Michael Cook

Study finds abortion linked to shortened lifespan of mother

Michael Cook
By Michael Cook

September 14, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - In a study published last week in the European Journal of Public Health, Priscilla Coleman and colleagues report that mothers who have experienced natural pregnancy loss or induced abortion are more likely to die over a 25-year period than those who have experienced only giving birth. Dr Coleman, a Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University, responds here to MercatorNet’s questions about the study.

What was your aim in this study?

The study was undertaken to provide reliable data pertaining to the relative risk of death associated with distinct reproductive history patterns over many years. Acquiring and disseminating accurate data pertaining to maternal mortality have been longstanding global concerns. Inconsistent definitions regarding what constitutes a maternal death and incomplete data confined to very brief time periods have left society largely in the dark regarding true mortality risks associated with pregnancy generally and with particular outcomes, both immediately after pregnancy resolution and across the years that follow.

Regarding the data problem, the World Health Organization has noted: “Maternal deaths are hard to identify because this requires information about deaths among women of reproductive age, pregnancy status at or near the time of death, and the medical cause of death. All three components can be difficult to measure accurately.”

Most existing statistics rely upon death certificates to estimate maternal mortality and as noted by Gissler and colleagues in 2004, without data linkage to complete pregnancy and abortion records, 73% of all pregnancy associated deaths could not be identified from death certificates alone. Large population-based record-linkage studies, containing complete reproductive history data and data related to deaths, provide a unique opportunity to bypass many of the limitations of the currently available maternal mortality data in most countries. Our study was this type of study.

In a nutshell, what did it show about pregnancy loss compared with giving birth?

Pregnancy loss, whether due to induced abortion or natural loss (miscarriage or stillbirth), was associated with a higher probability of dying over the 25 year study period when compared to giving birth. However, the results related to natural loss should be interpreted cautiously, because only the most serious cases requiring hospitalization are captured in the data.

Are the results robust compared with other studies on this subject?

The results are comparable to other record-based studies. In a record-based study by Reardon and colleagues, U.S. women who aborted, when compared to women who delivered, were 62% more likely to die over an 8 year period from any cause after adjustments were made for age. Further, consistent findings were reported in large Finnish population-based studies by Gissler and colleagues published in 1997 and in 2004.

In the first study, post-pregnancy death rates within 1 year were reported to be nearly 4 times greater among women who had an induced abortion (100.5 per 100,000) compared to women who carried to term (26.7 per 100,000). Spontaneous abortion had a pregnancy associated mortality rate of 47.8 per 100,000. In the later study, Gissler and colleagues again found that mortality was significantly lower after a birth (28.2 per 100,000) than after a spontaneous abortion (51.9 per 100,000) and following an induced abortion (83.1 per 100,000).

Our results then are consistent with prior work and extend what is known by examining combinations of different reproductive outcomes and by examining the associations between repeated experiences of the same outcome in association with mortality risk.

What, specifically, did your study show about the risk or benefit of a) induced abortion, b) miscarriages and stillbirths, c) births only?

With controls for the number of pregnancies, year of birth, and age at last pregnancy, when compared to only giving birth, having only induced abortion(s) was associated with a 66% increased risk of dying. A reproductive history entailing only natural losses (compared to birth) was associated with a 181% increased risk of dying across the study period.

Did it make any difference how often a woman experienced abortion, miscarriage etc, or the birth of child?—or what combination of these different outcomes she experienced?

Yes, both things made a difference. Women who had experienced both induced abortion and natural loss were, on average, more than three times (327%) more likely to die over the 25-year period. When induced abortion and birth were combined, the risk of dying was increased by 56%. Natural loss in conjunction with birth was associated with a 29% increased mortality risk. When all reproductive outcomes were present in women’s lives, when compared to only birth(s), a 94% increased risk of death was observed. Risk of death was over 6 times greater among women who had never been pregnant compared to those in the birth(s) only group.

