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Women who have abortion more likely to face depression, study shows

WASHINGTON (BP)–Women who abort their first unintended pregnancy are more prone to clinical depression, increased substance abuse and suicide than women who carry their unintended pregnancy to term, a new study suggests.

The study, which appeared in the prestigious British Medical Journal Jan. 19, was funded by the Elliot Institute of Springfield, Ill., a nonprofit organization that examines post-abortion complications and promotes outreach and counseling programs for women.

According to CNSNews.com, data for the report comes from a national study of American youth, which began in 1979. A subset of 4,463 women were surveyed about “depression, intendedness of pregnancy and pregnancy outcome” in 1992.

The study found that eight years after their abortions, married women were 138 percent more likely to be at high risk of clinical depression compared to women who carried their unintended first pregnancies to term.

David C. Reardon, Ph.D., director of the Elliot Institute and the study’s lead author, said the study is consistent with other recent research that has shown a suicide and substance abuse increase of fourfold to sixfold associated with prior abortion. The study is also the first to include an analysis of depression up to eight years after an abortion.

Reardon said the study was conducted using the same data set as that used by feminist psychologist Nancy Russo of Arizona State University, who determined that self-esteem was not affected significantly among women who aborted and those who carried to term.

“The most serious flaw of the Russo study is that the authors did not even comment on the extraordinarily high rate of concealment of past abortions in the sample,” Reardon said. “Women who do not want to mention a past abortion are most likely the ones who will have unresolved feelings of shame, guilt or grief.”

Another problem associated with Russo’s study is that researchers relied on a measure of self-esteem that is not sensitive to post-abortion stress, Reardon said.

“Russo’s previous analysis of this data set was methodologically weak and was frankly a poor basis on which to build the claim that abortion has no measurable effect on women’s well-being,” he said. “The results of our reexamination of this data set — especially in combination with other studies showing higher rates of suicide, substance abuse and other mental health disorders associated with prior abortion — shows that the ‘no effect’ hypothesis should be rejected,” Reardon said.

Reardon believes he believes this research can assist physicians in understanding their patients better. “We recommend that physicians should routinely inquire about the outcome of all patients’ pregnancies,” he said.

This would allow women to discuss unresolved feelings about prior pregnancy loss, Reardon said. It would also be a good opportunity for physicians to give referrals for additional counseling, he said.

(Information about the Elliot Institute, biographical information about David C. Reardon and related articles and resources can be accessed at http://www.afterabortion.org. The full article in the British Medical Journal can be viewed on the Internet at http://bmj.com/cgi/content/full/324/7330/151?lookupType=volpage&vol=324&fp=151&view=short.)
Pierce is a staff writer with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Matt Pyeatt