To examine characteristics and causes of legal induced abortion-related deaths in the United States between 1998 and 2010.
Abortion-related deaths were identified through the national Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System with enhanced case-finding. We calculated the abortion mortality rate by race, maternal age, and gestational age and the distribution of causes of death by gestational age and procedure.
During the period from 1998-2010, of approximately 16.1 million abortion procedures, 108 women died, for a mortality rate of 0.7 deaths per 100,000 procedures overall, 0.4 deaths for non-Hispanic white women, 0.5 deaths for Hispanic women, and 1.1 deaths for black women. The mortality rate increased with gestational age, from 0.3 to 6.7 deaths for procedures performed at 8 weeks or less and at 18 weeks or greater, respectively. A majority of abortion-related deaths at 13 weeks of gestation or less were associated with anesthesia complications and infection, whereas a majority of abortion-related deaths at more than 13 weeks of gestation were associated with infection and hemorrhage. In 20 of the 108 cases, the abortion was performed as a result of a severe medical condition where continuation of the pregnancy threatened the woman's life.
Deaths associated with legal induced abortion continue to be rare events-less than 1 per 100,000 procedures. Primary prevention of unintended pregnancy, including those in women with serious pre-existing medical conditions, and increased access to abortion services at early gestational ages may help to further decrease abortion-related mortality in the United States.
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