Multiple abortions, compared to no experience of abortion, and after applying controls, increased the risk of mortality as follows: one abortion, 45%; two abortions, 114%; three abortions, 191%. Similarly, increased risks of death were equal to 44%, 86%, and 150% for one, two, and three natural losses respectively compared to no natural losses.

By contrast, giving birth to more than one child significantly decreased mortality risks. Specifically, two births were associated with an 83% lower risk of death compared to no births, three or more births corresponded to a 44% decreased risk over no births.

Early this year a US study reported that women were about 14 times more likely to die during or after giving birth to a live baby than to die from complications of an abortion—and it received a lot of attention. But your study suggests that birth is protective of the life of mothers compared to abortion. How do you explain the difference?

In arriving at their conclusion that abortion is many times safer than childbirth, Raymond and Grimes relied on data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to secure numbers of deaths related to childbirth and induced abortion. The authors acknowledged underreporting, but they made no attempt to address the factors associated with this shortcoming, nor did they discuss the magnitude of the problem: “Weaknesses include the likely under-reporting of deaths, possibly         differential by pregnancy outcome (abortion or childbirth.)”

Raymond and Grimes also failed to address abortion-related deaths beyond the first trimester, which constitute 12-13% of all abortions performed in the US. Using national U.S. data spanning the years from 1988 to 1997, Bartlett and colleagues reported the relative risk of mortality was 14.7 per 100,000 at 13–15 weeks of gestation, 29.5 at 16-20 weeks, and 76.6 at or after 21 weeks.

Although your study does not establish causality, do you have any theories about how pregnancy loss would shorten women’s lives—other than through immediate complications of the abortion or miscarriage?

As a psychologist without medical training, any hypotheses that I have are largely restricted to mediational processes involving mental health variables. There is significant evidence that an abortion experience increases a woman’s risk for experiencing mental health problems and when women are anxious, depressed, or abusing substances, they are more prone to experiencing accidents, negative partner relationships, and suicide, and their overall physical health may decline rendering them more susceptible to chronic and acute physical ailments.

One result in your study seems surprising—the greatly elevated risks of death among women who had not experienced any pregnancies. What do you make of that?

Without inclusion of additional demographic data, health history, and cause of death information, I think it would be premature to speculate too much. There is a great deal of medical research demonstrating physical and psychological benefits of full-term pregnancy, so women who have not experienced a pregnancy will not benefit from them. Moreover, many women in our Danish study may have died before they had opportunity to experience a pregnancy.

What further research would you like to do—or see done—on this subject?

My primary research interests relate to mental health correlates of reproductive outcomes; therefore in the future, I would like to more closely examine specific psychological pathways leading from distinct reproductive outcomes to particular causes of death using record-based data.

More specifically, I would really like to see if women who have experienced induced abortion are more likely to die from causes that may be logically associated with adverse mental health outcomes such as suicide, deaths due to engagement in risk-taking behaviors, and/ or substance abuse. 

In this regard, there are a few existing record-based studies that have addressed associations between particular reproductive outcomes and chance of death due to suicide. For example, in a population-based study, Appleby (1991) reported in the British Medical Journal that pregnant women are 1/20th as likely to commit suicide when compared to non-pregnant women of childbearing age. Appleby concluded that “Motherhood seems to protect against suicide.”

Further, Gissler and colleagues (2005) reported the annual suicide rate for women of reproductive age to be 11.3 per 100,000; whereas the rate was only 5.9 per 100,000 in association with birth (and was a startling 34.7 per 100,000 following abortion). Several other studies conducted in various countries have revealed low rates of suicide in the year following birth when compared to non-postpartum samples.

When your study showing a link between abortion and mental health problems was published a year ago in the British Journal of Psychiatry you were severely criticized by peers. Have you been attacked for these latest findings that show abortion in an unfavourable light?

