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Having an abortion does not increase risk of mental health problems, major study finds

Women with unwanted pregnancies who have an abortion are no more likely to develop mental health problems such as anxiety and depression than those who give birth, a comprehensive new British study has found.

The study, which was conducted by Britain’s National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH), did uncover an association between unwanted pregnancies and a higher incidence of anxiety and depression. But that association had nothing to do with the choices the women made regarding the outcome of their pregnancy.

In fact, the study found that the most reliable predictor of whether a woman would have mental health problems after an abortion was the existence of such problems before the abortion.

Professor Tim Kendall
nccmh.org.uk
Professor Tim Kendall

“It could be that these women have a mental health problem before the pregnancy,” Tim Kendall, director of the NCCMH, told BBC News reporter Jane Dreaper. “On the other hand, it could be the unwanted pregnancy that’s causing the problem. Or both explanations could be true. We can’t be absolutely sure from the studies whether that’s the case, but common sense would say it’s quite likely to be both.”

“The evidence shows, though, that whether these women have abortions or go on to give birth, their risk of having mental health problems will not increase,” he added.

The NCCMH study also cites other factors that appear to contribute to a woman’s risk of developing anxiety or depression after an abortion. These include being pressured by a partner to have an abortion and having negative attitudes toward abortions in general.

Methodological flaws
For this meta-analysis, a team of reviewers spent three years examining data on hundreds of thousands of women in 44 previously published studies from around the world. They included in their review only those studies that had followed women for at least 90 days.

A major methodological flaw was found in the studies in that group that linked abortion with an increased incidence of mental health problems, said Kendall.

“They don’t control for the fact that a number of women going into these studies have mental health problems already, so then it looks as if following abortion they have a raised incidence of mental health problems,” he told the BBC. “But we think that’s an artifact of the way the research is being done.”

Time to switch the focus
The NCCMH study confirms the findings of a similar major review conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2008. That review concluded that “there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women.”

“I think the practice and research around this area should no longer focus on the impact of abortion,” said Kendall. “We don’t think the abortion is the important issue. What we do think is that women with an unwanted pregnancy probably already have significant mental health problems. That may be because significant mental health problems lead to more unwanted pregnancies, or just as likely having an unwanted pregnancy is a personal catastrophe and that itself is leading to mental health problems.”

“The message to mental health workers and people in obstetrics is that women with an unwanted pregnancy probably do have need for our help, and that’s where we should be offering it,” he added.

You can download and read the full report from the website of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (the U.K. government agency that commissioned the study).

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/13/2011 - 02:56 pm.

    Any woman with even a shred of humanity will feel depressed after an abortion. This study is nothing more than another attack upon the moral decency which stands between the left and it’s goals.

    It’s the same program Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot followed; remove every available anchor and replace it with the state.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/13/2011 - 04:09 pm.

    Wow. That report was like reading something from a bad science fiction novel. Unbelievable.

  3. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 12/13/2011 - 08:59 pm.

    Mr. Swift has whined elsewhere about being censored by MinnPost. This is my third attempt to make a comment. But my first two attempts were, indeed, too harsh. Thanks for not accepting them.

    Mr. Swift: to imply that a woman, who did not feel depressed after an abortion, has not a shred of humanity is simply appalling. A victim of rape or incest? A woman who has made the decision with her doctor for medical reasons? You have no right to make such a statement. And I remind you that abortion is legal in the US per the Rowe v. Way decision.

    “a bad science fiction novel” Mr. Tester?

    No, sir, it was an extensive study that discredited the canard used often by the right in condemning abortion, namely that it leads to a significant increase in depression for those who chose abortion.

    As the document cited by the author of this post put it:

    “Our review shows that abortion is not associated with an increase in mental health problems. Women who are carrying an unwanted pregnancy should be reassured that current evidence shows they are no more likely to experience mental health problems if they decide to have an abortion than if they decide to give birth.”

    “This review has attempted to address the limitations of previous reviews of the relationship between abortion and mental health. We believe that we have used the best quality evidence available, and that this is the most comprehensive and detailed review of the mental health outcomes of induced abortion to date worldwide.”

    Facts and not science fiction, gentlemen.

    Muttering about Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao is not going to make them go away.

  4. Submitted by Eric Hall on 12/14/2011 - 12:06 pm.

    What would be the goal of the left on this issue? This issue is always interesting to me when it is related to the “left” or the “right” because it seems to be in direct opposition to the other “goals” of the said left or right. So what would be the goal of the left in this issue?

    If we are discussing the left versus right motives, then perhaps we should discuss why the right wants to make sure that women have babies rather than prevent them. The right fights sex education, fights birth control, fights Plan B, fights abortion…at every stage there is a fight at preventing women from becoming pregnant or making choices for themselves. So what is the right’s agenda in this?

    While I would hope someday only medically necessary abortions are needed to be used because there is a risk involved, it is a choice that is legal for woman to make. Why not instead work promote other ways of birth control instead of finding ways to fight choices for women at every turn?

    Funny, I will be the fourth male to comment on this – like we would ever know how it really feels.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/14/2011 - 02:08 pm.

    “to imply that a woman, who did not feel depressed after an abortion, has not a shred of humanity is simply appalling. A victim of rape or incest?”

    Rape or incest are an abomination, adding infanticide doesn’t make it any less so, and certainly can’t help the mental state of the victim.

    “You have no right to make such a statement.”

    Sorry, Prof. This isn’t your classroom; free speech is the law of the land.

    “And I remind you that abortion is legal in the US per the Rowe v. Way decision.”

    Red herring; we have legal, state sponsored murder in our prisons too. But there are three men present to do the deed simultainiously to allow them the peace of plausable deniability in their own minds.

    Pity the poor woman alone on an abortion table doesn’t have that same relief, isn’t it?

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/14/2011 - 02:13 pm.

    “Funny, I will be the fourth male to comment on this – like we would ever know how it really feels.”

    I disagree, Eric.

    There are two people responsible for every conception on this planet, one man and one woman. The needless murder of their child should, and does affect both equally.

  7. Submitted by Eric Hall on 12/14/2011 - 06:34 pm.

    I am still interested in what your thoughts are as to what would the left’s “goals” be on this issue.

  8. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 12/14/2011 - 09:34 pm.

    “There are two people responsible for every conception on this planet, one man and one woman.”

    When a woman is raped? Absurd, Swiftee. Get a life, please.

  9. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 12/15/2011 - 06:23 am.

    Bill,
    You have to understand that as a strong, christian male, Swiftee is final arbiter of how women should feel. Jesus said, “Make sure you judge people harshly whenever you can”.

    Swiftee 1:1

  10. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 12/15/2011 - 06:25 am.

    Is the rapist or molester sad when their zygote is terminated? It affects them both equally apparently. Weird.

  11. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/15/2011 - 09:23 am.

    “Is the rapist or molester sad when their zygote is terminated?”

    Ah yes, and so you’ve brought us back to the necessity of that troublesome shred of decency, haven’t you?

    You’re right Alec, a rapist probably would vote for terminating that zygote with extreme prejudice. I was speaking of normal, morally decent human beings.

    I appreciate your offer of the opportunity to make that point of clarification.

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