Abortion Health Risks & Side-Effects

A surgical abortion is invasive and involves medical instruments. An elective or induced abortion is a common medical procedure for ending a pregnancy. Like all medical procedures, a surgical or medical abortion carries potential side-effects and health risks, and these risks may vary from woman to woman. Abortions performed later in pregnancy carry more medical risk.

Surgical Abortion Risks

Immediate side-effects may include pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and a negative reaction to the anesthetic. It is rare for a woman to die during the abortion procedure when performed by a qualified medical professional in early pregnancy. Other short-term problems post-abortion can include:

  • Infection: Serious infection occurs in 3% of women and can lead to illness and infertility. As a result, many physicians prescribe antibiotics to prevent infections after every abortion.
  • Heavy Bleeding: 1-2% of women will have serious bleeding (more than a normal menstrual period).
  • Retained Tissue: If any part of the fetus, placenta, or amnionic sac is left inside the uterus a serious infection can occur, requiring a repeat of the suction abortion procedure.
  • Puncture of the uterus: This complication is rare, but requires surgical repair and can be life-threatening.
  • Sterility: Impairment to fertility may occur due to an infection, serious bleeding, or damage to the uterus.

Medical Abortion Risks

Medical abortion involves pills, such as mifepristone (also called RU486) and misoprostol. Immediate side-effects may include nausea, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, fever and chills. Other short-term problems post-abortion can include:

  • Allergic reaction: Some women are allergic to the drugs used in medical abortion and can have a severe reaction.
  • Infection: Infection can occur, leading to illness and infertility. On rare occasions, infection can lead to death.
  • Prolonged Bleeding: Most women will bleed 9-16 days, and 1 in 12 will bleed 30 days or more.
  • Retained Tissue: If any part of the fetus, placenta, or amnionic sac is left inside the uterus a serious infection can occur, requiring a surgical abortion procedure.
  • Death: Though it is rare for a woman to die from any abortion, mifepristone abortions seem to be riskier than early surgical abortions, with fatalities at fourteen times the rate of suction-aspiration abortions.

Breast Cancer

Is abortion a cause?

Numerous scientific studies spanning fifty years have documented a relationship between abortion and breast cancer. Several more recent studies have refuted this finding, but the matter is far from settled. Scientists have known for a long time that early childbearing protects against breast cancer, but there is no consensus on whether or not an abortion is an independent risk factor.

Any woman with a family history of breast cancer or who is otherwise concerned is encouraged to do her own research into this important issue. However, accurate information about this issue may be difficult to find due to the sensitive and political nature of this issue, which affects even the scientific community.


Some studies have documented an increased risk of pre-term birth after first-trimester vacuum aspiration. A tubal pregnancy, also called an ectopic pregnancy, is when the embryo develops in one of the Fallopian Tubes which lead from the ovaries to the uterus. Studies of ectopic pregnancy risk following first-trimester suction abortion have shown varied results. Increased risks for miscarriage and preterm or low birthweight delivery have been reported for women obtaining second-trimester abortions.

Learn more about abortion.