Abortion linked to premature birth

Two or more could double chances of problems next time

Women who have an abortion could be risking the health of their next baby, it emerged last night.

Those who terminate a pregnancy are subsequently more likely to give birth prematurely, with two or more abortions more than doubling the odds. Premature babies are at greater risk of health problems, with one in ten having lung disease, cerebral palsy, blindness or deafness.

Fertility doctors said the study did not prove abortion caused premature births because some of the reasons why women choose to terminate a pregnancy – such as unemployment or money worries – are also linked to early birth. But other experts said the evidence was ‘compelling’ and insisted women seeking abortions should be warned of the risk.

The data, revealed at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Amsterdam, comes as abortion rates hit record levels. More than 200,000 women a year in England and Wales choose to terminate pregnancies –second only to the U.S. in the West.

The results revealed that having one abortion raised the risk of a woman having her next baby prematurely, which is defined as before 37 weeks, by 20%. The risk of a very premature baby before 34 weeks rose by 50%.

Women who had two or more abortions were almost twice as likely to have a premature baby and two and a half times as likely to have one very prematurely.

Dr Robbert van Oppenraaij, of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, said it was not clear what caused the link, suggesting that abortion may harm the womb or create infection. However, others said it made ‘total sense’. Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment On Reproductive Ethics, said: ‘There’s a logic. The body is protecting a healthy baby. By producing an abortion, you destroy that protection and make the cervix more vulnerable.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which carries out almost a third of abortions in Britain, said leaflets it gives patients mention the link to premature birth. Medical director Dr Patricia Lohr said: ‘Abortion is extremely safe. When we counsel women, we provide them with information about the potential for a slightly higher risk of miscarriage or early birth.’

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