How abortion harms women: The science

Exodus 20:13 ‘You shall not murder’



According to Wendy Francis of Australian Christian Lobby, the Queensland parliament (in Australia) erupted in applause and celebration on Wednesday 17 October 2018.1 The reason for this jubilation? A vote in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion. Those in favour won by a mere nine votes; hardly a landslide. Still, it was heralded as a momentous victory for women’s rights, providing women with ‘control’ over their bodies by giving them ‘reproductive choices’.

Elise McNamara, a citizen of Queensland, pointed out on her Facebook page2 that she could, as a young, independent, and educated woman, already access abortion if she wanted one. But she also noted that she also had full access to adequate contraception, as well as getting sex education since she was a teenager. She objected to the idea that change to Queensland’s abortion laws “was a giant leap forward in the liberation of women”, or that “those who lobbied for it should be put on a platform and celebrated as some kind of female suffragettes, who have achieved amazing historic reform.”

It seems we women are being told how and what we must think. One reporter opined, “every Australian woman should be outraged that there were some MP’s who dared vote against these radical changes to the so-called archaic abortion laws”.3 I am a GP, and as a doctor, it seems I must agree with the proponents of abortion on demand, abortion as a contraceptive right, and abortion all the way through pregnancy, including at term. Otherwise, I am labelled an “obstructive, manipulative, rude or a disrespectful anti-choice doctor”. This is according to a pro-abortion GP writing in the Medical Observer on 19 October 2018.4 This GP victoriously stated that her next quest, presumably since abortion on demand in Queensland is now done and dusted, is to tackle euthanasia, which to her, is another area where “religion interferes with people’s basic human rights”. Of course, people’s basic human right to practice their religion is something that has been sadly overlooked. Indeed, the legislation passed forces a doctor with a moral objection to an abortion to refer the pregnant woman to someone who will do the evil deed (Forced abortion and euthanasia?).

Another aspect of the legislation changes creates ‘safe zones’ of 150 m (~500 feet) around abortion clinics to prevent pro-lifers from gaining proximity to women going there for abortions. Thus, Christians groups, like 40 Days for Life,5 and individuals who intend only to support, counsel, and pray for women seeking abortions, will be denied their right to do so.

Furthermore, under the new legislation women can seek abortions for any reason up to 22 weeks of pregnancy, including ‘social’ reasons. The legal prerequisite for a health-related cause, such as endangerment to the mother’s physical or mental health, is no longer required. Abortions may also be provided up to full term if two doctors provide approval. There is an inherent conflict of interest in such processes since the doctors providing approval are the very ones who may benefit financially from abortion.

The new legislation creates the opportunity for discrimination against female babies. A study analysing 1.2 million births in Victoria, where similar anti-life abortion laws were promulgated in 2008, found that from 2011–2015 108 male babies were born to every 100 females in one population, and in an another, second-born children were 122 males to every 100 females.6 Thus, readily available abortion will serve sex-selection. The United Nations estimates there will be 142 million women missing from the world by 2020. Who will speak up for the rights of these aborted baby girls?

In light of this, it’s a good chance to revisit some of the science of abortion and what the science says about the harm that abortion does to the woman, not just the baby whose life is brutally ended.

What is abortion?

Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by the ending of a baby’s life. Spontaneous abortions are called miscarriages, and the frequency of this is high with one study estimating this at 31% of pregnancies.7 Many pregnancies likely end in miscarriage due to chromosomal abnormalities, including aneuploidy (an abnormal number of chromosomes in the baby). This is a natural part of living in a fallen world where God has removed some of his sustaining power after mankind rebelled/sinned (Genesis 3).

However, abortions can also be induced, in other words, deliberately carried out via a procedure or by taking an abortifacient drug. In the case of surgical abortions, often a healthy, but unwanted fetus is surgically destroyed and removed from the womb. If the baby survives the process, he or she is left to die.

It is estimated that in a single year, 2008, 1.21 million abortions were performed in the United States alone.8 According to the World Health Organization, over 50 million abortions occur each year worldwide, i.e. ~125,000 per day.9 In Queensland alone, in 2015, about 10,000–14,000 abortions occurred—and this was with the ‘archaic’ law that supposedly restricted abortion.10

What’s driving this intense worldwide campaign for radical abortion? The United Nations seems to be involved, using innocuous-sounding banners like ‘reproductive health’ and ‘equality for women’. The UN World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014: Gender Equality and Sustainable Development11 uses double-speak and soft phrases to advocate what is in fact sterilization, abortion, and reduction in fertility rates.12

We don’t have space here to explain the procedure of abortion. But there are many websites that accurately describe the gruesome surgical abortion process. Be warned though, these sites are so graphic and disturbing that, despite having been in operating theatres and also having assisted with a great variety of surgical procedures, I experience a deep sense of dread looking at the pictures or reading about surgical abortions on such sites. Most women and men would be chilled to the bone seeing what abortion actually entails.