Not that I am aware of. But I honestly don’t pay too much attention to what is said about me, beyond defending the rigor of the studies and the quality of the journals so that the results will be taken seriously and used to inform women and health care professionals. The satisfaction that comes from helping women to be heard far outweighs any slanderous comments about me that are floating around.

Priscilla K. Coleman is a Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Dr Coleman has nearly 50 peer-reviewed journal articles published, including 33 on abortion and mental health. In recognition of her strong publication record, she has been called to serve as an expert in several state and civil court cases, has spoken at the UN, and in 2007 she testified before U.S. Congress. Dr. Coleman is currently on the editorial boards for five international psychology and medical journals.

Study citation: Coleman, P. K., & Reardon, D. C. (September, 2012) “Reproductive History Patterns and Long-Term Mortality Rates: A Danish, Population Based Record Linkage Study”. European Journal of Public Health.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License.

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Today’s chuckle: Rubio, Fiorina and Carson pardon a Thanksgiving turkey

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By Steve Jalsevac

A little bit of humour now and then is a good thing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers.

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Lianne Laurence


BREAKING: Europe’s top human rights court slaps down German ban on pro-life leafletting

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

STRASBOURG, France, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that a German regional court violated a pro-life activist’s freedom of expression when it barred him from leafleting in front of an abortion center.

It further ruled the German court’s order that Klaus Gunter Annen not list the names of two abortion doctors on his website likewise violated the 64-year-old pro-life advocate’s right to freedom of expression.

The court’s November 26 decision is “a real moral victory,” says Gregor Puppinck, director of the Strasbourg-based European Center for Law and Justice, which intervened in Annen’s case. “It really upholds the freedom of speech for pro-life activists in Europe.”

Annen, a father of two from Weinam, a mid-sized city in the Rhine-Neckar triangle, has appealed to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights at least two times before, Puppinck told LifeSiteNews.

“This is the first time he made it,” he said, noting that this time around, Annen had support from the ECLJ and Alliance Defense Fund and the German Pro-life Federation (BVL). “I think he got more support, better arguments and so I think this helped.”

The court also ordered the German government to pay Annen costs of 13,696.87 EUR, or 14,530 USD.

Annen started distributing pamphlets outside a German abortion center ten years ago, ECLJ stated in a press release.

His leaflets contained the names and addresses of the two abortionists at the center, declared they were doing “unlawful abortions,” and stated in smaller print that, “the abortions were allowed by the German legislators and were not subject to criminal liability.”

Annen’s leaflets also stated that, “The murder of human beings in Auschwitz was unlawful, but the morally degraded NS State allowed the murder of innocent people and did not make it subject to criminal liability.” They referred to Annen’s website, www.babycaust.de, which listed a number of abortionists, including the two at the site he was leafleting.

In 2007, a German regional court barred Annen from pamphleteering in the vicinity of the abortion center, and ordered him to drop the name of the two abortion doctors from his website.

But the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that the German courts had "failed to strike a fair balance between [Annen’s] right to freedom of expression and the doctor’s personality rights.”

The Court stated that, “there can be no doubt as to the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake.”

That means, stated ECLJ, that “freedom of expression in regard to abortion shall enjoy a full protection.”

ECLJ stated that the court noted Annen’s leaflets “made clear that the abortions performed in the clinic were not subject to criminal liability. Therefore, the statement that ‘unlawful abortions’ were being performed in the clinic was correct from a legal point of view.”

As for the Holocaust reference, the court stated that, “the applicant did not – at least not explicitly – equate abortion with the Holocaust.”  Rather, the reference was “a way of creating awareness of the more general fact that law might diverge from morality.”

The November 26 decision “is a quite good level of protection of freedom of speech for pro-life people,” observed Puppinck.

First, the European Court of Human Rights has permitted leafleting “in the direct proximate vicinity of the clinic, so there is no issue of zoning,” he told LifeSiteNews. “And second, the leaflets were mentioning the names of the doctors, and moreover, were mentioning the issue of the Holocaust, which made them quite strong leaflets.”

