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Abortion Q&A

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    Does having an abortion really lead to breast cancer?

    No. No. No. No. No. There is no truth to this at all. It is one of those nasty myths invented by anti-choice organizations to frighten women away from having an abortion.

    Two years ago, the federal government put together a team of researchers to review the many studies that have been done on this over the years. They decided that there were flaws in the studies that linked abortion and breast cancer. The best studies, including one of 1.5 million women in Denmark, have found no link between cancer and abortion — none.

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    A friend told me that Bill O’Reilly said on his radio show that abortion is never needed to save a woman’s life.  Is that true?  Is abortion ever really necessary to save a woman’s life?

    Yes. There are a variety of health conditions in which abortion may become critical to protect a woman's life. There is, for example, a form of pregnancy-related high blood pressure that can be life threatening. The medical term for it is preeclampsia. It occurs in seven percent of pregnant women. If it is untreated or doesn't respond to treatment, it can lead to convulsions, failure of various organ systems, coma, or death. Abortion may be the only way to save the woman's life.

    Certain other conditions, such as severe diabetes, heart disease, or trauma from car accidents, may also require abortion to save a woman's life. Termination of pregnancy is also essential to save the life of a woman with an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.

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    What's wrong with having a 24-hour waiting period before abortion?

    State laws that require mandatory waiting periods before a woman can get an abortion do not offer any health benefits. They result in increased expenses, travel difficulties, and medical risks. They unnecessarily postpone the procedure even when a woman has already made a deliberate, mature, and fully informed choice.

    In many areas, women's health centers that provide abortion do not operate daily, so a mandatory 24- or 48-hour delay may result in a much longer waiting period, increasing the number of later abortions. Because 87 percent of all counties in this country have no abortion providers, these requirements are especially burdensome to rural and poor women, who may not be able to take extra days off from work, travel long distances, or find appropriate child care while they are away from home.

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    I'm scheduled to get a D&C abortion next week. What will happen?

    The more precise term for the kind of abortion you will be having is vacuum aspiration abortion. The health care provider will empty your uterus with machine-operated suction or with a hand-held device that creates suction through a syringe. D&C (dilation and curettage) refers to use of medical instruments to open the cervix or mouth of the uterus so that the uterus can be emptied — dilation — and the use of a narrow metal loop called a curette to clean the walls of the uterus — curettage. This method is used from four to 16 weeks after a woman's last period.

    Before having an abortion, a woman must sign a consent form, provide her medical history, and have laboratory tests and a physical exam. A vacuum aspiration abortion will only take 10-20 minutes, but women who have abortions in the first weeks of pregnancy are asked to rest in the recovery room for about an hour afterwards.

    Most women feel pain similar to menstrual cramps. For others, abortion is more uncomfortable. Local painkillers are used, but some women opt for sedation or general anesthesia. After the abortion, a woman may have cramps and may bleed on and off for several days up to a couple of weeks. She'll receive after-care instructions and will need to schedule a follow-up appointment in two to four weeks.

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    If a woman says she's had a D&C, does that mean that she had an abortion?

    Not necessarily. Dilation and curettage (D&C) is a procedure that involves stretching open the cervix with medication and/or instruments called dilators and then removing all or part of the uterine lining — the endometrium — with a spoon-shaped instrument called a curette. D&C is done for many reasons. It may be done to

    • perform an abortion
    • remove remains of the placenta after childbirth or miscarriage
    • diagnose or rule out endometrial cancer
    • diagnose or remove suspected polyps
    • diagnose and treat problems with heavy or abnormal bleeding
    • follow up on Pap or other tests that indicate abnormalities in the uterus

    If the D&C is done to diagnose a possible abnormal condition of the uterus, the tissue removed is analyzed by a pathologist.

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    How accurate are pregnancy tests after abortion?

    The pregnancy hormone, HCG (human chorionic gonadatropin), can remain in the body for up to 60 days after an abortion. Similarly, HCG levels can be measurable for weeks after childbirth. This can lead to pregnancy tests with false positive results for women who take home pregnancy tests.

    Women who use home pregnancy tests and who are concerned that pregnancy is continuing or another pregnancy has occurred can consult their health care provider to test for the precise levels of HCG. After at least two tests, the provider will be able to tell whether the HCG is rising — a continuing or new pregnancy — or whether it is falling — no pregnancy.

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    Is having an abortion emotionally and psychologically dangerous?

    No. Most women feel relief after an abortion. Serious emotional problems after abortion are much less likely than they are after giving birth. But anti choice extremists make false claims about this. They want people to believe that most women who choose abortion suffer severe and long lasting emotional trauma. This is not true.

    For more than 20 years, most scientific studies have found that emotional reactions to having abortion are relatively positive with two exceptions. Women who have psychological problems before the pregnancy and subsequent abortion continue to have them afterward. Also, women who have to terminate an intended pregnancy are more likely to be emotionally disturbed afterward.