Abortion harms


There are considerations for doctors and their patients regarding abortion that seem to have been overlooked by all. The fact is, as well as killing babies, abortion harms women. Those gleefully championing ‘women’s rights’ to abortion on demand may not know that abortion can lead to women developing and suffering from lifelong chronic diseases. This is especially important for doctors counselling women regarding unwanted pregnancies to appreciate fully, to provide informed consent. Abortion without harm is simply not possible. Those doctors, including GPs, sexual health doctors, gynaecologists, and other specialists, need to advise women that abortion is fraught with long term risks of autoimmune diseases, emotional ill-health,13 anxiety,14 regret, depression,15 infertility,16 increased ectopic pregnancy risk,17,18 suicidal ideation,19 and cancer.

When compared to women with breast cancer, women who have full-term births have distinctive, long-term, beneficial immunological effects. For instance, an August 2018 study revealed an 8% decrease in breast cancer risk with every full-term pregnancy.20 Women with six children had a 48% reduction in breast cancer risk, with the authors reporting a “marked difference” in gene expression and enrichment profiles of immunologic gene sets between healthy and breast cancer patients. Even breast feeding has been shown to be protective against breast cancer.21 There is no breast cancer risk reduction with spontaneous or induced abortion.22,23 Additionally, there is decreasing mortality in women associated with the number of children they have.24 Thus, having babies and breast feeding them is good for women’s health. There are no health benefits associated with abortions in healthy pregnancies.

I have met many women who deeply regret having elected to abort their babies. Some, when asked about their previous pregnancies, don’t even think to count the ones that ended in abortion by choice, others seemed ashamed and try to avoid talking about past abortions. Others weep with deep regret when talking about their abortions, even those that occurred decades ago. One woman, who went on to have several other children, was deeply bitter and hurt by being forced to abort her first baby due to her being a young, single mother many years earlier. All such women are, and ought to be, treated with utmost respect and care, provided with counselling supports and given every chance to heal. Those having abortions for medical reasons, such as anencephaly (a condition where the baby’s brain fails to develop), are still wracked with horrendous sorrow and profound grief. One woman is unable to go back to the hospital where she experienced giving birth to a stillborn baby many years ago, as the memories are still painfully unbearable. Pregnancy loss is a cause of deep grief for many women regardless of how the loss occurred. We are reminded that God’s grace and forgiveness is the starting point for healing. This is available for all who repent of their sin—including the sin of abortion—and turn to Him for forgiveness through what Jesus has done for us in taking the punishment for our sin.

Controlling maternal immune system effects

In all pregnancies, cell-free DNA via the placenta, as well as whole fetal cells, enter the maternal circulation.25,26 Incidentally, it is the cell-free DNA that is commonly used for detection of fetal aneuploidy early in pregnancy from the mother’s blood. We now know that maternal cancers and Alzheimer’s disease may be linked to pregnancy and pregnancy losses by miscarriage due to aneuploidy.27–31 This association is due to fetal microchimerism, where DNA from the fetus engrafts in the mother’s body early after implantation of the embryo, including in miscarriages and aborted pregnancies (see Becoming One Flesh). The baby’s DNA is derived from both parents, and therefore is half Dad and half Mum. Moreover, the mother’s cell surface markers and unique antigens, being her own, are unlikely to create any immune system issues while she carries the new creation, the baby, in her womb. However, the husband’s cell surface markers and antigens are foreign to the mother’s immune system, and are likely to come under attack by the maternal immune system. This can result in the destruction and demise of the baby in the womb. This was first described as early as 1953 by Sir Peter Medawar, famous for his work with immunological issues in graft versus host disease and transplant rejection.32 Therefore, how could any of us have been born? Clearly, human birth is a miracle that has happened time and time again since Adam and Eve, resulting in the world being widely populated by maternal-immune-system-survivors.

