Women who have an abortion are five times more likely to report subsequent substance abuse compared to women who carry to term, according to a study published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
The study was authored by Elliot Institute director Dr. David Reardon and Dr. Philip Ney, a British Columbia psychiatrist who specializes in post-abortion counseling. This is at least the 15th published study connecting abortion to subsequent drug or alcohol abuse.
This latest study was drawn from a national reproductive history survey of a random sample of 700 women, from 24 to 44 years of age. “Even if we assume the lowest statistical range for the relative risk, our results would indicate that there are between 150,000 and 500,000 new cases of abortion-related substance abuse per year,” Reardon said.
Ney notes that these findings are especially disturbing since substance abuse is a leading cause of neonatal death and malformation in subsequent planned pregnancies.
“I have found that women with unresolved grief or trauma related to a prior abortion are more likely to feel anxiety, fear, and depression during subsequent pregnancies,” Ney said. “If they are unable to legally obtain mood-altering drugs with a prescription, many of these women resort to alcohol or illegal drugs as a means of suppressing unwanted feelings about their past abortions.”
Ney’s clinical experience treating women is confirmed by several published studies that have documented higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse among pregnant women who have a history of abortion. However, substance abuse appears to be just one of several self-destructive tendencies related to abortion.
A recent major study of death certificates and government medical records in Finland has shown that the risk of death from suicide is six times higher for women who have had an abortion compared to women who gave birth. The researchers also found that the risk of dying from accidents and homicide was four and twelve times higher, respectively.
The increase in accidental or homicide-related deaths among post-abortive women is most likely due to risk-taking behavior that masks self-destructive or suicidal tendencies. It is still unclear whether abortion causes self-destructive behavior or whether it simply aggravates previously existing self-destructive tendencies, but the researchers believe that both of these factors are involved.
“Clearly, women with a propensity to risk-taking are more likely to become pregnant and perhaps more likely to choose abortion,” Reardon said. “In such cases, while abortion may not be the underlying cause of their problems, it may contribute to their psychological deterioration. On the other hand, it is also clear that some women who were not previously self-destructive have become so as a direct result of their traumatic abortion experiences. At this time, however, we have no way of knowing how many women fall into each of these two categories.”
While many proponents of abortion dispute a causal link between abortion and substance abuse, Ney insists that his own experience in successfully treating abortion trauma proves that this connection is far more than a statistical fluke.
“I have treated women with a long history of self-destructive behavior who have had only made progress in overcoming these tendencies after they have completed counseling for abortion trauma,” Ney said. “Many other therapists have had the same experience. Consistently good results can only come from the right diagnosis and the right treatment.”
Originally printed in The Post-Abortion Review, 8(1), Jan.-March 2000. Copyright 2000, Elliot Institute.