abortion, women, mental health

Mental Health Effects of Abortion Explored in Major Study

August 15, 2008 11:54 AM
by Cara McDonough
Having one abortion is not a threat to a woman’s mental health, according to the American Psychological Association. The effects of multiple abortions are unclear.

A Comprehensive Study

“The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy, the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion or deliver that pregnancy,” said Brenda Major, a psychologist at the University of California Santa Barbara, who chaired the task force that led the study.

She said the mental health risks associated with more than one abortion are more uncertain.

The new study “analyzed hundreds of studies that have been done on the contentious question, including those that have purported to show serious mental health effects of abortion,” Reuters reports.

Those most likely to develop mental health problems after an abortion are women who had mental health problems before becoming pregnant, women who worried about stigma or secrecy or those who had low self-esteem, according to the study.

The findings will be presented officially at an upcoming meeting of the American Psychological Association in Boston.

Analysis: The battle over abortion

Activists on both sides of the issue—abortion opponents as well as abortion rights advocates—have been awaiting the release of the American Psychological Association study, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Opponents cite studies that suggest a link between abortions and mental health issues to make the case that lawmakers must restrict abortion to protect women’s mental health. Supporters of legal abortion, meanwhile, acknowledge that some women may regret their decision but contend that there is no proof abortion leads to serious mental illness.
“Both sides agree the mental-health issue has powerful potential to shape public policy for years to come,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

One of the constant problems in studying the issue, however, is that quantifying the mental health effect of abortion is difficult. Studies must depend on women self-reporting abortions, for instance, “which is notoriously unreliable.”

Still, the Journal writes, for all the conflict associated with the abortion debate “a middle ground” may be emerging: “Supporters of legal abortion are increasingly acknowledging the sorrow that can come with the decision, and independent support groups are promising to help women work through their loss without promoting a political agenda.”

Reference: Reproductive health, mental health


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