It is now accepted that maternal immune tolerance occurs by exposure to male sperm antigens during insemination,33,34 as well as by the progressively increasing number of fetal cells in maternal tissues during pregnancy that correlates with the systemic expansion of immunosuppressive cells in the mother’s circulation. These cells, a particular type of white blood cell, suppress the maternal immune system, and are called regulatory T cells, or T-reg.35,36 This T-reg immune-suppression has also been linked to successful second pregnancies, as well as subsequent pregnancies, but only when with the same husband. When young women elect to abort their first pregnancies, and change partners,37 they thereby increase the risk of pre-eclampsia, pre-term birth,38 and miscarriage in subsequent pregnancies.39–43

Induced abortion results in higher concentrations of fetal cells in the mother than miscarriage

Higher concentrations of fetal cells in the maternal circulation are associated with abortion versus miscarriage, and higher rates are found with surgical versus medical abortion.29,44 Abortion in the first trimester (in the first three months of pregnancy) results in fetal DNA entering the maternal circulation,45 and is detected even 11 days after the termination of the pregnancy. Cell-free nucleic acid did not decrease within 90 minutes after elective first trimester termination of pregnancy. This contrasts with what happens when a baby is born at term, when levels rapidly drop in the mother’s blood stream after giving birth.46

Importantly, male microchimerism was significantly more frequent and levels were higher in women with induced abortion than in women with other pregnancy outcomes.47 These fetal cells may become embedded in the maternal tissues, which means the mother’s organs, including in her heart, liver, brain, thyroid and other organs, including the bone marrow, for life.48–50 These fetal cells are transferred by ‘fetal-maternal haemorrhage’, or bleeding from the placenta being destroyed during surgical abortion. The baby’s blood thus mingles with the mother’s, transferring large numbers of fetal cells into the mother’s circulation. 51

Fetal microchimerism, chronic disease and cancer

Fetal cells that gain access to the mother’s body persist long-term as microchimerism, referred to as a ‘legacy in reverse’.37,52 Fetal microchimerism has a unique and likely substantial impact on a woman’s health, including association with diseases like systemic sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, primary biliary cirrhosis, autoimmune thyroid diseases,53 and juvenile myositis, among others.54,55 In addition, fetal microchimeric cells were detected in brain and nervous system tumours, including in 80% of glioblastomas and 50% of meningiomas.56 Likewise, male microchimerism was also detected in thyroid papillary tumours.57 Higher levels of male fetal microchimerism were detected in HER-2 positive breast cancer tissues than normal controls. 58

Russian Roulette

Fetal microchimerism is also associated with healing and repair of damaged maternal tissues.59 Behaving like stem-cells, fetal cells can gravitate to, and become embedded in tissues and initiate replication, or cell division, leading to repair of injured organs.60 Yet, it is also reported that it is not known what processes cause microchimeric cells to behave destructively or protectively.61 Fetal cells that turn into a particular cell type, known as ‘endothelial phenotype’, could have a role in starting and progressing cancer. Whereas, fetal cells turning into other cell types may be associated with healing and repair.62,63 Cells of fetal origin have been detected in various cancers including thyroid, breast, cervix,64 lung and melanoma,65 displaying epithelial (skin), hematopoietic (blood), mesenchymal (muscles and skeleton) and endothelial (cells lining the inner surface of blood vessels) lineage differentiation.63

It has been suggested that the process of fetal cells multiplying within maternal tissues in response to injured maternal organs may attract undue maternal immune system attention, due to exceeding the threshold for T-cell regulation. This situation is indistinguishable from autoimmune conditions.57


The obvious problem with all this is that for a woman contemplating an abortion, it is unknown whether she will, consequently, endure a lifetime of physically debilitating diseases due to exercising her ‘choice’. In this sense, abortion removes control from a woman in terms of what happens to her body. She becomes a victim of the relentless effects of her body harbouring, for life, cells from the baby she chose not to have. With these complicating matters, the snuffing out of a little life by induced abortion also leaves women vulnerable. A woman needs to know these risks and be provided with the appropriate process of consent by her doctors. Not doing so is poor medical practice and indefensible. It prevents women from making the right choice, which is to have their babies and breast feed them. Thus, medical science does not support abortionist beliefs.

The recorded history in Genesis tells us we are made in God’s image and therefore, whether in or out of the womb, every human has supreme intrinsic value. Science can inform us of medical consequences, but it cannot tell us right from wrong. God’s word does that. Thus, aborting babies would be wrong, even if there were no health consequences for the woman. It is no surprise that humans flourish when we obey our loving God’s commands.

Jeremiah 1:5—“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”
First published: 20 December 2018
Re-featured on homepage: 21 December 2021

References and notes

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  59. A table with information about the potential benefits and potential harms from fetal microchimerism can be found in: Kinder, J.M., Stelzer, I.A., Arck, P.C., and Way, S.S., Immunological implications of pregnancy-induced microchimerism, Nat. Rev. Immunol. 17(8):483–494, 2017 | doi: 10.1038/nri.2017.38. Return to text.
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