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There's a new report out today on abortion safety and quality in the United States. It comes from the National Academy of Sciences. And it is the first time in more than 40 years the group has taken an in-depth look at the science. It finds high levels of safety for surgical and medical abortions. As NPR's Alison Kodjak reports, it concludes that many regulations states have imposed on abortion don't improve safety but instead create barriers to access and quality.
ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: The researchers look at the four major methods used for abortions in the U.S. from the time before women get the procedure through their follow-up care. Ned Calonge is the co-chair of the committee that wrote the study.
NED CALONGE: I would say the main takeaway is that abortions that are provided in the United States are safe and effective.
KODJAK: Calonge is a family practitioner and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. He says the study shows most abortions, about 90 percent, happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. And he says complications are extremely rare. One of the biggest barriers to safe abortions, he says, are state laws and regulations that have no basis in medical research.
CALONGE: There are some requirements that require clinicians to misinform women of the health risks, that say you have to inform a woman that an abortion will increase her risk of breast cancer.
KODJAK: That rule exists in five states.
CALONGE: There are policies that mandate clinically unnecessary services like pre-abortion ultrasounds, separate inpatient counseling. There are required waiting periods.
KODJAK: Twenty-seven states make women wait at least 24 hours for an abortion, and 11 require women to have an ultrasound before they can terminate their pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which does research on reproductive health. There are state laws that dictate who can perform abortions and where they can do them. And some require all abortions to happen in the equivalent of a hospital or surgery center. Others require a doctor to have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital.
HAL LAWRENCE: Those sorts of laws have been totally debunked.
KODJAK: That's Hal Lawrence, the CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He says the National Academy's report shows that most of those laws do nothing to improve women's health, and many of them just end up delaying when women get an abortion.
LAWRENCE: Abortion is safer when it's performed earlier in gestation. And so delaying and making people wait and go through hoops of unnecessary extra second procedures does not improve the safety and actually, by having them delay, can actually worsen the safety.
KODJAK: The Supreme Court in 2016 voided some state abortion laws when it ruled that Texas' strict rules around abortion facilities impose an undue burden on women. But other laws remain in place even without any backing in medical research. Donna Harrison is the executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She says abortions should be treated like other surgical procedures with lots of oversight and regulation.
DONNA HARRISON: The tendency to look at abortion as though it were not a serious medical procedure is irresponsible. We all know that the fetus is killed during an abortion. But women can be harmed by irresponsible medical care.
KODJAK: The new report, which runs more than 200 pages, addresses most aspects of abortion care. Additional takeaways - nurse practitioners and physician's assistants can perform abortions just as safely as doctors, and women who get abortions show no negative long-term impact on their physical or mental health. Alison Kodjak, NPR News, Washington.
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