Abortion is Maddening

By Jim McVeagh 03/11/2009


This Month’s British Journal of Psychiatry carries a research paper that should make all doctors signing abortion certificates on the basis of mental health concerns, think twice. The paper elegantly demonstrates that abortion worsens mental health outcomes. Unfortunately, I can only link to this article, rather than the paper itself, which is behind a pay-wall. Fortunately, I have access to the journal itself.

The actual research article reference (for those who have access) is Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ Boden JM. Reactions to abortion and subsequent mental health. The British Journal of Psychiatry (2009) 195, 420—426. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.109.066068

First, it should be noted that the research is based around the adverse reactions women felt at the time of their abortion. 283 women took part, of which 117 had had abortions. 85% of women who had had an abortion felt at least one of the measured negative emotions. The research identified that:

Women who reported at least one negative reaction to the abortion had rates of mental health problems that were approximately 1.4—1.8 times higher than women not exposed to abortion, and between 1.2 and 1.6 times higher than women who were exposed to abortion but did not report any adverse reactions to abortion. All of these findings are consistent with the conclusion that unwanted pregnancy terminated by abortion is an adverse life event that increases risks of mental health problems, with these increases in risk being proportional to the degree of distress associated with the abortion of an unwanted pregnancy. [Emphasis mine]

The importance of the emphasized sentence is that it means that women do not have additional mental health problems because they are at risk of mental health problems anyway (hence the approval for abortion on mental health grounds). It means that women have increased incidences of mental health problems because of the abortion itself. If a woman has a reaction of guilt, grief or loss or similar reaction, she has nearly double the risk of developing mental health problems within five years. The greater the number of negative reactions, the more likely she is to have mental ill health.

Some might harbour suspicions that this research has been hijacked by conservative religious elements, so damaging is this finding to current abortion practice. However, this is not a viable accusation given the good reputations of the authors. Besides, at one point they make the observation that only 2% of women regretted their abortion and that 90% of women thought their decision was correct. This is hardly good material for the anti-abortion lobby.

Given the excellent quality of this research, it is hard to disagree with the authors conclusions:

In addition, although recent reviews of the evidence have concluded that abortion is not associated with increased mental health risks when compared with unwanted pregnancies that come to term, no review to date has found that abortion is associated with a reduction in mental health risks. Collectively, this evidence raises important questions about the practice of justifying termination of pregnancy on the grounds that this procedure will reduce risks of mental health problems in women having an unwanted pregnancy. Currently there is no evidence to support the assumptions underlying this practice, and the findings of the present study suggest that abortion may, in fact, increase mental health risks among those women who find seeking and obtaining an abortion a distressing experience.

It is now high time that this section of our abortion law was subject to a serious review, as, clearly, it is being abused in a way that can only be considered unethical, in the light of the evidence.

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