun. 24, 2012).