Hiding Abortion’s Complications

Though the subject doesn’t get much press or publicity, legal abortion—aside from being deadly for the baby—is also dangerous for the mother. Over the years, groups have compiled information, examined data, and analyzed reports. The results are disturbing. While some may teach that abortion is safe for the mother, we understand that this is far from the truth.

The most recent (November 27, 2020) Abortion Surveillance report by the CDC, covering 45 years from 1973 through 2017, indicates that, out of 519 maternal deaths, 86.1 percent resulted from legal abortion, 11 percent from illegal abortion, and 2.9 percent from abortions in which the legal status was unknown.1 Hence, on average, legal abortion accounted for almost 10 maternal deaths per year, which might suggest that legal abortion is quite “safe,” given the number of annual abortions performed. However, we should note that not all states give information about abortions to the CDC. A 10-year review (2007 through 2016) of CDC reports indicates that California, Maryland, and New Hampshire did not report. The current CDC report says that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2017, these three states had 19 percent of the nation’s abortions.2 Furthermore, the CDC has noted that its annual reports yield only 68-71 percent of the abortions reported by Guttmacher’s survey of clinics.3 

Two earlier studies (1996) of the abortion industry found that many abortion-related maternal deaths were unreported by the CDC. In Victims of Choice, Kevin Sherlock, an investigative reporter who examined newspaper articles and public records in county courthouses, coroners’ offices, and morgues, found that there were 30 to 40 percent more abortion-related maternal deaths during 1980-1989 than CDC figures indicated.4

In his book Lime 5, Mark Crutcher found that 23 maternal deaths had been reported to state agencies between 1992 and 1993, although the CDC lists only 16 for this period. Crutcher also found that, at the time of his investigation, out of 68 upper-level employees at the CDC, 34 had obvious connections with the abortion industry, including 17 practicing abortionists, two of whom served terms as head of the Abortion Surveillance Branch.5

Cooking the books 

More recently, in the Spring 2020 issue of The Human Life Review, Robert G. Marshall states in “Abortion, Women, and Public Health” that the CDC “has historically (and to this day) provided less-than-complete abortion complication reports.”6 He notes six stratagems by which abortion complications and/or maternal deaths are kept out of official statistics:

  1. From 1970 to 1988, the government’s instructions for filling out induced-termination-of-pregnancy report forms included the statement: “If no complications have occurred at the time the report is completed, check ‘none.’” And then (with perhaps an implied wink and nod to clinic administrators) it states in italics: “This item will provide data regarding the risk of induced termination.” Of course, some complications may surface well after the woman walks out of the clinic and may not be reported as abortion-related by future caregivers. Depending on the circumstances, the woman may present herself as experiencing a miscarriage. This is particularly likely if the woman has undergone a medical (pill) abortion, which by 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute, accounted for 39 percent of all US abortions.7
  2. Since 1988, the CDC no longer requests complication data on its standard reporting form. The same is true of the abortion-reporting handbook of the Department of Health and Human Services. While asking how the abortion was performed, it has no checkboxes for complications.
  3. Most women who experience later abortion complications go to a hospital emergency room or a doctor’s office. But Marshall notes: “Only a minority of states require health facilities and professionals to report abortion-related complications they encounter, and of these, some have experienced difficulties in publicizing and enforcing their reporting requirements.”
  4. In its 1998 reporting handbook, the DHHS indicated that, in the case of an attempted abortion resulting in a live birth, “the report of induced termination of pregnancy is not to be completed and filed. Rather, a certificate of live birth is to be prepared for the infant.” Should the infant die, a death certificate must also be filed. Hence, any complication data would be ascribed to a live birth, not to an abortion.
  5. The CDC’s current certificate of live birth form asks for the number of previous births from women delivering a baby. But rather than allowing for different pregnancy outcomes to be listed and counted separately, all “other pregnancy outcomes” are to be recorded in one box. Marshall notes: “This data collecting scheme makes it impossible for the birth certificate to be used as a paper trail to link a prior induced abortion to future negative pregnancy outcomes such as prematurity, low birth weight, etc.” This same lumping of all pregnancy outcomes in one box is used on the US Standard Report of Fetal Death form. 
  6. Marshall also reports: “Between 1972 and 1980, 19 deaths from ectopic [undetected tubal] pregnancy occurred soon after an attempted legally induced abortion [which were] . . . considered abortion-related.” However, he goes on to say that, in its first (1982) ectopic pregnancy surveillance report, “when a woman died of an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy after an attempted abortion, the CDC deftly redefined such deaths as not related to abortion.”

