reproductive rights

Abortion Is Safer Than Getting Your Wisdom Teeth Out

Gynecological chair.
Photo: Nenov/Getty Images

Last week, the Supreme Court began to hear an abortion case that could effectively gut Roe v. Wade. The case, June v. Russo, centers on a Louisiana law that forces abortion providers to obtain “admitting privileges” at hospitals within 30 miles. This measure is ostensibly meant to protect patient safety; in effect, though, it could leave the state — in which 10,000 women a year seek abortion care with just one doctor at one clinic.

Legislation like this is intentionally crafted to erode access to vital reproductive health care. The Supreme Court struck down a law with a nearly identical provision in Texas four years ago because it constituted such a substantial obstacle to abortion access. But rather than presenting such restrictions as what they are — unconstitutional, anti-choice legislation advanced by abortion opponents as part of a concerted attack on the right to choose — conservatives insist they’re precautionary measures, meant to safeguard women. “While I began with the perspective of wanting to defend the rights of the unborn child, I’ve been able to see that the abortion facilities, in their pursuit to sell abortions, kind of lose sight of the care for the woman in that process,” the executive director of the anti-abortion group Louisiana Right to Life, who introduced admitting privileges to the Louisiana legislature in 2014, told Time. So far, similar laws have been proposed or passed in six states.

It’s absurd on its face, the idea that licensed medical providers need to enter into official agreements with hospitals, when a patient experiencing a complication could simply go to an emergency room — or be taken to one, if the situation called for it. But, even worse, such laws also imply that abortion is inherently more dangerous than other procedures. This is patently untrue: Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the world. In 2015, researchers at University of California San Francisco looked at 54,911 abortions performed between 2009 and 2010, analyzing for complications. According to their findings, published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, only 2.1 percent of patients suffered a complication, and of those cases only 0.23 percent were serious. As noted by Time, you have a higher chance of suffering a serious complication during a colonoscopy, wisdom-teeth removal, or a tonsillectomy.

And the risk of dying from an abortion performed in a licensed medical facility is far lower: Per a study from the National Institute of Health, legal abortion has a .0006 percent mortality rate, or 0.6 deaths per 100,000 procedures. To compare, in the United States, the current maternal mortality rate is 29 times higher than that.

Abortion-related complications that require emergency hospital transfers are so rare in Louisiana, a United States District Court found they occur “far less than [once] a year, or less than one per several thousand patients.” One of Louisiana’s clinics reported that in a 23-year span, only four out of nearly 70,000 cases required hospital transfer, and that all women were able to receive care, with or without admitting privileges. In a five-year period, two of Louisiana’s now-shuttered abortion clinics, one of which was forced to close in 2016 over the state’s admitting-privileges law, transferred just three of their combined 14,000-plus patients.

“As a doctor I can tell you that admitting privileges do not make abortion safer — they challenge access,” Dr. Pooja Mehta, an OB/GYN in Louisiana and Fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in a statement. “Abortion in Louisiana is so safe that providers rarely have to send someone to an emergency room, much less admit them to a hospital.”

What’s far more dangerous than abortion is losing access to the procedure, which would pose a legitimate, serious threat to women’s health and safety. When people are forced to give birth against their will, they are more likely to get stuck in relationships with abusive partners, fall into poverty because they cannot afford to pay the exorbitant costs required to birth and raise a child, and even die from an illegal abortion. If the Supreme Court upholds Louisiana’s law, this could soon become a reality for pregnant women in the state. There’s a real risk of this happening: Even thought SCOTUS justices ruled just four years ago that Texas’s admitting-privileges law was unconstitutional, the lawyers fighting back against Louisiana’s anti-abortion law today are now facing a new, conservative-majority court.

“Unnecessary requirements like admitting privileges will make health care even more difficult to access by taking skilled providers out of our communities,” said Mehta. “In Louisiana this will potentially leave us with just one remaining clinic in the state. This is dangerous.”

Abortion Is Safer Than Getting Your Wisdom Teeth Out