Does Abortion Impact the Mental Health of Women?

Does Abortion Impact the Mental Health of Women?
Warren Throckmorton, PhD

A new study from New Zealand, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, raises important questions about the impact of abortion on the mental health of women. Researchers found that those reporting abortion prior to age 21 had rates of mental disorders from age 21 to 25 that were over 1.5 times higher than the rates for women who did not become pregnant and those who became pregnant and did not seek an abortion. The relationship between abortion and mental health problems persisted even when the researchers took into account the mental health status of the women prior to the abortion. The researchers concluded that “abortion in young women may be associated with increased risks of mental health problems.”

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14 thoughts on “Does Abortion Impact the Mental Health of Women?”

  1. I think the New Zealand study is misleading on several points – as we all know, the research is no better than the research methodology. This research has very limited application due to its limitations.

    If we measure regret from other people who make poor decisions (regardless of the situation) they don’t realize the seriousness of the poor decision until much later, usually when another life issue brings it home. This is true of drugs, alcoholism, extra-marital affairs, child abuse, spouse abuse, you name it – the horror, sadness, regret, often do hit home, but later.

    When working with women who have had abortions and who seek help later, they weep and cry and scream, and can’t undo what they have done to their child.

    This experience is limited to women who have come to this realization, and sought counseling and/or abortion groups – but they are real women who may or may not have a religious affiliation, or specific socioecomic status affiliation – they were mothers who came to believe that they had murdered their children – this was their common secret that they mourned.

    So, this is my experience, and to read that researchers are debating whether or not it has an impact of mental health? We know that women who miscarry mourn and grieve for their children. And then researchers try to tell us that it is possible when women choose to murder their children that it is easier? That it improves their mental health? That’s a perspective….

    I would like to see a study on the perceived self-worth of a woman prior to an abortion, and post abortion yearly, for about 25 years.

    Thanks for the chance to blog!

  2. As a woman who had an abortion in my early 20s I can tell you that my experience did result in a significant amount of guilt, shame and depression. No one told me that abortion was wrong then, but the moment I woke up from the procedure, I knew it was. I had the abortion as a means of getting rid of a problem. I didn’t want a child and the abortion was a solution.
    The end of the story is good news. Though I carried that guilt and shame for a long time, I was able to trade that for the forgiveness I found in God’s grace.
    sign me Lucy

  3. So, does a man who chooses to have sex with only men, by virtue of that decision, choose then to prevent childbirth? Is this where the depression finds it’s root? Self seeking, self pleasing, never giving in procreation as God sees fit?

  4. Follow-up: The Washington Post posted the transcript of yesterday’s Alito hearing (registration probably required). Senator Coburn made the following request during his argument that Roe V. Wade should be reversed:

    “And Mr. Chairman, I would like to enter into the record a study published — a 35-year longitudinal study which was just released this January from New Zealand. It followed women, 600 women for 35 years, from the time of abortion, that studied ill health effects.”

  5. That’s an interesting point. I do not that Dr. Fergusson is going to continue to follow these women throughout their lives so this effect might show up later. The women all experienced the negative effects between 21-25.

  6. I am interested in knowing at what point in time those women who showed depression, began the symptomology? Is there a correlation between the birth of another child? Is there a correlation to age?

    In my humble experience with women who have had abortions, the older they get the more difficult it is, and at the birth of a wanted child they realize that they had chosen to kill their prior child. It does not always “sink in” until that point. So, it is possible that depending on age and other factors, the mental health of the mother is actually in greater risk than was even published.


  7. If you can call anti-abortionists “anti-choice”, does that mean I can call pro-abortionists “pro-death”?


  8. During the Alito hearing this morning (approx. 11:30 a.m. ET), I heard one of the senators request to incorporate a recent New Zealand study on the negative effects of abortion into the hearing’s record. Unfortunately, I didn’t note which senator made the request (it may have been Brownback).

    I wasn’t really listening to the hearing, but my ears perked up when I realized the senator was referencing the same New Zealand study on abortion mentioned here.

  9. I’ve noticed that anti-choice activists have been publicizing the New Zealand study. It was even incorporated into the Alito US Supreme Court confirmation hearings today.

    I haven’t read the study, but it seems a relatively small study. According to news article in the The Sydney Morning Herald by Ruth Pollard, “The Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences study followed 1265 young women from their birth in the 1970s. Of the 41 per cent who became pregnant, 14 per cent had abortions, with almost half experiencing depression.” So, about half of 73 women who had abortions experienced depression. This may be a significant study, but I don’t it mean abortion causes depression.

    The same article also mentioned:

    “[The study’s] findings contradict a review of 72 studies and 27 articles conducted by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and published in November.

    “While acknowledging that the studies varied in quality, the college concluded that ‘there is mainly improvement in psychological wellbeing in the short term after termination of pregnancy.

    “‘There are rarely immediate or lasting negative consequences – there may be an association between termination of pregnancy and some adverse mental health markers: these may reflect pre-existing conditions.'”

  10. I wasn’t aware the APA (or other professional bodies) had taken a position that having an abortion entails no risk whatsoever.

    I’m rather confused, therefore, why the literature is replete with observations about counseling approaches. Or why the release forms etc clearly discuss possible medical side effects (such as spotting, or worse).

    And there’s one other major difference: women deciding on abortion are not buying a pig in a poke.

    They know what the outcome will be. The attending physician is able to discuss the risks of surgery, including how often such events occur. Counseling prior to surgery can determine if the woman is a suitable candidate, and make her aware of the feelings she may have in the future.

    I’m also unaware of any attempts by religious or social pressure groups to make abortion compulsory (or even to flog the idea that abortion is to be strongly preferred over giving birth).

    Better yet: a decision by a woman to have an abortion is not turned against those who decide otherwise. A pro-choice position respects both decisions, and doesn’t wish to compel a set of legal or social consequences if she makes “the wrong decision”.

    We also have a vast range of literature on the conditions that existed before abortion could be obtained legally. It was gruesome. Ask an older woman.

    Now… compare all that to an attempt to change sexual orientation. And current social and legal conditions around gay men and women.

    Apart from those basically prepared to invent numbers: do you know of anyone who can provide proper research data on outcomes? Rates of change? A model for determining who is a suitable candidate? Possible side effects?

    That’s right. None of that exists. The best that is offered is a prayer and promise.

    And then… let’s not forget your associates who are CURRENTLY engaged in a political fight to either make heterosexuality compulsory, or again relegate non-heterosexuals to that of a reviled minority under a discriminatory legal system.

    These are people who are very clearly attempting to have gay men and women treated and regarded as second-class citizens.

    When someone contemplating changing from gay to straight may be given the same level of careful, clear, measured and non-coercive information as a women contemplating abortion … at that point you may directly compare the two.

    You and others remain, of course, at liberty to build such a body of knowledge. I don’t understand why you’ve failed to do so, apart from the obvious.

  11. I object to the way the APA has handled both issues because they only accept as valid research that agrees with the policy position they wish to take. Conflicting research on both points is dismissed as irrelevant or ignored completely. There is much more and better research showing abortion may be harmful than showing attempts to change sexual orientation is harmful. And yet the APA has landed on change attempts with both feet.

  12. Right…

    So the APA should endorse a “caution is in order” position regarding a woman who is considering abortion.

    Yet, you object to same with regards to attempts to change sexual orientation.

    Not wishing to seem doubly inconsistent, I assume you are at least pro-choice — and therefore client centred – about both?

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