A study suggesting having an abortion greatly increases a woman's chance of developing a psychological illness such as anxiety or depression contradicts earlier research by the American Psychological Association.

Research, by Priscilla K. Coleman of Bowling Green State University in Ohio, was published in the September 1, 2013, issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry. The author conducted a quantitative analysis of 22 studies from 1995-2009 with 877,181 participants, of which 163, 831 experienced an abortion.

Results indicated an 81% increased risk of having mental problems among women who had an abortion, with nearly 10% of psychological issues attributable to pregnancy termination. Specifically, abortion was tied to a 34% increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder, and a 110% increased likelihood of experiencing depression. Similarly, alcohol and marijuana abuse, and suicide risks were more than 100% increased due to having experienced an abortion, according to the researcher.

Grieving with the Loss of a Baby

In 2008, the American Psychological Association released results of an analysis from 1989 of all peer-reviewed studies assessing mental health outcomes in women who had induced abortions, referring to those conducted by choice rather than through miscarriage or by untrained individuals in underdeveloped nations. The APA is the largest organization of psychologists worldwide, promoting scientific knowledge of psychology and its practice and serving as a central resource for its members. It conducted its research after creating a task force in 2006 to collect, evaluate and analyze empirical studies on the subject.

The APA findings showed no scientific proof linking abortion as a cause of mental health problems in women. It did attribute feelings of sadness and loss following an abortion with some women experiencing depression and anxiety, but it found no evidence that tied those psychiatric conditions with abortion histories alone.

Many Factors Complicate Abortions

In fact, the organization suggested that other factors, such as poverty, previous mental health problems, drug and alcohol abuse, and earlier exposure to violence play a role in both the increased risk of having an unwanted pregnancy and any concurrent emotional issues that arise from that pregnancy, regardless of its outcome. Women who were pressured to have an abortion or to keep it a secret were more likely to have poor emotional reactions after abortions, they reported.

The APA task force stated that many studies are flawed as they do not control for those risk factors. They reported that other components including socio-economic status, cultural demands and personal issues in women's lives influence abortion outcomes and need to be incorporated into analyses before links can be made. The group called for improvements in study designs, with rigorous peer reviews to clarify true relationships between abortion and mental health risks.

Abortion was legalized in the United States in 1973 with a Supreme Court modification made in 1992 tying states' ability to restrict women's rights with fetal viability, though that status--when a fetus is capable of surviving outside the womb—is yet to be determined. In the original landmark decision of Roe v. Wade, the judges ruled in favor of a woman's right to privacy, noting that fetuses were not protected under the 14thAmendment.

Aside from an abortion, up to 15% of pregnancies terminate by way of miscarriage or stillbirth. Studies have shown that these mothers have twice the likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder within nine months of the loss.

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Date of original publication:

Updated: October 05, 2015