Family physician Dr. Deborah Zeni was called into her local hospital’s emergency ward recently and while entering it, was accosted by a woman asking for help in bringing in her daughter, who was looking pale, sweaty and generally unwell.

Later, she saw that the young woman, with her mother by her side, was in a room with an intravenous solution running. Zeni at that point realized that the mother was one of her patients. In talking with the mother about what had happened, she was told that “Carly,” about 10 weeks pregnant, had been in to a Toronto abortuary about 1 ½ weeks earlier.

“They were really surprised Carly had gotten sick, because people at the clinic had told her she wouldn’t get sick,” said Zeni. “The truth is that people at the clinic had told Carly very, very little. They certainly hadn’t told her what she needed to expect or what she needed to do with respect to making sure she got the appropriate medical care if she had complications.”

And so ran the story of another woman who had suffered from the immediate effects of an abortion – something Zeni says happens in about 10 per cent of cases in Canada.

Her anecdote about “Carly” was given during a talk on Young Women at Risk: Abortion and Consent, which was part of the 25th anniversary celebration and annual general meeting of the de Veber Institute in Toronto last fall.

A widely acclaimed speaker, Zeni specializes in obstetrics and pediatrics. She was the recipient of the 2006 Mentorship Award for the Rural Ontario Medicine program, as well as the 2004 Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons Award for Excellence in Community Medicine. She was a contributor to the de Veber Institute’s book, Women’s Health After Abortion – The Medical and Psychological Evidence.

“The sad truth is, Carly is not an exception,” Zeni continued. “If you look at the rates of immediate complications across the world in developed countries, they range anywhere from 5 per cent in Denmark … all the way up to 17 per cent in the United States. That means if you do 100,000 abortions a year, as we do in Canada, 10 per cent of those women will end up with immediate complications of their pregnancy. They end up needing to see a physician … to have their problems treated – problems that are directly attributable to the abortion.”

In contrast, other surgical procedures have an average complication rate of just 1.2 per cent – orthopedic surgery a scant 0.12 per cent – so the rate of abortion complications is “phenomenal,” said Zeni. Yet, nobody looks at it, nobody talks about it and nobody tells the women seeking abortions.

“There (is) a four-fold rate of increase of admission rates to hospital after induced abortions for treatment of medical problems and the vast majority of these (are) infections,” she said. Researchers have found a five-fold increase in abortion-related surgical complications, as well as for hospital admissions for psychiatric problems after abortions, above the baseline rate of the population.

“There’s a significant increase in the rate of mental illness of those women who have induced abortions,” said Zeni, adding that those numbers don’t even include the many women who are treated outside hospitals at walk-in clinics. “Induced abortions in Canada are neither simple nor safe,” she stressed.

Problems have not been noted only in the short-term. Zeni said that, beginning in 1995, there was an increase in the publication of studies looking at the long-term effects of abortion. They indicated that abortions had a significant impact on women’s future fertility and subsequent pregnancies.

Two large European studies revealed that teenage girls who undergo even one abortion increase their risk of a subsequent miscarriage or pre-term birth by three- to four-fold.

“Do we tell women seeking induced abortions that this is a problem?” Zeni asked. “Do we tell them they’re at risk of this? We tell them if they smoke. We tell them if they don’t eat properly. But we don’t tell them that if they go for an induced abortion, they could (later) have a little baby with brain damage or with lung damage or with a learning disability. Or there are babies who might die. We don’t have informed consent when it comes to induced abortion … We don’t tell them they could have other problems, such as ectopic pregnancy … increased risk of miscarriages … increased risk of stillbirths.”

In terms of psychological problems following an abortion, half of women struggle in some way with what they did and of those, 20-25 per cent have serious problems. “What we end up seeing is an increase in suicidal ideation, depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and something that’s called de-personalization syndrome (where the sufferer virtually loses her self-identity).”

Meanwhile, studies of post-abortive women – most under 25 – also show six-fold increases in alcohol abuse, drug abuse and successful suicides. “We, in Canada, are facing an epidemic in suicides among our young people, but we don’t look for a cause and we don’t inform people of what the cause might be,” said Zeni. “We don’t talk about it, because it’s not politically correct to blame induced abortion.”

An irrefutable New Zealand study published in 2006 indicated that, among girls between 15 and 18 who underwent an abortion, 78 per cent later suffered from major depression, as opposed to 35 per cent who became pregnant and did not abort and 31 per cent who did not become pregnant at all.

“In my books, that’s called bad medicine,” Zeni remarked. “Carly wasn’t told any of this … I wonder if Carly knew she would suffer this much following her abortion, whether she would ever have had it in the first place.”

In light of the “conspiracy of silence” surrounding abortion’s effects, Zeni said an education campaign is needed, coupled with a bit of lobbying. In addition, uniquely Canadian studies into abortion’s aftermath need to be conducted.

“We need to look at the concordance between induced abortion and premature birth, breast cancer and mental health here in Canada … That’s what we need. That’s what the women of Canada need,” she concluded.