The idea that abortion causes mental health problems in women is one of those anti-choice myths that just won’t die. Let’s hope a new mega-analysis of health studies—one which links unwanted pregnancies themselves, not terminating those pregnancies, to mental health issues—will help put an end to some of the abortion/depression misconceptions once and for all.
The analysis (conducted by Britain’s National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health) of 44 previous scientific studies found women with unplanned pregnancies do, in general, have a higher incidence of mental health problems. They’re about three times more likely to suffer from depression and/or anxiety than women in general. NCCMH director Tim Kendall noted that these women could have had mental health problems before getting pregnant, or it could be the unwanted pregnancy that’s causing issues.
“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.”
Women who have mental health issues may be more likely to make decisions leading to an unplanned pregnancy. Having an unplanned pregnancy may make a woman anxious or bummed out. This all makes sense.
But whether women with unplanned pregnancies ended up having an abortion or giving birth made no difference, the review showed.
A few months ago, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry said women who have abortions are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, alcoholism and/or drug abuse, and one in 10 mental health problems in women could be the result of terminating a pregnancy. The problem with this study, and many previous studies linking abortion to depression or mental health issues, is that it didn’t control for women’s mental health prior to becoming pregnant or seeking an abortion.
Researchers also often fail to take the effects of unwanted pregnancy itself into account. Future research, said Kendall, should concentrate on the mental health needs associated with an unplanned pregnancy—not how such unplanned pregnancies are resolved.
Pro-life advocates are denouncing the study, but at least they’ve been forced to come up with rationale other than ‘abortion causes women mental health problems.’ Dr Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, complains that “abortion does not improve mental health outcomes for women with unplanned pregnancies.” No, abortion isn’t psychotherapy, Prozac or magic. Sorry, dude. It’s also not the cause of one in 10 mental health conditions in women. If we can keep that straight for now, I’ll be satisfied.
What are your thoughts?