When multiple studies indicate that a single action doubles prematurity risk, it is important to pay attention.
After Emily had been home for only a short while, I realized that things were much different than they had been with our son, who was also a preemie. Feeding Emily was a big problem ..... She continually startled herself into seemingly endless crying jags.....When Emily was ten months old, her doctor told us he thought we should have Emily evaluated for “possible mild cerebral palsy.” I suddenly found myself at the beginning of a whole new emotional roller-coaster ride. My jaw dropped, my face felt immediately on fire, my eyes filled with tears and my body began to shake all over. I clung tightly to my precious girl as I heard his words.... Sandra, mother of 30-weeker Emily (Your premature baby and child Amy E. Tracy, Berkley Books, New York, 1999, p. 115)).
Every year, an estimated fifteen million children worldwide are born prematurely. Complications from preterm birth, before thirty-seven weeks gestation, are the leading cause of death in children under the age of five. In 2013 alone, an estimated one million children died due to premature birth.
Despite being one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, the United States is not immune. Currently, 9.93% of births in the U.S. are preterm.
And the numbers are rising.
In the last twenty years, there are only three nations where the rate of premature birth has not risen. Many experts have called for greater research into the risk factors and prevention of preterm birth. November 17 has become “World Prematurity Day” to raise awareness of this growing epidemic and the March of Dimes has dedicated resources to help mobilize society to address the problem.
Despite the growing media attention focused on premature birth, few are aware of the increasing body of research that has found a link between abortion and premature birth.
In research jargon, a "link” is properly termed a “positive association” or “increased risk” or “risk factor.” It does not define a cause and effect relationship between the risk factor and the condition. It’s important to note that having a risk factor does not mean you will definitely come down with a particular condition, just that you are at an increased risk of developing it.
In her documentary, Hush, Punam Gill interviews women who had multiple abortions and later suffered from complications in their subsequent pregnancies. One woman she interviewed lost ten children due to cervical incompetence. “My amniotic sacks would leak through, it would hourglass, and then pop and my babies would be born preterm,” she said.
Gill turned her investigation from the subjective experiences of the women she interviewed to the objective research being done on risk factors for preterm birth.
During pregnancy, the cervix is designed to stay tightly closed in order to protect the developing baby inside. Abortion providers like Planned Parenthood perform a surgical abortion by introducing instruments into the woman’s body that force the cervix open. This forceful action can weaken, or even tear, the cervical muscles. This causes some women in subsequent pregnancies to experience “cervical incompetence” and be unable to carry their child to term.
Gill interviewed Dr. John Thorp to get his expert opinion on the link between abortion and premature birth. Thorp is the North American Editor of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the interim director of the University of North Carolina Center for Women’s Health Research. He has spent his career researching the risk factors of premature birth.
Thorp told Gill, “A prior termination [of pregnancy] puts somebody at about one and a half to two times the risk of prematurity in a subsequent pregnancy. Not only does it increase the risk of a preterm birth, it even more so increases the risk of these very tiny babies being born early, where all the death, disability, and expense arises.”
In 2009, there was an important meta-analysis (a study of the available research) published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that examined thirty-seven studies. It found that there was a 36% increased risk of preterm birth after one abortion and a 93% increased risk after two or more abortions.
According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, about half of the women who are having abortions in the US already had a prior abortion.
A study on the link between abortion and premature birth published in 2013 in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada found that extreme preterm births (twenty-four weeks or less) were most impacted by abortion. Extreme premature babies are the most likely to die and the most expensive to medically care for.
Such births were more than twice as likely for women who had one abortion.
Dr. Martin McCaffrey is a specialist in neonatal medicine in North Carolina. He expressed his frustration that despite more than eighty studies showing an association between abortion and premature birth, few women know about the risks when facing their pregnancy decision.
Incidentally, at the time the Surgeon General put warning labels on cigarette packaging regarding the possible risk of birth defects for smoking mothers, there were only seven studies that showed such a risk. Today, there are more than eighty studies showing an increased risk of premature birth for women who have had an abortion. Regarding the link between abortion and premature birth, McCaffrey noted “it seemed there is a real clear unwillingness to deal with the science on this.”
Instead of discussing the risk factors that are within a woman’s control, the media’s attention seems largely focused on things that a woman can do little to nothing about. Factors like carrying twins or triplets, having a previous preterm birth, or being African American are openly discussed by the media, but offer women no means of prevention.
Dr. Siobhan Dolan from the March of Dimes gave an interview where she mentioned these risk factors and noted that African American women were twice as likely to have a premature birth as Caucasian women.
African American women should be enabled to make informed decisions about actions that may increase their risk of premature birth. This is especially important when one considers the disproportionate rate of abortions that take place in African American communities.
In the state of Mississippi, African Americans make up 37% of the population, but account for 77% of all abortions. Mississippi also has the highest infant mortality rate and highest prematurity rate in the nation.
Such correlation by no means proves causation. It is very difficult to prove with a study that any one action causes a specific outcome; there are far too many variables. However, research is consistently identifying risk factors that make certain outcomes more or less likely.
There are at least 159 significant studies finding that abortion history raises a woman's risk of premature delivery. When multiple studies indicate that a single action doubles prematurity risk, it is important to pay attention.
As Planned Parenthood is apt to remind the world, abortion is about “a woman’s choice.” So why not discuss the possible medical risks and effects of that choice? Don’t women deserve the information necessary to make an informed choice?
According to Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the abortion lobby, the answer is no. Research like this is decried as fear-mongering and somehow anti-woman.
As a filmmaker, Punam Gill has spent her life advocating the principles of feminism—and disagrees.
Dr. Thorp directs an entire medical department dedicated to researching woman’s health and edits one of the foremost medical journals in the world—and disagrees.
As Gill put it, this is not about being pro-choice or pro-life, this is about being pro-information. If we are ever going to turn the tide on premature births, we will need to be willing to have an honest conversation and stop pretending that this research somehow doesn’t exist and that all of the researchers are somehow biased.
Such arguments rely on emotion and are anything but scientific.
*Stats updated June, 2019.