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House Panel Says Administration Plays Down Safety of Abortions

December 10, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A congressional panel charged Sunday that the federal government has failed to report evidence of the relative safety of abortions for women.

A report released by a House committee also claimed the federal Centers for Disease Control has censored research on abortion, and urged the Department of Health and Human Services to assure public health research is not affected by political judgments.

It also recommended increased federal support for contraceptive research to help decrease the 1.5 million abortions obtained by American women every year.

″This report provides important evidence of the relative safety of abortion for women, since more than 90 percent of abortions performed in the U.S. are much safer than pregnancy and childbirth, and even the most dangerous types of legal abortions are equal in risk to carrying a pregnancy to term,″ said Rep. Ted Weiss, D-N.Y.

His statement was included with the report by the House Government Operations Committee, based on an investigation by its subcommittee on human resources and intergovernmental relations, which Weiss chairs.

The panel conducted an investigation into the efforts by the Reagan administration to have its surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, prepare a report on the health effects of abortion on women. After conducting meetings and research, Koop in January wrote to Reagan stating there was insufficient information on which to base a report.

A draft of Koop’s unreleased report was made public by the subcommittee in March. It concluded that valid scientific studies have documented that modern abortion is a medically safe procedure and does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of infertility, miscarriage or premature births. It concluded that the frequency of long-term psychological effects is uncertain, however.

In releasing its final report, the panel included material from transcripts of 27 confidential meetings Koop held with anti-abortion and abortion-rights advocates, which it subpoenaed.

According to the subcommittee, Koop stated in those meetings that legal abortion was safer than pregnancy and childbirth and posed no public health risks to women’s mental or physical health.

It said Koop, who is an opponent of abortion, expressed concerns to anti- abortion advocates ″about the poor quality of their research evidence,″ which they had offered in hopes the final report would support their battle to restrict abortions.

Koop, the former surgeon general, did not respond to a reporter’s call for comment last week.

″Anti-abortion politics have interfered with scientific evidence and research plans when decisions have been made by officials in the Department of Health and Human Services,″ Weiss said. ″That interference creates barriers to women’s health care in ways that are unacceptable.″

The report quotes Koop as insisting privately on an unbiased report. But it adds: ″On the other hand, Dr. Koop admitted that his personal bias against abortion remains, and this bias may explain why the letter to President Reagan, which was released instead of the report, is not consistent with the weight of evidence or with the Surgeon General’s own testimony regarding the physical or mental health effects of abortion.″

The report also quotes Koop, in conversations with consulting psychiatrists, as expressing doubts about the anti-abortion groups’ claims of the existence of a ″post-abortion stress syndrome.″

It charges that scientific research by the federal Centers for Disease Control are ″restricted by the political considerations″ of White House opposition to abortion.

As an example, it said the CDC five years ago stopped comparing the mortality and morbidity of women who had abortions with women carrying pregnancy to term. Comparisons had indicated that women were between seven and 25 times more likely to die from childbirth than from legal abortion, the report said.

But Jim Brown, a spokesman for James Mason, assistant secretary for health at HHS, said Friday that while Mason was director of CDC from 1983 until last winter, ″there was not censorship on the abortion issue.″

Don Berreth, a spokesman for the CDC, declined to comment on the report Sunday since officials in Atlanta had not seen it.

Six Republican House members filed a dissent from the report, charging it was written with ″pro-abortion bias″ and ″paints a misleading and inaccurate picture.″

They said the report focused on abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy and dismissed concerns about increased health risks of abortions in later stages.

The report cited CDC evidence that the risk of death from abortion doubles every two weeks after eight weeks gestation, and that after the 16th week the risks are similar to those for childbirth.

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