    Anti-choice extremists refuse to accept the facts. They insist that "post abortion trauma" is real. They hope that such terms will frighten women away from choosing abortion. But neither the American Psychological Association nor the American Psychiatric Association recognizes the existence of such phenomena — because there's no such thing.

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    I hear you can get mifepristone online. Is that safe?

    It is very unwise to take mifepristone that has been obtained online. The only FDA-approved mifepristone is obtained from Danco Pharmaceuticals, under the brand name Mifeprex. Only Danco can distribute mifepristone to doctors, who sign a special agreement with the manufacturer.

    Because you cannot be assured that you are getting real mifepristone from online sources, it is not safe to use what is available through the Internet. In addition, mifepristone is used with another medication, misoprostol, for medication abortion. Both medications are needed to assure maximum safety and effectiveness when an early pregnancy is terminated. Neither should be ordered through the Internet. And neither should be used without medical supervision.

    If you know anyone who is thinking about ending a pregnancy with medications gotten from the Internet, please advise them against taking such risks and to seek professional medical advice immediately. Remember, safe and effective medication abortion is available throughout the U.S. from Planned Parenthood and other accredited women's health facilities.

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    My friend and I were arguing about abortion, and she said she heard that millions of women who have had abortions suffer from something called "post-abortion syndrome," which she says is just like post-traumatic stress syndrome. Is that true?

    No, it's not true. Post-traumatic stress disorder is recognized as a legitimate psychological diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association. So-called "post-abortion syndrome" is not.

    In fact, severe emotional disturbance after childbirth, sometimes referred to as postpartum psychosis, occurs somewhat more frequently than severe emotional disturbance after abortion. Interestingly, research has shown that rates of post-partum psychosis decrease in societies that legalize abortion.

    Studies suggest that while severe emotional disturbance following abortion is very rare, it is more likely for women who have

    • delays in getting abortion
    • medical or genetic reasons to abort a wanted pregnancy
    • severe pre-existing or concurrent psychiatric illness
    • conflict over abortion

    That's why women get to carefully review their options before having an abortion.

    Despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, anti-choice organizations continue to spread the false idea that it is common for abortion to have severe, emotionally negative effects. The fact is that anti-abortion groups have invented this so-called post-abortion syndrome to further their efforts to make abortion illegal and unsafe. The anti-choice studies that claim to prove its existence are very flawed. For example, the authors of the studies only interview women who claim to have emotional problems after abortion. They do not interview women who feel relief, which is the most common emotional response of women who have an abortion in the first-trimester — nearly 90 percent of all abortions happen during the first trimester of pregnancy.

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    I'm hearing that some states are banning abortion. Is Planned Parenthood still providing them? Where?

    Abortion is not illegal anywhere in the United States. It is still legal in every state — including states considering abortion bans.

    In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that it was unconstitutional for states to ban all abortions. Since then, states have not been able to enforce such bans. Unless the court overrules its decision in Roe, abortion will continue to remain legal in all 50 states.

    Unfortunately, some women believe that abortion has already been made illegal in some states. Many immigrant women across the country also believe that abortion is as illegal here as it is in their countries of origin. These women need to know that abortion is still legal in the United States.

    We urge women who need abortion services to contact us or other reputable providers. They should not be lured by so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" that will use false and alarmist information to try to frighten and shame them into not choosing abortion. And they should not attempt to provide themselves with abortion. Self-induced abortion without medical supervision is very dangerous and is an unnecessary risk.

    Women seeking abortion services in any state can contact their nearest Planned Parenthood health center.  Planned Parenthood is still here to support women, to serve women, and to defend their reproductive rights.

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    I saw a story in the New York Times about mifepristone being manufactured by a company in China that has been selling a tainted medication for leukemia. Does this mean that women won’t be able to use mifepristone for medication abortion anymore?

    No. Even though mifepristone is made by the same manufacturer, it is not made in the factory that produced the tainted medicines. The factory that makes mifepristone is routinely inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).The most recent FDA inspection was in May 2007. The FDA has said that the plant that manufactures mifepristone is not linked to the problems at the other plant.

    We know that some patients may have questions about mifepristone medication abortion as a result of this news. As a trusted reproductive health care provider, Planned Parenthood closely monitors patient experiences to ensure the highest standard of care. Our monitoring shows that mifepristone medication abortion continues to be a safe abortion option.

    If you are a woman having a mifepristone medication abortion at a Planned Parenthood health center, you should attend your scheduled follow-up appointment and contact us if you have any questions or concerns. When choosing mifepristone medication abortion at one of our health centers, you will receive extensive information and support so you can understand what to expect and whom to contact with any concern, at any time — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Planned Parenthood medical professionals are available around the clock if you need to speak with someone.

This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have a medical problem, please call toll-free 1-800-230-PLAN for an appointment with the Planned Parenthood health center nearest you.

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