• Abortion does not raise risk of depression
Depression and unwanted first pregnancy: longitudinal cohort study
Department of Psychology, Arizona State University
Claims that terminating an unwanted first pregnancy raises the risk of depression is called into question in a study published online by the BMJ.
In fact, the authors suggest that abortion may be linked to a lower risk of depression through beneficial effects on education, income, and family size. The study involved 1,247 US women who aborted or delivered an unwanted first pregnancy between 1970 and 1992.
The women were interviewed over several years to examine the relation between pregnancy outcome and later depression.
Terminating compared with delivering an unwanted first pregnancy was not directly related to risk of depression. Instead, women who delivered before 1980 had a significantly higher risk of depression than all other groups. The abortion group also had a significantly higher mean education and income and lower total family size, all of which were associated with a lower risk of depression.
These results cannot be explained by underreporting of abortion, say the authors, because findings did not vary in groups known to vary in underreporting. Furthermore, women with higher depression scores were more willing to provide confidential abortion card information. Despite some study limitations, they conclude that there is no credible evidence that choosing to terminate an unwanted first pregnancy puts women at higher risk of subsequent depression.
They suggest that if the goal is to reduce women’s risk for depression, research should focus on how to prevent and ameliorate the effect of unwanted childbearing, particularly for younger women.
Professor Nancy Russo, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, AZ, USA Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Denial of access to abortion services
• Psychological problems
Anti-choice organisations claim that abortion causes women to suffer severe psychological effects which they call “Post-Abortion Syndrome” (PAS). They liken PAS to post traumatic stress disorder, a real syndrome sometimes experienced by people who have suffered a terrible trauma. However, research in the UK and the USA shows that there is no evidence of such a mental illness. To describe the possible emotional problems that women may experience after an abortion in this way is a distortion of the facts.
Very few women suffer prolonged emotional distress following an abortion. However, distress may be triggered if the circumstances surrounding the abortion were especially stressful, e.g. if it had been illegal and was frightening/degrading; if secrecy had been essential due to family/cultural/religious disapproval; if the woman had been unsure about her decision to have an abortion or if she had wanted to continue the pregnancy, but, for medical reasons, had had to have an abortion.
Only a small minority of women experience any long term, adverse psychological after-effects following an abortion. … [Risk factors are ambivalence before the abortion, lack of a supportive partner, a psychiatric history or membership of a cultural group that considers abortion wrong.] … Early distress, although common, is usually a continuation of symptoms present before abortion.
• Physical complications
There is no link between abortion and infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth.
The largest study looking at a possible link between abortion and breast cancer followed 1.5 million women in Denmark. It found that women who had abortions had no greater risk of breast cancer than those who had not. Research showing a link between breast cancer and abortion has been discredited. A collaborative analysis of data from 53 studies reported in the Lancet stated that “worldwide epidemiological evidence indicates that pregnancies ending as either spontaneous or induced abortions do not have adverse effects on women’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”
• General After-Effects of Abortion