December 8th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: After the landslide: the challenges ahead

CULTURE: Dealing girls a raw and racy deal

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Has the Liberal Party any future?

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Can Australia avoid an economic downturn?

WATER: Vehement opposition to permanent water-trade

QUARANTINE: Horse flu inquiry exposes AQIS's abject failure

NATIONAL SECURITY: We have met the enemy, and he is us

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The WHY and HOW of Labor's victory / Now for the Delphic Oracle ...

CULTURE: Dealing girls a raw and racy deal

SCIENCE: People will marry robots, scientist predicts

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Abortion link to pre-term birth and cerebral palsy

MEDICINE: Dolly's creator abandons therapeutic cloning

OPINION: William Wilberforce's lessons for us today

Bad economics (letter)

Ten points for Kevin Rudd (letter)

DLP resurgence (letter)


BOOKS: PRINCE OF THE CHURCH: Patrick Francis Moran, 1830-1911, by Philip Ayres

BOOKS: CONJUGAL AMERICA: On the Public Purposes of Marriage, by Allan Carlson

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Abortion link to pre-term birth and cerebral palsy

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, December 8, 2007
Most women having abortions are not warned of the risk of premature birth and damage to babies in subsequent pregnancies.

Nearly a third of "very-pre-term" US births - that is, pre-term births before 32 weeks' gestation - are due to the mother having had a prior abortion, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine.1

This information, combined with previous research on the relation between low birth-weight children and cerebral palsy (CP), indicates an estimated 1,096 children suffering from CP because of their mother's prior abortion. The study, based on 2002 data, examines 4,021,726 births, 486,629 pre-term babies and 72,751 very-pre-term babies.

The study's authors are Dr Byron Calhoun, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at West Virginia University, Dr Elizabeth Shadigian, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Michigan, and Brent Rooney, research director of the Reduce Preterm Risk Coalition, in Vancouver, Canada. They have concluded that prior induced abortion is a significant risk factor in very pre-term births and cerebral palsy.

Immutable risk factor

The research backs up previous findings, published in 2006 by Dr Richard E. Behrman of Stanford University's Institute of Medicine, that named "prior first trimester induced abortion" as an "immutable medical risk factor associated with pre-term birth".2

Very pre-term babies have much higher than normal risks of suffering medical problems, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, lung impairment and serious infections.

In 2002 there were 58,717 US newborn with a birth weight under 1,500 grams (3 lbs. 5 oz), according to a Center for Disease Control (CDC) article by Dr Joyce Martin. Most of these under-1,500 gram babies were delivered very prematurely.

Dr Calhoun cited a 1991 comprehensive study by Dr G. Escobar et al. that found that newborns under 1,500 grams have a 7.7 per cent chance of having cerebral palsy. Using this 7.7 per cent figure, combined with the excess number of babies under 1,500 grams caused by mothers' prior abortions, enabled Dr Calhoun et al. to compute 1,096 excess cases of CP caused by prior induced abortions.

The article further estimated a direct cost to the health care system of abortion-related pre-term babies at US $1.2 billion in 2002. This estimate did not include long-term costs for ongoing, often life-long, medical expenses and lost income that such children will suffer.

In April 2004 Justice Michael Grove of the NSW Supreme Court ruled that a Sydney girl, Kristy Bruce, was born with brain damage as a result of her mother's uterine rupture - a complication from a previous abortion. As a result, the girl's family lost their bid to sue the mother's obstetrician for negligence. Kristy, then 15, has cerebral palsy, is confined to a wheelchair and cannot walk or talk, but has a beautiful smile. Kristy was not premature, but she was deprived of oxygen when her mother's uterus ruptured during labour.

In 2005, a study from France confirmed that abortion increases a woman's risk of delivering future children prematurely; the risk of very pre-term delivery (less than 33 weeks) increases even more dramatically.

After studying data on 1,943 very pre-term births, 276 moderately pre-term babies and 618 full-term controls, Dr Caroline Moreau, an epidemiologist at the Hôpital de Bicêtre in Paris, and her colleagues concluded that women with a history of abortion were 1.5 times more likely to give birth very prematurely (under 33 weeks' gestation), and 1.7 times more likely to have a baby born extremely pre-term (i.e., under 28 weeks' gestation).3

Previous research, also conducted in Paris, revealed that the odds of a woman delivering prematurely increase with the number of abortions in her history, with the likelihood doubled in women who have had two or more abortions. Other research corroborated these findings, indicating that "the risk of pre-term birth increased with the number of abortions," according to a 2004 study.

Dr Moreau's group revealed that the pre-term delivery risk resulted from a tendency for mothers to develop premature rupture of the membranes, pre-term haemorrhaging, and spontaneous pre-term labour of unknown cause.

Most women having abortions are not warned of the risk of premature birth and damage to babies in subsequent pregnancies. An exception is the Texas Department of Health's Women's Right to Know booklet provided to women considering abortion.


1. Byron C. Calhoun, Elizabeth Shadigian and Brent Rooney, "Cost consequences of induced abortion as an attributable risk for preterm birth and impact on informed consent", Journal of Reproductive Medicine, Vol.52, No.10 (October 2007), pp.929-37.

2. Richard E. Behrman et al., Preterm Birth: Causes, Consequences, and Prevention (Washington DC: National Academy of Science, 2006).

3. Caroline Moreau at al., "Previous induced abortions and the risk of very preterm delivery: results of the EPIPAGE study", British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Vol.112, Issue 4 (April 2005), pp.430-37.

- The author Babette Francis, B.Sc. (Hons), is national co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc. She is grateful to Hilary White of for some of the information in this article.

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