Abortion May Affect Mothering And Development Of Later Children

New Study Reveals Less Home Support and More Behavioral Problems Among Children of Post-Abortive Mothers

Springfield, IL (September 18, 2001)–A study published in the newest issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that children whose mothers have a history of abortion tend to have less emotional support at home and more behavioral problems than children whose mothers have not had abortions.

Researchers examined behavior and the quality of the home environment for 4,844 children. The study used data collected in 1992 by the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a survey conducted by the Center for Human Resource Research at Ohio State University and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“The results of our study showed that among first-born children, maternal history of abortion was associated with lower emotional support in the home among children ages one to four, and more behavioral problems among five- to nine-year-olds,” said Dr. Priscilla Coleman, a professor at Bowling Green State University and the lead author of the study. “This held true even after controlling for maternal age, education, family income, the number of children in the home and maternal depression.”

Coleman noted that although the results of the study were probably unprecedented, “they were not all that surprising when considered in light of previous research linking unresolved grief associated with other forms of perinatal loss, such as miscarriage and stillbirth, to compromised parenting.”

Many women undergo abortions as the result of adverse circumstances or pressure from others, she said, making the experience difficult to cope with if the woman was emotionally attached to the fetus or desired to carry the pregnancy to term.

“An abortion could become psychologically similar to other forms of pregnancy loss in some women,” Coleman said. In some polls, as many as 80 percent of aborting women said that they would have chosen to carry the pregnancy to term under better circumstances or with more support from others.

Elliot Institute director Dr. David Reardon a co-author of the study and a new book, Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, said that the new study confirms the insights revealed in the book by women in post-abortion counseling.

“Unresolved feelings about a past abortion can often impede bonding with subsequent planned children,” Reardon said. “Some women report becoming overprotective because they fear God will punish them by allowing their children to come to harm. Others report a need to emotionally distance themselves from their newborns because the feelings of love that are aroused also give rise to intense feelings of grief and despair over the children who were not born.”

Other differences in mothering among women who have had abortions and those who have not, Reardon says, may be related to other emotional reactions to abortion. Recent studies have shown that women who have abortions are at significantly higher risk of clinical depression in the long term, are more likely to require subsequent mental health care, are more likely to report abuse of drugs and alcohol, and are more likely to die of suicide and other causes. Any of these tendencies, he believes, could have an impact on the children in their care.

Reardon says these studies underscore the importance of educating the public about post-abortion reactions and the availability of post-abortion counseling programs.

“Ignorance of the problem–or the fear of addressing it–deprives women of that interior sense of peace we all need,” he said. “But by working through the forbidden grief over past abortions, women are more free to become the best parents they can be.”

Citation of study:

Coleman PK, Reardon DC, Cougle JR. “The quality of caregiving environment and child development outcomes associated with maternal history of abortion using the NLSY data.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2002; 43(6):743-757.

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