During a presentation on “the untold story of women’s health” at the University of Toronto, Dr. Deborah Zeni told students that as a matter of public health, the truth about women’s health after abortion should be widespread. This should be so that this knowledge is available even before conception.

About 40 people were assembled, in an impressive turnout during a storm the Monday before reading week, at an event organized by University of Toronto Students for Life. Perhaps eight of these had arrived closed minded to Zeni’s message, apparently worried that letting women know about the complications of abortion would somehow hinder women’s “right to choose.”

The contrast between Zeni’s measured, perceptive approach and the gathered feminists’ opposition was clear even before the talk began. U of T Students for Life had laid out a literature table with abundant information about life principles, referrals for the healing of abortion aftermath and journal articles. Amidst these offerings were dropped misinformation sheets, sloppily prepared and roughly torn. These sheets purported to offer “facts” to correct four “myths” pro-lifers perpetuate – but the attributions were to interest groups like Planned Parenthood, rather than to the referenced professional sources compiled by Students for Life.

Pro-lifers have long been alarmed that abortion not only causes the death of the unborn child, but also harms the mother and her family. Medical complications of abortion include infection, infertility, subfertility, chronic pain and the premature delivery of subsequent children. It is estimated that each year, 1,000 Canadian women become infertile due to induced abortion and 24 per cent of women who have an abortion experience problems with subsequent pregnancies.

Premature delivery is a pathway to increased stress, family dysfunction, spousal abuse and child abuse. The future offspring of post-abortive women have increased rates of morbidity and mortality, often because of very low birth weights (less than 750 grams). About 25 per cent of infants subsequently born to post-abortive women die and those who survive often have emotional and learning problems associated with poor attachment and low resiliency.

Statistically, adolescents who have a first-trimester abortion double their lifetime risk of breast cancer. Abortion leads to increased self-abusive behaviours and hospital admissions for depression. Completed suicides are six times higher among post-abortive women than in the general population and nine times higher than among women who carry pregnancies to term.

Abortion is the only surgical procedure for which we presently lack standardized consent procedures. The implementation of informed consent would protect both expectant parents and their unborn children. Zeni observed that the contemporary resistance to the truth about women’s health is comparable to the now-notorious intransigence of the tobacco industry.

Zeni, a family physician and pediatric consultant, received the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario Award of Excellence in June 2005 for excellence in community practice. This summer, she hopes to contribute to a third edition of the deVeber Institute’s seminal work, Women’s Health after Abortion.

Theresa Smyth, MSW, RSW, is a social worker with a clinical interest in the healing of trauma.