May 29, 2024

Abortion associated with mental disorders, says new peer-reviewed study

New Zealand article takes “middle-of-the-road position”

A study in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed British Journal of Psychiatry asserts that abortion is associated with a 30% increase in the risk of mental disorders – mostly depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance use disorders. This inflammatory argument is based on a 15-year longitudinal study of more than 500 women in Christchurch, New Zealand. The authors, academics from the University of Otago, say that their findings will please neither side of the inflammatory debate over abortion.

"Specifically, the results do not support strong pro-life positions that claim that abortion has large and devastating effects on the mental health of women. Neither do the results support strong pro-choice positions that imply that abortion is without any mental health effects. In general, the results lead to a middle-of-the-road position that, for some women, abortion is likely to be a stressful and traumatic life event which places those exposed to it at modestly increased risk of a range of common mental health problems." 

No other pregnancy outcomes, such as pregnancy loss, the birth of an unwanted child, or a pregnancy having an initial adverse reaction were consistently related to significantly increased risks of mental health problems.

In many countries, abortions are legal only if a pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s physical or mental health. But the authors question this approach. No studies have shown that abortion reduces risks to mental health, although a few have shown that it has no effect. Their findings challenge "the use of psychiatric reasons to justify abortion for women having unwanted pregnancies in jurisdictions that require evidence that pregnancy poses harm to the woman’s health before termination of pregnancy can be authorised."

Other explanations for the association are possible, the authors acknowledge. However, only a study of identical twins, one of whom had an abortion, would settle the matter – but this seems almost unachievable.

The study has been almost completely ignored in the media. The Royal College of Psychiatrists called the evidence "inconclusive". ~ British Journal of Psychiatry, December


2 thoughts on “Abortion associated with mental disorders, says new peer-reviewed study

  1. It’s not beyond science’s reach. One only needs to compare the incidence of suicide and mental disorders in post-abortion and post-childbirth women. If science and medicine went on only by comparing exactly identical cases, we would still be at cave age!

  2. I disagree with the comment here, ”However, only a study of identical twins, one of whom had an abortion, would settle the matter”.
    Surely you would need to show not merely how ‘identical’ people respond to the alternatives, but how ‘identical people in identical situations’ respond.
    It is conceivable, indeed probable, that the same person would react in different ways in different circumstances, to the consequences of the choice to have – or not have – an abortion.
    On the whole, I find this study well ignorable. It has been pretty well established, and is unsurprising, that abortion can cause trauma. The policy question is, does it cause more or less trauma than the alternative? And this seems to be a question that is beyond science’s reach, because, as you say, it seems impossible to design a good test.

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