Hence, from this point onward, one type of abortion-related maternal death is simply not counted!

Firsthand information 

In 1989, Marshall and a public health professor contacted 1,087 Virginia physicians who did not perform abortions and asked if they had treated any complications, primarily within 24 hours, of an abortion occurring that year. The 75 doctors who responded (seven percent) reported 230 abortion complications. Virginia health officials, relying on the abortionists’ reports based on a similar number of total abortions in the previous year (1988), listed only 34 complications.

In 1995, Marshall was a member of Virginia’s General Assembly and requested state Medicaid officials to conduct a study comparing the cost of medical care for 325 women who had aborted to the costs for 325 women who gave birth. The women were matched for age, race, and program eligibility. Marshall states: “The women with normal deliveries had 307 claims . . . for subsequent health interventions” with reimbursements totaling $66,900, while those who aborted had 532 claims for subsequent health interventions with reimbursements totaling $123,800. 

In 1997, a similar study was conducted on 122 women whose first pregnancy ended in abortion and 122 women whose first pregnancy ended in a live birth. It yielded similar results.8

Operation Rescue’s work 

Operation Rescue is one of the nation’s leading, pro-life Christian activist organizations. Its members work peacefully to uncover poor conditions and other wrongdoing inside abortion clinics, with the intention of exposing these transgressions to the public. 

Operation Rescue’s president is Troy Newman, who, along with David Daleiden and others, founded the Center for Medical Progress—the organization that made undercover videos documenting Planned Parenthood’s participation in the illegal sale of fetal body parts and the abuse of patients’ rights. Cheryl Sullenger serves as senior vice president of Operation Rescue. She has conducted extensive research on abortionists in the United States. Her research and documentation have been instrumental in bringing disciplinary action and criminal prosecutions against several abortionists. 

Sullenger told this writer that, with the help of volunteer abortion clinic watchers and follow-up investigations, Operation Rescue has documented 389 medical emergencies at abortion clinics requiring ambulance transportation to hospitals from 2015 through 2019—an average of 77.8 per year. These most often involved photographic evidence of the incidents and follow-up records of 911 calls. These emergencies are still only a fraction of the total, however, since not all clinics are observed, and not all observed are watched all the time. 


Hundreds of studies in the medical literature, both domestic and foreign, have found that legal abortion increases the risk of negative health consequences for women. Other than immediate injury in botched abortions, the consequences for women include increased risk of both physical and emotional maladies.9 Finally, legal abortion also increases the risk of preterm births for future children, whether wanted or unwanted. In 2018, preterm birth and a low birth weight accounted for some 17 percent of infant deaths. Moreover, babies who survive have an increased risk of breathing problems, feeding difficulties, cerebral palsy, developmental delay, and vision and hearing problems.10

It is evident that the pro-choice movement seeks to keep this information from women.11 Marshall concludes, however, that this situation can be remedied by legislation mandating that accurate information be recorded, and once such data is available, it can be used to “undermine and reverse” Roe v. Wade’s “lethal effects.”

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Abortion Surveillance, United States, 2018,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, (November 27, 2020): 69 (7) 1-29, Table 14, cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/ss/ss6907a1.htm?s_cid=ss6907a1_x#T14_down.

2. Ibid. p. 12. 

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Abortion Surveillance, United States, 2016,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, (November 29, 2019): 68 (11), 14, cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/ss/ss6811a1.htm. 

4. Kevin Sherlock, Victims of Choice (Akron, Ohio: Brennyman Books, 1996).

5. Mark Crutcher, Lime 5 (Denton, TX: Life Dynamics, Inc., 1996). 

6. Robert G. Marshall, “Abortion, Women, and Public Health: Getting the Whole Truth,” The Human Life Review, (Spring 2020): 10-19. 

7. Guttmacher Institute, “Induced Abortion in the United States,” (Fact Sheet), September 2019, p. 4, guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-united-states#.

8. Marshall, op. cit., pp. 16-17. 

9. For a brief overview, see Raymond J. Adamek, “Legal Abortion Harms Women,” unpublished paper, partially updated August 11, 2020, available at rtlofneo.com/abortion.

10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Reproductive Health: Preterm Birth,” accessed 12/17/20, cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pretermbirth.htm.

11. Raymond J. Adamek, “Legal Abortion Threatens Health and Fertility: Why Aren’t Women Informed?” The Human Life Review (Fall 2017): 27-37.

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About the author

Raymond J. Adamek PhD

Raymond J. Adamek, PhD, is a retired professor of sociology from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, and has published over 25 articles on life issues in professional journals and other outlets. He has been active in the pro-life movement since 1972.