Is it safe to have more than one abortion?

More than one abortion

Abortions are shrouded in myth, and it can be hard to know the truth. For example is it safe to have more than one abortion? One of the abortion myths is that the more abortions a person has, the more dangerous the abortive procedure becomes, and the less likely that person is to get pregnant. Put differently, having an abortion damages the body in a way that makes further abortions or pregnancies unsafe or impossible.

It is unclear where this myth comes from, but it is essential for those looking to have a second or further abortions to know the truth about these procedures, and how safe they are.

More Than One Abortion

In the UK, around one in three persons with a uterus will have an abortion, and a further third of these will have more than one. In the US, about 50% of people seeking an abortion have already had one.

There are many reasons why a person might seek more than one abortion, including the failure of, or lack of access to, other forms of contraceptives, disruptive life events that affect the usage of other forms of contraception, a lack of comprehensive sex education, and sexual violence. Similarly, a person might think they are ready for pregnancy and change their mind; sex, like life, is complicated and multi-faceted and it is not always possible to be prepared. Abortions provide a safe alternative to pregnancy for those who need it.

Healthcare providers are confident that people who have had an abortion in a safe environment usually don’t have future fertility, pre-natal, or other medical complications. Fertility returns around 8 days after an abortion, no matter how many you have had. Each abortion can be considered separate in regards to the risk they might have on future pregnancies. People seeking multiple abortions can be confident that the procedure is equally as safe the first time as any other time.

There is always a risk when having a medical procedure, including surgical abortion, but abortions do not have an increased risk than any other procedure. In the UK and at the time of writing the US, there is no legal limit on the number of abortions one person is allowed to have. If there was a significant medical risk then this would not be the case.

Abortion vs Unintended Birth

In the majority of cases, unintended births are more dangerous than having more than one abortion. Whilst the emotional, psychological, and potential physical effects of abortions should not be written off, they are at least matched by those of unintended birth.

Pregnancy and giving birth have a huge physical effect on the human body, leaving some with long-term or irreparable damage. In fact, the number of people who die during childbirth is much higher than the number who die from a legal abortion procedure; one study found that the mortality rate among people who had live births was 8.8 per 100,000, as opposed to 0.6 per 100,000 from induced abortion. Likewise, the medical side effects associated with pregnancy including UTIs and mental health problems are more likely to be experienced by those who choose to have a live birth than those who have an abortion.

Looking after a baby is a huge strain on emotional and mental resources, especially for those from lower-income families, or those who have nobody who can help them raise a child. Children of unintended births are more likely to enter a system of care, experience poverty, and suffer from mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Parents of unintended births are also more likely to feel feelings of failure and suffer emotional stress.

Stigma Around Having More Than One Abortion

There is a lot of stigma around abortions, especially against those seeking more than one. There is a misunderstanding that the majority of people having more than one abortion are using the procedure as their primary form of birth control. In fact, data shows that whether it’s their first or not, those seeking abortions are aware of the other options available to them, and of the psycho-physical risks associated with abortions. Even if a person does choose to use abortion as their sole source of birth control, there is a vast array of social reasons as to why this might be.

Abortion stigma of any kind increases the silence around birth control and puts people with uteruses in difficult or dangerous situations. Although statistically having more than one abortion is fairly common, those who make this choice are less likely to speak about their experience because of fear of ostracisation. Abortions are healthcare procedures, and it is unjust that people are forced to stay silent about their personal health decisions.

In order to help destigmatize having more than one abortion, we can change our language. The website 2PlusAbortions provides plenty of resources on how to do this. Talking about abortions in the plural not only normalises people’s experience but also sheds light on other abortion truths; abortions aren’t singular experiences but are procedures that take place amongst millions of others, in many different ways, to many different people. Similarly, avoiding the phrase ‘repeat abortion’ helps us to change our thinking about who might be seeking more than one abortion. ‘Repeat’ implies that the abortion seeker has not learned how to avoid the situation, or that they are unable to ‘break the cycle of abortions’ both of which are unfair and untrue. Finally, avoiding the phrase ‘multiple abortions’ helps to break the binary between ‘good people’ who have one abortion and ‘bad people’ who have multiple.

Moving forward

Having more than one abortion is a more common experience than people might believe. Only by creating a culture where we can talk about abortions openly and honestly will the stigma start to come apart.

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Raymond, E., & Grimes, D. (2012). The Comparative Safety of Legal Induced Abortion and Childbirth in the United States. Obstetrics &Amp; Gynecology, 119(2, Part 1), 215-219.
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