Data on Effects of Abortion Inconclusive
Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, responding to a 1987 request by President Reagan to study the health effects of abortion on women, reported Monday that--with the data now available--it is impossible to reach clear conclusions about either the physical or the psychological consequences of the procedure.
Koop candidly acknowledged that his conclusions would not satisfy some Reagan advisers, to whom “it was a foregone conclusion that the negative health effects of abortion were so overwhelming that the evidence would force the reversal” of the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Nonetheless, he said, an exhaustive review of the scientific evidence by experts throughout the government led him to decide that firm conclusions could not be reached.
“I’m still opposed to abortion,” Koop said in an interview. “I know lots of people who’ve had trouble with abortion.”
But, as a scientist, he said, he could not write a report reaching firm conclusions about abortion’s impact. So he chose to write no report at all.
Koop urged the President to consider initiating a comprehensive study to seek answers to his questions, although he cautioned that such a study should “be above criticism” and that it would take five years and could cost as must as $100 million.
On the emotional impact of abortion, Koop wrote to Reagan that “at this time, the available scientific evidence about the psychological (effects) of abortion simply cannot support either the preconceived beliefs of those pro-life or of those pro-choice.”
Scarcity of Statistics Cited
Similarly, he said his review found that a scarcity of reliable statistics and the difficulty of proving scientific cause and effect made it impossible to reach firm conclusions about the physical impact of abortion on women.
“It has been documented that after abortion there can be infertility, a damaged cervix, miscarriage, premature birth, low-birth-weight babies, etc.,” he said.
But such problems occur among women who have carried babies to term and to women who had never before been pregnant, he added. And a lack of comprehensive data makes it impossible to judge whether the problems are more frequent or serious among those who have undergone abortions, he said.
Complicating any statistical study of abortion is the fact that fully half of all women undergoing abortions apparently deny having done so when questioned in surveys, he said.
Staff writer Marlene Cimons contributed to this story.