Does the Abortion Pill Hurt Women? Finally Some Science.

By Michael Egnor Published on July 10, 2019

Researchers at Franciscan University have news for you. Commonly used drugs to induce abortion in early gestation cause significant physiological and behavioral harm. They found this in pregnant rats who got the drugs.

The leader of the research team was Dr. Stephen Sammut. He is a professor of psychology. He reports that rats who were administered the abortion-inducing drugs mifepristone and misoprostol early in pregnancy had significant symptoms of depression and behavioral change. They appeared prone to severe stress.

Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, is a powerful drug that interferes with the mother’s hormone balance in early or mid-pregnancy. It blocks the effect of progesterone, the pregnancy hormone. Then it opens the cervix and squeezes the uterus to expel the developing child. It causes significant bleeding. Indeed, cramping and bleeding may last for over a month after the induced abortion. It is commonly prescribed for “emergency” contraception.

What happens to women’s bodies and minds when they abort their children? When they carry them to term?

Misoprostol, which is intended to be taken after the mifepristone, also causes uterine contractions and expulsion of the developing baby. Taking the drugs in sequence is the most common prescription for medical abortion.

Direct Physical and Psychological Harm

The pregnant rats in Dr. Sammut’s study who were administered both drugs lost their fetuses. They also:

  • Lost appetite.
  • Were less active.
  • Explored their environment less.
  • Took less care of themselves.
  • They had lower fertility than pregnant rats which did not receive the drugs and who carried their pregnancies to term.

The post-abortive rats also experienced the adverse symptoms more frequently than rats who were not pregnant and who were given the medications. Such post-abortive rats also lacked the beneficial physiological and psychological effects of continuing pregnancy to full term. These rats lost body weight, had diminished food intake, and behaved sluggishly, compared with the pregnant rats who carried their babies to term. Post-abortive rats had more severe behavioral problems than rats who naturally miscarried. This indicates that the drugs, not the loss of a fetus, caused the harm.

Rats Don’t Experience Shame

Abortion advocates often cite social pressures as the primary cause of behavioral changes in women who have had abortions. But this new research suggests that biochemical changes may play a larger role. Post-abortion syndrome seems to have a physiological element. “There is something more than social pressure on a person who feels depressed after an abortion,” Dr. Sammut noted. “There are potential physiological consequences that have not been investigated.”

Doctors have long debated the mental health consequences of abortion. How to explain common symptoms of anxiety and depression? Abortion supporters have claimed that these are just as common following a full-term pregnancy and delivery. But experts point to clear negative psychological consequences to abortion. They warn of a deep pro-abortion bias in the scientific establishment. Dr. Sammut’s research demonstrates significant physiological and psychological harm associated with abortion-inducing drugs. In rats, who presumably are immune to social pressure and stigma. This research supports claims of significant physical and psychological harm caused by abortion to women.

Dr. Sammut presented the first phase of his research at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego.

Why No Science Till Now?

Dr. Sammut’s is the first scientific study of the physiological and behavioral consequences of pregnancy termination in animals. It provides a way to objectively measure the effects of early abortion on the mother. Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-life OB-GYNs, notes the study’s importance. Much of the research on abortion-inducing drugs has focused on the mechanism and efficiency by which the drugs kill the fetus. Or else on the immediate complications of administering the drugs. She writes:

“This study (the first not performed by the abortion industry) raises serious concerns about mental health effects of drug-induced abortions and the differences between spontaneous and induced abortion.”

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The government doesn’t usually approve drugs for the general public before careful animal studies. But sellers of medical abortion drugs didn’t have to jump through that hoop. Harrison notes: “Such studies should have been performed long before drug-induced abortion was allowed on the market.”

Dr. Sammut’s study finds substantial physical and psychological benefits to the mother of carrying her child to full term. His animal model provides an effective means to study a broader range of physiological and psychological effects. What happens to women’s bodies and minds when they abort their children? When they carry them to term?

One American Child in Five Gets Aborted

Of course, abortion stands at the heart of a moral civil war. This makes objective science on the abortion issue difficult to perform and assess. Some 20 percent of pregnancies in the United States end in abortion. So why is there so little objective scientific evidence out there on what abortion does to women? Most such studies have been retrospective. That means they’re inherently subject to imprecision and bias. What’s more, powerful abortion-inducing drugs such as mifepristone and misoprostol for use early in pregnancy are now on sale widely. This despite the lack of vital scientific information about their safety and long-term consequences.

We need objective science on this. Not just for public policy and medical management. But also for women considering use of such drugs. The research conduction by Dr. Sammut and his colleagues provides a very promising approach. It offers the public with the objective information we need to make sound decisions about this emotionally fraught and divisive issue.


Michael R. Egnor, M.D., is a professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.

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