With abortion, there are always Complications

By  Kevin Cormier S.J., Catholic Register Special
  • June 19, 2014

Complications: Abortion’s Impact on Women (deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research, 433 pages, softcover, $29.95). 

We often reduce human sexuality to the individual. We concentrate on personal experience, preference and desire. Which is certainly not irrelevant, but it reduces the abortion debate to a question of individual women making individual choices. 

The truth is that sexuality, which involves the interactions between people, touches all facets of life — spiritual, psychological, social, economic and cultural. 

The deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research has recently published Complications: Abortion’s Impact on Women as a timely contribution to our national debate. This volume assumes a multidimensional perspective on the effects of abortion. Authors Angela Lanfranchi, Ian Gentles and Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy, with their respective professional expertise as a breast surgeon, professor of history and registered psychologist, ensure that this work is comprehensive in its treatment of the subject. 

The work consists of two general approaches — a review of the scientific literature and an examination of personal experience via collected stories of women who have been through an abortion. The first, the review of the literature, makes up the greater part of the book. 

This literature falls into three categories, considering the medical, psychological and social impacts of abortion. This is a significant contribution to the study of the effects of abortion on women. It not only collects a wide range of studies in one place, but critically re-examines these same studies. 

Because the issue is so politically and emotionally charged, studies are often biased in their methodology or their conclusions. Most often this is in an attempt to portray abortion as a quick and harmless solution to an inconvenient pregnancy, thus maintaining it as a legal and free choice for women. 

The authors of Complications untangle these flawed methodologies and provide evidence supporting instead the conclusion that abortion is not a trivial experience, but rather has a wide-ranging and negative impact both directly for many women and also indirectly for families, communities and even entire societies. Because the impact on women is the primary focus of this book, the greater social effects are only summarily examined and could be the subject of a further study. Social aspects that are addressed are the lower female-to-male ratio due to sex-selective abortions, misleading arguments from abortion advocates that abortion reduces maternal mortality rates and crime rates and the relationship of intimate partner violence to abortion. 

Nearly half of the book is devoted to the medical effects of abortion. Both surgical and chemical abortions are discussed, with a comparison of the two methods disputing the common misconception that drug-induced abortions are safer. Instead, they describe how resulting complications, such as profuse bleeding, are more frequent and can be more serious with a chemical abortion, and have the added risk of occurring when the woman is not under medical supervision. 

There are chapters that cover post-abortive complications such as infections, future miscarriages or pre-term births and infertility. This part of the book also addresses more controversial issues such as the link between abortion and breast cancer and the lesser-researched link to auto-immune diseases. The material in this section is treated in an objective, scientific manner. While such links are not definitively proven, it is shown that neither can the evidence disprove the possible link. Instead, the evidence corroborates the scientific explanation for such links. 

Despite its technically accurate scientific discussions, the book is very readable and does an excellent job in explaining the underlying biological phenomena to non-professionals. 

The second genre of the book, the narrative, is a contribution of original research collecting the stories of 101 women who have had an abortion. This section opens with a detailed and moving account of the recent abortion experience of an educated, middle class woman in South Asia. This woman’s experience is not peculiar to emerging, developing countries or the Third World. The stories told here include 92 women in Canada and the United States who had an abortion between three and 60 years ago. The authors then bring out common themes from these experiences. 

Among the stories collected are those of eight dying women preserved by a palliative care nurse in Ontario. 

The information gathered from these interviews is selective. The authors only anecdotally relate parts of what the women said. The women interviewed of course only represent those willing to talk about their experience. The strength of these interviews, however, lies in these being the lived experiences of real women — thus humanizing what the rest of the book elaborated as the various effects abortion could possibly entail. 

Complications is a valuable resource for educators, health care professionals and anyone counselling or considering an abortion or wanting to understand the far-reaching and varied ways abortion can affect women. It should help to show that abortion, often touted as a woman’s choice and a means for her liberation, is instead not good for women. Perhaps it is good for those who would skirt women’s holistic well being for the sake of an easy, seemingly uncomplicated, solution. 

(Cormier is a member of the New Orleans Province of the Jesuits studying theology at Regis College in Toronto. ) 

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