“And the court protected that.”

Annen has persevered in his pro-life awareness campaign through the years despite the restraints on his freedom.

“He did continue, and he did adapt,” Puppinck told LifeSiteNews. “He kept his freedom of speech as much as he could, but he continued to be sanctioned by the German authorities, and each time he went to the court of human rights. And this time, he won.”

ECLJ’s statement notes that “any party” has three months to appeal the November 26 decision.

However, as it stands, the European Court of Human Rights’s ruling affects “all the national courts,” noted Puppinck, and these will now “have to protect freedom of speech, recognize the freedom of speech for pro-lifers.”

“In the past, the courts have not always been very supportive of the freedom of speech of pro-life,” he said, so the ruling is “significant.”

As for Annen’s pro-life ministry, Pubbinck added: “He can continue to go and do, and I’m sure that he does, because he always did.”  

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‘Soft racism’: German Bishops’ website attributes African Catholics’ strong faith to simplemindedness

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By Pete Baklinski

GERMANY, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) --  The only reason the Catholic Church is growing in Africa is because the people have a “rather low level” of education and accept “simple answers to difficult questions” involving marriage and sexuality, posited an article on the official website of the German Bishops' Conference posted yesterday. The article targeted particularly Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and ardent defender of Catholic tradition.

First Things blogger Leroy Huizenga, who translated a portion of the article, criticized the article's view as “soft racism.”

In his article, titled “The Romantic, Poor Church,” Katholisch.de editor Björn Odendahl writes: 

So also in Africa. Of course the Church is growing there. It grows because the people are socially dependent and often have nothing else but their faith. It grows because the educational situation there is on average at a rather low level and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions (of faith) [sic]. Answers like those that Cardinal Sarah of Guinea provides. And even the growing number of priests is a result not only of missionary power but also a result of the fact that the priesthood is one of the few possibilities for social security on the dark continent.

Huizenga said that such an article has no place on a bishops’ conference website. 

“We all know that the German Bishops' Conference is one of the most progressive in the world. But it nevertheless beggars belief that such a statement would appear on the Conference's official website, with its lazy slander of African Christians and priests as poor and uneducated (Odendahl might as well have added ‘easy to command’) and its gratuitous swipe at Cardinal Sarah,” he wrote. 

“Natürlich progressives could never be guilty of such a sin and crime, but these words sure do suggest soft racism, the racism of elite white Western paternalism,” he added. 

African prelates have gained a solid reputation for being strong defenders of Catholic sexual morality because of their unwavering orthodox input into the recently concluded Synod on the Family in Rome. 

At one point during the Synod, Cardinal Robert Sarah urged Catholic leaders to recognize as the greatest modern enemies of the family what he called the twin “demonic” “apocalyptic beasts” of “the idolatry of Western freedom” and “Islamic fundamentalism.”

STORY: Cardinal Danneels warns African bishops to avoid ‘triumphalism’

“What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,” he said during his speech at the Synod last month. 

But African prelates’ adherence to orthodoxy has earned them enemies, especially from the camp of Western prelates bent on forming the Catholic Church in their own image and likeness, not according to Scripture, tradition, and the teaching magisterium of the Church. 

During last year’s Synod, German Cardinal Walter Kasper went as far as stating that the voice of African Catholics in the area of Church teaching on homosexuality should simply be dismissed.

African cardinals “should not tell us too much what we have to do,” he said in an October 2014 interview with ZENIT, adding that African countries are "very different, especially about gays.” 

Earlier this month Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, instead of praising Africa for its vibrant and flourishing Catholicism, said that African prelates will one day have to look to Europe to get what he called “useful tips” on how to deal with “secularization” and “individualism.” 

The statement was criticized by one pro-family advocate as “patronizing of the worst kind” in light of the facts that numerous European churches are practically empty, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are stagnant, and the Catholic faith in Europe, especially in Belgium, is overall in decline.

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